Janis Dzirnieks: The Courage of Being an Artist (2/2)

By Katrina Sproge | Magazine | November, 22, 2022 

Cover Illustration: Janis Dzirnieks’ Art Studio, 2022

In the second part, magazine reporter Katrina Sproge discusses Dzirnieks’ artwork and his creative process, as well as the care and dedication needed when dealing with art. 

Janis’ work involves material and process-oriented research, resulting in sculptures, installations and wall-based objects. “They often involve found images and ready-mades that already carry meanings and associations from their use in the real world. Through manipulation and deformation of them, I create visual metaphors which activate my view of present-day society.”

Pop-up ads – a foe we are all too familiar with – served as an inspiration for one of Janis’ projects, Flat Tire (2020).“How an algorithm shows you personalized advertisements based on your location, your search history, taking a person under their rule. I wanted to manipulate these ads, catch them, turn the tables and use them for my benefit,” he states. A piece titled Young Mom Makes $22185 Monthly in Her Spare Time Working at Home, Is It Legal? contains an eponymous but distorted pop-up advertisement which is hard to detect at first glance. “The idea is about the flow of information.”

The distortive and ironic demonstration of this topic signifies the artist’s stance on the digital information flow. Precise pinpointing is unadvisable and better left to individual interpretation.

Young Mom Makes $22185 Monthly in Her Spare Time Working at Home, Is It Legal? 2020, J. Dzirnieks

Under the same project, Janis utilized desk lamps that he found disposed of on the streets of the Netherlands, transforming them into light sculptures. “I was drawn to the paradox of light. Like a moth to a flame, or a human staring at light or following its lead even though it can be dazzling. The discomfort intrigued me, as did the visual design of each lamp that I found. It was a playful process.”

The comprehensive work invested in the ideation, research, production, set-up, and communication of Janis’ art is striking enough to make one wonder about the energy an artist must possess to keep the practice alive. “The handling of craft materials is tiring. For instance, logistics. Sometimes my exhibitions end and begin around the same time, so I must figure out the transportation of art pieces from one place to another. The careful packaging of the pieces, the send-off, then the receiving of the pieces at the next location. I spend three to four days in the studio just packing, sending, and receiving my artwork.”

What others have assistants for, up-and-coming artists must handle themselves. This can include generating ideas, research, creation, accounting, completing and sending funding applications, emails, paperwork, gathering art supplies, logistics, plus working the odd side job. “I spend three months a year altogether working on my art pieces. The rest of my time goes to side jobs and supporting tasks. You should look at my studio now. There are so many boxes of clutter piled up that I must go through.”

Thus, it is no wonder that an actively practicing artist like Janis has limited time to apply for all the available financial support in the Netherlands and abroad.

The funding applications seem to be a rather positive indicator of the support artists can receive in the fine art ecosystem of the Netherlands. However, it appears to be a double-edged sword, highlighting the constant instability artists face with no regular income to sustain themselves. “Sometimes, I even think it is too easy for artists in the Netherlands. When COVID struck, many were allowed to live in social housing, plus they got subsidies from municipalities because of their reduced income, 40% relief on rent. And the COVID financial support on top of it.”

This brave and unexpected statement might come from the broad perspective of a realist who has spent over a decade in the industry, or it could also be the always laborious Latvian speaking.

When asked if his Latvian background helps him receive more opportunities, the artist shows pessimism. “It doesn’t. Maybe only slightly now, because of the conflict in Ukraine. It has put us on the map as a country from Eastern Europe, as something different and separate from the common context Western Europeans have grown up in. But before, you would be put in the same box with all the other Eastern Europeans – the laborers. ‘Oh, so you now want to make some art? That’s cute, good luck.’”

Are fine artists valued in our problem-ridden society? For Janis, “There is no conclusive answer to this. But on the surface, I think it is okay not to appreciate artists. Not everyone should. I don’t enjoy football like so many others do. Some artists are appreciated, some aren’t. There is no yardstick for appreciation.”

Appreciated or not, that flicker of creative passion still leads the way for Janis. He plans to remain in this field for a while longer, exploring paradoxical dynamics in the natural world, namely how the smallest natural flows progress against their supposed direction. Think of the roots of a plant expanding in soil against gravity, or a stream of water running against the wind, and the organic figures that form as a result. A concept metaphorically reminiscent of the defiant life we now know the artist has led.

I think it is okay not to appreciate artists. Not everyone should.”

Untitled, 2019-20, J. Dzirnieks

As for any recommendations (or warnings) to those entering fine art, Janis gives simple yet telling advice: “Be true to yourself. Do what you want, don’t do what you don’t. Ultimately, you will find it to be one of the hardest things to do.”

Katrina Sproge is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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