“Savage” is a place in Latvian wilderness where people go to become а more self-aware and caring-for-the-group version of themselves, breathing in and out together with nature, seeing art, making art, listening to animals and poetry, discussing concepts in the daytime and dancing throughout the night; sometimes the other way around.
“Savage” is a place of shared trust, wild meadows, building skills, changing perspectives, laying in the sun – everyone’s welcome.
Savage (“Savvaļa” – original title in Latvian) is a contemporary art project located in a scenic rural area in Jaundūķi, northern Latvia. The idea, initiated by artist Andris Eglītis, was born in 2008, yet “Savage Season 1” and “Savage Season 2” that took place in 2020 and 2021 have been the main body of the project.
As the pandemic started in 2020, galleries and museums were closed, yet people were encouraged to immerse themselves in nature. The basic idea then was to create several trails in wild meadows and forests, showcasing artworks (of various media – sculptures, installations, paintings etc.) there to provide a combined experience of culture and landscape.
The central point of “Savage” is a building that was initially created as Eglītis’ semi open-air studio, but now serves as the exhibition info point, a kitchen, a workshop, a library, a concert venue and a rest zone. The whole area (larger than 50 hectares) over time became a residence and gathering place, a local community centre, a research laboratory for cultural professionals and simply a place to rest and relax. It also includes several swimming spots and a sauna – every single element of it has been created as a functioning art object.
It is a self-sufficient place, accessible freely to anyone for 24 hours, 7 days a week.
The exhibition has been the core of “Savage”. More than 40 contemporary artists from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland created new artworks or provided existing ones to be exhibited outdoors.
The organisers of “Savage” see it as a social sculpture, designed to rethink relationships between human and nature, culture and institution, traditional and contemporary.
More than 15 000 people have visited “Savage”. More than dozen events – concerts, rave parties, poetry readings, and workshops – have been organised. More than 100 people have come here for residency, and the whole experience has been documented in a movie and published in magazines.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
“Savage” is based upon the idea of using resources efficiently while building and maintaining the physical location as well as organising events. The infrastructure of “Savage” is powered by solar energy whenever possible. This includes food refrigeration and water circulation. “Savage” lies in a remote location, cut off from the country's infrastructure, therefore creative and eco-friendly solutions are used in every step of the process – cultural productions are also taking this into account and creators are asked to adapt to the environment, whether it’s a small set of solar panels to generate electricity for an art installation, using battery-powered acoustic systems for performances, foraging food or recycling waste.
Among these steps the resources for the infrastructure and the organisation – construction materials, groceries etc. – are sourced locally, both stimulating the local economy and involving nearby communities, gathering local knowledge about permaculture and resource usage.
The infrastructure and exhibition are designed as a self-sustaining process both for the participants and visitors, inviting people to organise their own experience here. People are invited to take agency and be responsible for their experience, subverting the idea of product/service and consumer relationship.
On a conceptual level, “Savage” is based on ecologically mindful thinking. It invites both visitors and participants to experience nature and evaluate their needs (especially comfort and security), reimagine technologies that are used and solutions for them and their place within this ecosystem. Visitors have often highlighted this as one of the inspiring effects of the experience.
This place invites, encourages and gives a vivid experience with which guests can evaluate their relationship toward nature, question the anthropocentric world view and review their attitude towards the natural world while facing it directly.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
The primary objective of the “Savage” experience in terms of aesthetics is to showcase meaningful contemporary culture through art, design, architecture, and communication.
It begins with the criteria for all the participants, making sure their work be of genuine quality not only regarding content but also aesthetical form. “Savage” is actively breaking various borders – between architecture, design and art, promoting a functional over decorative approach.
This project has been organised with interdisciplinary practice as a priority, bringing together artists, poets, musicians, technology innovators and local audiences, stimulating creative searches of sincere culture and experience of nature. It has been important to highlight the local practices and traditional forms of culture while confronting these with contemporary practices.
Experiences in “Savage” have included, for instance, workshops by traditional Latvian folk singers, a walking route through the swamp to find and see the artworks with the use of an intuitive map, critically acclaimed classical musicians playing a minimalist piece in the twilight to synchronise with the rhythm of the sun, poetry readings in the clay pit. These experiences have changed the way every participant perceives and looks at both cultural creations and nature.
The artworks in “Savage” exhibition become part of the environment – they degrade, change and gain new forms depending on the impact of natural conditions.
Finely designed to a degree that makes the objects and infrastructure easy to replicate with DIY methods, “Savage” shows examples of how anyone can implement modern aesthetics.
