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Do the instructions seem unclear? We talk to young artists about mental health and the challenges they face.



To celebrate 100 years of the Art Academy of Latvia, the school has flipped the script and is looking instead to the future. Celebrating the work of current students and recent graduates the exhibition ‘Academia’, at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, provides a stunning overview of today's cultural pulse. As the exhibition has been running during mental health month, we want to explore the challenges of a creative career with some of the participating artists.

From the mind of Mikelis Murnieks, a strangely familiar installation stands on one side of the exhibition hall. Taking the unmistakable aesthetic of IKEA’s functional products and transforming them into a bewildering visual feast is no small feat – instantly recognisable, and at the same time alien. Accompanied by a guide for viewers to make the sculpture themselves at home, Mikelis democratises his art with genius, in the same way the retail giant has for furniture. He speaks to us of the pitfalls of success, and how to turn pressure into a positive.

Tell us about your work within the exhibition ‘Academia’?

It's an installation made from randomly selected IKEA furniture items. I am calling for deviation from the standards imposed by institutions, and obedience to instructions. This is a non-functional object for aesthetic pleasure only, which is complemented by printed instructions to assemble the same installation at home.

Did you have any tricky moments whilst preparing for this exhibition?

Hmmm... Actually, I had a few more ideas and options, but then I decided to go with this one. This whole IKEA idea popped in my mind two years ago while I was on exchange in Porto. Finally I got a chance to make it happen. I like to work and think on the spot, so I didn't know exactly what this installation would look like until I started combining all of the materials in the exhibition hall. Usually I work with industrial materials, items that we often find in our everyday life, to create installations with found or pre-made objects.

“Creative, but a bit mad” - any truth to the cliché?

For this, I remember what Kanye said to David Letterman in one of his interviews - Kanye explains: “If you guys want these crazy ideas, crazy stages, this crazy music, this crazy way of thinking… there’s a chance it might come from a crazy person.”

"Either it's a deadline or the pressure of not failing, it helps me keep going."

How do you get through a bad day?

I don’t think it's a bad thing to be sad, or have a bad day from time to time. It's the same thing as loving and feeling your home – you know that you have to go away, leave for some time, so when you come back it feels way different and more special to you. It’s the same with these bad days, afterwards having a good day will feel way better. Of course, I’ve had bad days where I decide to do nothing and lie down because everything feels useless – but I don't think it's something worth worrying about. It happens to all of us from time to time. If I ever feel bad, I just get through the day and move on. 

Does your work bring you any challenges with your mental health?

Well, I don't think so. I try to keep my mind clear, stay calm and stable with my mental. I like to put some pressure on myself, so I feel like I’m being more responsible for what I’m doing.

Is there anything you’re holding back due to being worried about what others might think?

Not really, but when you begin to build a reputation as an artist, the pressure to not fail starts to appear. It's not about what others will think, but rather - “You are only as good as your latest work”. That is the saying I am trying to live by right now. I am putting more pressure on myself than people around me do. However, I like to work when I am under pressure, either it's a deadline or the pressure of not failing, it helps me keep going.

How do you feel about being in a line of work where your persona is interlinked with your practice?

I think that is inevitable. I try to never lie to myself and make the content of my work about topics and problems that are relevant to me. The more personal the work, the more it reflects the particular personality of the author – although I feel this is more pronounced with physical artworks. In my view, seeing contemporary trends and the impact of digital art increasingly results in a loss of physical contact with the artist.

What do you think is the societal role of art in addressing mental health and well-being?

In my opinion, if you’re working on social criticism then you have to understand the problems of mass culture. Thus, the content of the work is often subordinated to the public perception of things. So you are quite dependent on the society around you.

Do you feel the world today creates a more positive or negative environment for mental wellbeing than previous generations?

I see that there is a lot of negativity that reflects on our mental health these days. I don't think that previous generations had this problem in such a big scale as we have it now. These days information spreads so fast and in such a big amount, that its hard to follow. All the time we have to filter what kind of information is worth paying attention to. And it's super easy to get lost in all this social media stuff. Maybe this could be one of the reasons why there are more and more situations with unstable mental health.

'Acadamia' can be seen at Exhibition Hall ARSENĀLS, Riga until Nov. 18 2019
See more of Mikelis' work @stolenconcepts