1. Forget Me Not

    Forget Me Not

    Installation, mixed media, two single-channel videos, sound


    Sleeping Sayan
     – single channel video (8 and 16 mm film transferred to digital video), sound, 23 min 45 sec
    Lake – single channel HD video, 12 min 02 sec
    36 letters – printed publication, letters, photo
    forget-me-not flower for Kristaps, wild lily flower for Ansis, 305 x 385 mm

  2. - - -

    In 1971, the promising 33-year-old poet Miervaldis Kalniņš suddenly left the Riga Young Writers’ Association, took his guitar and went to Siberia, to the same places that had not so long ago meant death to many deported Latvians. Only a few friends knew of his plans: Miervaldis had copied Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, attracting the KGB’s attention. He was hiding from the Mordovian camps as if from a steppe wildfire. When the steppe is on fire, one sets a counter-fire and follows it to the burnt-out area, which the wildfire will no longer touch.

    A friend, Seventh-Day Adventist and amateur filmmaker Verners Zālīte, was looking for a construction worker and filmmaking companion, and invited Miervaldis to join him in Siberia. The collaboration was a great success. KGB officials did not follow Miervaldis to Siberia, since everyone appeared to be in the right place. Miervaldis led the team of construction workers for more than twenty years. In Siberia he worked in various locations at the foot of the Sayan Mountains – territories that straddle the border between settled lands and
    the untouched wilderness of Siberia and Mongolia.

    Miervaldis was a friend of my father, documentary film director Ansis Epners. As I was sorting my late father’s archives, I stumbled on the letters that Miervaldis had sent to his friend over many years. One of them contained the addition of two fragile flowers from Siberia: a yellow wild lily for my father and a blue forget-me-not for me. I received this flower thirty-eight years later.

    - - -

  3. [one letter from the publication]

    Letter 9   Kachulka, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, 18.06.1978

    18 June

    My dearest friend!

    Siberia is abloom. You climb up a hill and stand up to your neck in wild flowers, you see blossoms in all the places where man has not yet set his foot. But man plucks and picks and brings them home, and we always have lots of flowers on the shelf. The most beautiful ones are the yellow lilies from the mountains, but the loveliest are the innumerable forget-me-nots, bluest of the blue.*

    Do flowers mean this much to you as well? Or is it my old age?

    As usual, Verners and I do a lot of musing on life, other civilizations, on what is a reasonable being. Man cannot be called a reasonable being, since he indulges in destruction. And there’s another life form we see every day, wobbling and stirring on our construction site, on the streets, near the post-office and by the shop doors. They’re pigs, who at times really resemble an illustration to some fantastical story as they lazily wallow in deep puddles of mud.

    But even here offspring arrives from other worlds (that goes for the pigs, too), and the little piglets are our pride and joy. Their mother trusts us and comes to us, grunting proudly, to be scratched between her ears while the piglets keep close behind her, as if attached by a string. If one of them gets lost in reverie over a tasty root and the sow moves on, it squeals in dismay as soon as it becomes aware of the terrifying situation, and rushes to take its place by its mother’s tail.

    Our relationship with the local workers is as neutral as ever. They are so grey that we have no interest in them at all, and they find it hard to build a warmer rapport with us, since we are so different in everything, including the style and quality of our work. But language is not the only means of communication. Sparrows can be your means of communication, too.

    Our building has been under construction for so long that many generations of sparrows will have been hatched here. Even now, sparrows live in all the nooks and atop window lintels, which puts us in a very difficult situation. Most of the sparrows have little ones in their nests, but our job is to plaster even the places that are favoured by the sparrows. So we are forced to leave an opening for each sparrow home, with both the sparrows perching nearby as we work, each holding a worm in its beak and cursing. But cursing with a worm in your mouth is a hard thing to do, and the worm keeps sliding deeper into the throat until it’s accidentally swallowed. Now they must fly off to get another worm, and we can work undisturbed for a while. When the local workers have had a few, they come up to us and admire the holes we’ve left for the sparrows. And so, with very simple deeds we have gained the reputation of compassionate people.

    To be honest, in my advancing age I no longer have the taste for killing or destroying. Yesterday we caught a rusk-nibbling mouse in a box trap; we took it out and let it go. But it dashed straight back to the hut. There’s one in the box today, perhaps it’s the same mouse. But we had hoped to create a new sub‑species that would never go into traps.

    This year the job is very weird – a half-finished two-storey school that must be completed by 1 September. For our part, we’d have done it, but one cannot plaster something that is not there. We’re working in a very untypical way and we suspect there will be a huge rush towards the end. We’re already getting in each other’s way, because all available construction workers have been allocated here. There are also teams of drunkards and thugs, and any karate skills could seriously come in useful. In the worst-case scenario, we will rely on our shotguns.

    I wish a great Midsummer celebration to you, Alda, Daga, Kristaps and his Granny. But all is well only when there is peace of mind, clarity about why things happen, and hope. There’s no doing without it.

    Sing Midsummer songs in your hearts! Or you can do it aloud!

    Your Miervaldis.

    * Two dried flowers from Siberia were enclosed with the letter: a yellow wild lily for Ansis and a blue forget-me-not for Kristaps.

Kristaps Epners ©

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