“What are the possible and necessary relations between civilization, culture, technology, comfort and nature, wilderness and physicality?” This is one of the key questions of “Savage”. It broadens the definition of art, thinking about it as part of civic and social experience – a field that aims to make life more liveable.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
One of the driving elements that started the project was realisation on how culture institutions have often isolated themselves into a closed circuit of niche audiences. There is a gap between art professionals and the general public that is marked by many factors – geographical concentration in big city centres, inaccessible presentation and curatorial work that is hardly relatable.
Thereby it was critically important to organise “Savage” to be as accessible as possible. The location – a beautiful area in the wilderness – rests between several cities with a rather large population and is surrounded by smaller villages. It's a two-hour drive from the capital city Riga. Promotion and advertisement of “Savage” are aimed at a wide audience – mixing the cultural elite with the local residents and nature tourism lovers, involving them in communication through workshops, residencies, public discussions and general community-led experience of the place.
People from the nearby region have been involved in organising and building “Savage”. This means both paid work and cultural engagement. Alongside that, a principle of fluctuating roles has been important – a visitor could easily become a volunteer or a host, the participating artists can shift into roles of producers or observers. Everyone involved in the process is regarded as equally important, implementing a horizontal social climate.
It has been highly important to the organisers of “Savage” to provide a diverse and inclusive programme of artists and participants, providing a platform for ethnic and sexual minorities, ensuring balance regarding the gender, age and background of the people involved.
Regarding affordability – visiting “Savage” and attending events is free of charge (with optional donations).
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary
The principles of sustainability, aesthetics and inclusion have truly been a genuine part of the basic concept of the “Savage” project – ergo, they were manifest both in the process and the result.
Perhaps the most obvious illustration of this combination is the principles that have led the formation of the physical infrastructure: during the two seasons the infrastructure was built with the idea in mind that the place will continue to serve as a platform for cultural events – exhibitions, residencies, and gatherings for both the local and national audience. In order to ensure it, the residence homes and the base, for instance, had to be built in such a manner that everyone who is involved would want to preserve them. Local participation in the work strengthened the community and increased trust between its members. As “Savage” is open 24/7, all visitors are encouraged to take care of themselves and the place as well. So, sustainability is embraced not only by ecological manners; it is implemented as a social principle, based on trust and a sense of community.
It's an example on how socially and ecologically mindful living can be promoted by a positive action instead of enforcement and rules – it’s an approach that works on multiple levels and activates all participants.
The main ideas guiding “Savage” are the following: looking for a symbiosis of culture and nature, creating meaningful and interdisciplinary art processes, facilitating a meeting point for professionals and audiences, building trust among participants through free accessibility, resource efficiency and genuine aesthetics throughout every step – working towards a life that is worth living.
Core values – empathy, trust, humility, equality, and care for one another – are actively practised in “Savage”.
Nature is a subject often addressed in the arts at the Baltic region, however, it is often observed from the anthropocentric position as something passive, malleable or admired, maintaining a distance between human and nature. It also often remains a subject of theoretical research or a conceptual idea that fails to address the theme in a way that resonates with wider audiences.
“Savage” uses the approach where topics of reconnection with nature through art and culture are taken almost literally and begin with the moment of arrival. The experience of nature in “Savage” changes the perception of art. However, experiencing art in such circumstances also changes the perception of nature. When the main curator of the exhibition becomes nature itself (through gentle sustainability processes and self-efficiency as well as climate-neutral production), it leads to a true reconciliation with nature with the help of cultural processes.
“Savage” is an analogue and physical experience. Due to its remote location and the time invested to get there, people stay there for longer stretches of time – from several hours up to several days. This slow rhythm in turn changes the experience of time there and encourages people to spend time in nature together.
As a result of this experience, social roles and hierarchies are no longer important. People meet one another, interact, and often engage in conversations. It is a place where honest and open sharing and active listening is encouraged in organised and semi-organised conversation circles that often take place in “Savage”.
The project results are not only presumed but also confirmed and documented by the feedback of visitors, publications in press and media, by the response of the local area and employees of the nearby municipalities as well as by the impact it has made on the whole Latvian culture scene.
Not only has the project achieved that already, it has also provided a platform for this process to continue onward.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.
Both seasons were set up by a large network of individuals that organised themselves around artist Andris Eglītis. The team was based on principles of enthusiasm, voluntary work and willingness to create something together in this particular location.
Everyone who got involved was asked – what in particular do you want to do in this location, given the resources and everything else that you see on site? It activated the people by giving them agency and responsibility to work towards a common goal. It was a collaboration between a growing organisational team of cultural professionals, cultural creators, artists, volunteers, local residents and NGOs. During the two seasons numerous volunteers were participating in the works of “Savage” – teenagers, local residents and professionals.
