The carved wood block carvings of Latvian artist Mikelis Fisers shows a dystopian world, taken over by aliens or enlarged insects and other creatures, who have subjugated humans as their slaves, guinea pigs or servants.
Easily misunderstood and written off as childish, ludicrous or deviant on first impressions, but on a closer, more ‘esoteric’ inspection, one might see it as a mix of ancient tribal and comic art. The size of these prints, at 8″x10″, and the way it’s sort of ‘hidden’ within a recess in a column during the exhibition, also lends to this sub-culture feeling. But it is also a vernacular art; all the aliens, mermaids and dinosaurs, are the vernacular of the artist’s mind and are mixed together to create a mythological alternate reality.
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A clue as to where it all comes from, could be found in the 4-minute film Language Lesson (2014) where a teacher and a student each wearing goggles and face mask to resemble the reptiloids, learn one ‘human’ word which is absent from their vocabulary: ‘pran’.
Repeating the word over and over again for 4 minutes, the film depicts an authoritative teacher, and a more diminutive student whose submissiveness borders to the point of ‘begging’ the teacher to teach him.
Language used to be a source of contention in Latvia, as part of the spoils of regional wars in the 1950s, with the victor having the right to determine the language used in the country. But now that the Latvian language is fully restored as the national language, it is unclear what the scenario in the film actually refers to.
The role of mythology has traditionally been to spur the imagination. In Fisers’s case it is used to represent something or someone. Who then, do the reptiloids and aliens represent? There are however, about a third of the population in Latvia, of Russian people who migrated there in the last century, who refuse to learn Latvian, so it could be about them.
But would these people make musicians at the NY Metropolitan Opera defecate the orchestral pit? Or eat tourists at the Pyramids of Giza? How about suddenly becoming ‘renegades’ and learning to mediate from a Zen master? Perhaps a clue can be obtained from Extraterrestrials Monitor Humanitarian Crisis In the Oligarch Organ Warehouse (2017), where oligarchs harvest people’s organs.
But when did we ever see an oligarch harvest anyone’s organs? While the aliens and reptiles may not exactly be about oligarchs, they may be representing a sort of detachment seen in some global conglomerates, where company interests seem to be above human interests. But while nobody can imagine the CEO of a conglomerate ordering New York musicians to defecate their orchestral pit, its not that hard to imagine the latest food scare poisoning musicians and making them all go to the loo during a concert.
Since the art world is in part supported by people who are sometimes part of these conglomerates, it is a bit of a mystery how Fisers manages climb to the highest levels while comparing these companies to aliens. Perhaps nobody thought too much about what these creatures actually mean. Or perhaps, since he has a pavilion right now at the Venice Biennale, that what he is saying might actually point the way towards the future.
What happens to a country when a conglomerate becomes so big that most of the citizens depends upon it for food, shelter and a job? They begin to run everything and dictate how everyone behaves. Those that don’t obey or ‘fit’ are just left out of the ‘ecosystem’. The problem is that these companies aren’t programmed to take care of anyone, but are programmed to try to make more and more money year after year.
At a certain point they become too big and actually become a risk to a country or at least a hinderance to its development because of the innate inequality.
An example might be in South Korea where a few conglomerates have gotten so big that the new government is reportedly trying to force it to hire people and trying in general to take away some of its power (that’s what was reported in the news). But not all conglomerates are blood sucking vampires, quite a few progressive ones understand the need for social responsibility. They have adjusted their business to adapt to new type of capitalism, a sort of sustainable, more equitable, more humane, capitalism.