The Place Where I am Not is a personal documentary project exploring the dramatic changes that took place in my home country over the past three years.
Since joining the EU in 2004, rapid economic growth was followed by a deep recession that left imprint on every sphere of life, and my work is a document of different responses to the situation Latvians found themselves in.
On a more personal level, I explore the issues of migration and cultural identity, challenging the notion of the word “home”, as I return to a place where I no longer live.
After joining the EU in 2004, Latvia had the fastest growing economy in Europe. However, heavily hit by recession in 2008, the country now is only leading the charge with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the area.
The shift left a dramatic imprint on every sphere of life, with major institutions facing closure, hospitals and schools undergoing fundamental restructurings, thousands of people left with no steady source of income and no certainty for what the following day may bring. This forced Latvian residents to rethink their plans, making active decisions regarding their future, and my work is a document of different responses to the situation people found themselves in.
Last summer, the Latvian government introduced a new social care programme for registered unemployed who exceeded the six-months time limit and were no longer entitled to claim benefits. They were offered a range of full-time low-quality jobs for no payment, but a monthly scholarship of LVL 100 (apr. £120), and became widely known as simtlatnieki (literally, hundred-lats-people). Over the course of a year, the programmer proved to be highly popular, with more than 80,000 workers signing the contracts (apr. 4% of Latvian population), 15,000 currently at work and further 50,000 waiting in line.
Having left the country of my origins at the break of recession in search of a better life overseas, I am not fully an outsider, nor insider in this story. While documenting the town that used to be my home, I also capture the experience of returning to the place where I no longer am.
A trip home is a geographical, as much as a temporal journey. On arrival, I feel like a fish taken out of water, surroundings uncomfortably familiar. At first glance, everything seems to remain right the way I left it, but then little changes start to reveal one by one, like tiny cracks on a newly painted wall. This is a dream-like state of walking through familiar settings, knowing that something has changed, but failing to spot the difference. The answer comes suddenly and is sharp and clear – what has changed is me.
I can’t help but ask questions: what does it mean to leave the place where I have spent the first 18 years of my life? The place where I grew up, the place where I lived, loved and lost? Where every street has a story, every building speaks to me – the city that has become a memory? What does it feel like to draw a line and start a new life from scratch elsewhere? And then come back?
What is home? And where is it? Is it the place with address that I scribble in the right-hand side corner of a postcard, sending love from the remote parts of the world? Or is that the place where I am always welcomed, but never go back to? The place that was waiting for me to come back, but not the way I left it, but the way someone else though I would like to encounter it; like meeting for a coffee with a guy you had an affair with in highschool and seeing him wearing a tie carefully chosen by his wife. Is home a place you can come back to or a memory you will be searching for for the rest of your life?
After sharing those thoughts with a friend, she said: “There is no need to come back for the same experiences. Either come for the new ones or stay away.” I couldn’t agree more.