The local and neighbouring community has been very important for “Savage”, participating in the creation of infrastructure and artworks, as well as being active participants in the events, becoming daily visitors as well as ambassadors in the regions to spread the information about the place. Some organisations have been particularly involved – there’s been an ongoing collaboration between the organisers of “Savage” and local nursing home and civic activists. Local children have been active workshop participants andschools from the region regularly visit the place on field trips.
The project has been carried out with public funding – primarily by the State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, regional cultural foundations, municipality, material sponsorships from companies and individuals, volunteer work and donations. It is a project that is enabled by civic society, public resources and donations. It is a large-scale group project.
The feedback of these people and the general visitor audience has been taken into account, addressed and implemented in order to make “Savage” more accessible and engaging.
The approach of “Savage” invites people to rethink their relationships with nature, addressing the question of anthropocentric living through architecture, culture, entertainment and tourism. The base for solutions can be found by combining the ideas of local heritage and tradition – natural ecosystems, regeneration, and sustainable use of local resources based in regional tradition – with a modern approach, up-to-date technologies and philosophies.
“Savage” is constantly looking for ways to make the production of the exhibitions and cultural events, in general, more neutral in terms of sustainability, energy sufficiency, teamwork, and environmental impact. It questions everyday concepts, choices, and levels of comfort, broadening the usual experience of art and nature. It also questions the problem of overproduction in art and the temporariness of the art events, especially exhibitions.
Another global challenge is social inequality, especially as a result of Covid-19 pandemics. Culture is one of the most powerful tools to overcome it by inviting members of different social groups and providing a platform where they can engage in building a strong, trust-based community. As “Savage” has provided a diverse cultural programme, it has attracted people from very different backgrounds and places. There are tangible results – new social ties have been made on various scales, both between neighbours and different organisations attending the place and the events. Due to the specifics of the location “Savage” has been accessible throughout the pandemic.
It is crucial to provide accessible high-quality culture to rural areas and to cultivate decentralisation of cultural processes, mixing different cultural genres, arranging interdisciplinary practices and researching the ways these can be beneficial to society. “Savage” has served as a platform for discussions and brainstorms, embracing and fusing local knowledges with global ideas and tendencies.
By defining mainstream practices in the field as practices of the region – Latvia or the neighbouring Baltic states –, it is tough to find a similar initiative. Contemporary culture events usually happen in an urban setting; when it appears in nature, it usually takes the form of festivals or business ventures.
“Savage” is a project led by enthusiasm and ideals – utterly non-commercial, purely based on community interests, avoiding institutional ties and strongly based on principles of accessibility and openness. The location of the project and its character promotes decentralisation – fulfilling the need to create contemporary culture ventures in rural areas. The attendance has proved this to be a valuable dimension of the project.
The infrastructure systems – regarding their sustainable manner – are both functionally and aesthetically impressive on a scale that is unprecedent in Latvia.
The diversity of the participants, involved artists and audience has been truly embraced.
“Savage” has been funded by various national and regional cultural foundations, municipality, material sponsorships from companies and individuals, volunteer work and donations. The monetary budget in the first year was ~40 000 EUR, in the second ~70 000 EUR. In comparison with the mainstream, it has been a very cost-efficient project regarding the effect it has made.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.
The events, results and effects of the two “Savage” seasons have been documented in various media – an experimental short movie “Kas tu esi Savvaļā?” and an episode of documental TV Series “Zaļgalvis” have been created and published. They are available for free on Latvian streaming platforms and have been shown on national television.
Each season has been documented by poets and writers in a freeform literary magazine “Savage notebook” (Savvaļas burtnīcas – originally titled in Latvian) that has been published and distributed for free both for the visitors and readers elsewhere.
Several critically acclaimed photographers have documented the “Savage” experience.
All of the above-mentioned materials could be adapted to showcase for whomever necessary.
The principles of horizontal attitude towards the involved people in a project of this scale is rarely practised yet proved to be valuable – an approach that could and should be spread.
Low profile, easy to use everyday solutions of sustainable nature – the water system, solar panels, several aspects of infrastructure – can be adapted widely.
The methodology and principles of “Savage” were not fixed before production, it was always a flexible living process of concentrating the ideas, finding solutions, sharing knowledge between different professionals, therefore both methodologies and principles of the project were always publicly discussed during organized public talks in different scales, with most crucial ones recorded and published.
As “Savage” is a platform that offers residents and visitors a chance to stay for a period from a few hours up to weeks, it is capable of hosting any form of guests to organise an exchange of experience in various ways.