Last Generation Before the Internet. Their Lives
exhibition view

The exhibition "YOU'VE GOT 1243 UNREAD MESSAGES. Last Generation Before the Internet. Their Lives" deals with the recent past where the search for oneself and others took place in an analogue instead of a digital environment. The works of art and various everyday artifacts chosen for the exhibition are micro-historical evidence of some 20th century individuals, or whole currents that continue to throw into doubt any borders between art and everyday life. These are stories about the individual memory culture, mutual networking and experimental creation. The exhibits share their authors' attempts to redefine personal life space, laying a parallel world, like a cuckoo's egg, in the governing reality created by media and political ideologies.

As of the mid-20th century, an increasingly large part of the population began to use devices of mechanical reproduction and data transmission in their everyday lives. Telephones, typewriters, and portable cameras became mainstream items. A wide range of door-to-door postal services suddenly came into play. One could pick up a Polaroid and make a single unique image or reproduce large quantities of texts and images by a Xerox copier. Moreover, the pragmatism of user's manuals notwithstanding, there was now a possibility to vary even the traditional genres of self-reflection and tools for constructing a social selfhood, including diaries, "memory books", pen-pal correspondence, family albums and other methods of personal archiving. The last decades before the digital revolution have, therefore, left an individualized vernacular cultural heritage that lacks a unifying centripetal force and, in terms of variety and sheer volume, has no match in the past. Self-determination and departures from the norm, consciously nurtured peculiarities and fetishes, horizontal forms of socialization or deconstructive experiments with the everyday lead to the conclusion that the private possesses a political dimension. The intimate expressions of personal experience reveal themselves as a platform for questioning sociopolitical structures and their impact on relationships among individuals. The interaction between private and public is what makes the micro-historic testimonies relevant to the age of digital reality.

The exhibition "YOU'VE GOT 1243 UNREAD MESSAGES" has been developed as a poetic detrition in the cultural layer of the analogue era where artifacts, very different in form and purpose, are found side by side. There is a scrupulously detailed private archive of the intimate life of a particular couple and works of art that bring the almost manic quest for the serial to the surface. The imprints of mutual communication, accidental or consciously formed and collected, are also here: photo-narratives developed for family slideshow evenings; samizdat literature reproduced by way of carbon paper, samples of 1970s conceptualist mail-art, correspondence between shortwave radio enthusiasts, esoteric chain letters as well as an outstanding game of chess played intercontinentally by post. This multitude has the effect of a long unopened mailbox where the heap of messages holds the possibility of finding one addressed to oneself.

8 Dec 2017 – 4 Feb 2018
Latvian National Art Museum, Great Exhibition Hall, Riga
Latvian, English

Production notes

Memory as an object

An interview about the exhibition “YOU’VE GOT 1243 UNREAD MESSAGES. Last Generation Before the Internet. Their Lives” with co-curator Kaspars Vanags and project director Kitija Vasiļjeva