“Ilgas” means longing in Latvian. Yet, within this series of photos Ilgas is also a place name and the name of a manor house.
Ilgas manor house was built in the 1890s in the style of baroque. The architectural design of the edifice stirs associations with Italian palazzo-type buildings, which is why the manor house is said to have been once called Palazzo Ilga. Currently the building holds the study basis of Daugavpils University (Latvia). Ilgas manor house is located only a few kilometres off the Belarusian border, which is simultaneously the eastern border of the European Union.
I first visited Ilgas manor house in 2010. At that time, 45 female students temporarily lived there – they did nature research on the territory of a protected natural area. At that time, the building has no plumbing, which means that such facilities as lavatory or a warm shower are not available. These conditions make the students’ domestic conditions resemble those of extreme survival reality shows.
When I began shooting, I realized that the documentary narrative about female students and/or place would be too simple and traditional, based on the exotization and search for something other and unlike, which is so characteristic of documentary photography. I was most surprised by the merging of the interior of the old manor house and the young women in one physical space. Traditionally, photographs relate the body of a young female with sexuality and lust. Squalor, on the other hand, is bound with the interior of deserted and/or old buildings and stirs associations with the historically unknown, the menacing and the hidden in the origins of interior. In photography and films, similar combinations of the female body and old interior are exploited to create narrations where the combination of lust, sexuality and environment’s apparent menace is used as an instrument to draw viewers’ attention.
In several years time, Ilgas manor house was restored, and now it is a modern research centre. I returned to finish my story, which, effectively, is not based in any certain narrative. Rather it permits the audience to construct from their memories and imagination a subjective narrative, as well as themselves draw the boundaries between the documentary and the fictional therein.
Historically, photography has always been related to memories, reminiscence and the sentimental. Thus, photography functions as a catalyst for longing that challenges our imagination to constructed interwoven and immediate time and space relationships between here and there, now and then. My works from the series Ilgas, similarly as the restoration of Ilgas manor house, construct a seemingly unnatural relationship between the past and the present at some Latvian backwater.
If asked to classify these works, I would say they are peculiar still lives that portend the surreal and the inexplicable in the mundane, in self-representation and in construction of own living space.