Weirding out the Baltic - performing in Riga for Totaldobze & the FreeRiga festival

Another epic trip into outside the UK, to the Baltic, where I havent been for ten years, visiting all three nations, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, but really for Latvia, Riga, thanks to the amazing Totaldobze art collective, and the British Council who supported me visiting and performing for them. Im the fourth year of British to visit Riga, and Totaldobze brought the wonder Hannah Silva over a few years back, so I slot in nicely, though in Latvia anything outside of literature is called spoken word / slam, so I was a bit worried they wouldnt be up for what I do. Not that I planned anything, I intended to wait to see the space and speak to the curators Austra and Kaspars about what this festival was really about, called Freeriga, I had been told it was a specially organised exploration of abandoned spaces in Riga, which were denied to artists while rents rose, blocking them out of the city. This is a world wide issue, a huge one in London too, with so many flats empty and so many people struggling for space. Many reasons to be grateful and excited.
The performance day was a brutal / brilliant one. At it's close I felt like I had beaten myself up, which I did. The whole time in the Baltic I have walked, at least 50 miles over the ten days, all told, and on the performance day, just after arriving, I started by walking miles in 30 degree heat, right out to the outskirts of Riga, near countryside, listening to moondog, before walking all the way back past my factory studio (which was an incredible space, a once abandoned place, enormous) across the railway lines and all the way across the city to the river, crossing the Daugava via bridge and arriving at the Press building, the new home of Totaldobze for the afternoon to teach a workshop. The press house was a massive space, just indescribably big and dustry and resonant and ghostly. Like real resident evil set, it had been left to mulch for twenty years, just recently cleaned, recently electricked and watered by the arts collective and room after room was empty, sealed off, full of furniture, glass, material. Just breathtaking. 
For my workshop,  just a few people, but really generous and lovely people. 17 year old Kristina, and the remarkable journalist Ivars, established poet Laura...we worked on translations of their work from Latvian into English before they filmed covers of my poems. Then Ivars interviewed me and his erudition and intelligence, and incredible knowledge of literature really made me feel more situated in the space and the atmosphere of the collective. 

So the performance, as I said this whole festival was about Freeriga, how so much of the city sits unused, inaccessible to artists and the people of the city, while rents elsewhere price them out. I wanted so much to let this idea and the environment itself create my performance. I considered doing many things, readings, exercise performances, sound performance, but when I arrived in the space I knew it had to be about the space. I felt I could see how the buildings are constructed (one being built, a high rise, with the address 9 11, in sight of the Press house), then abandoned and deconstructed, stripped down, and occasionally, someone like Totadobze then reconstructs them. I wanted to highlight how that process is about regeneration, through the act of destruction. How it is not about utility, or presence, or history, but business, the appearance of improvement. The press house is black stone, so it is a ghost town. The new tower is glass and rises, during a crippling depression. I spoke to Austra and Kaspars in depth about what parts of their new home had to retain their integrity and which parts I could go nuts in, practical things.. We traced out a path where I would travel and the rooms I could absolutely level. We settled on me using a sledgehammer to crush the rooms and walls and old furniture and piles of tiles and doors etc... We couldn't find one anywhere, I walked over an hour to an industrial estate in the countryside, in the torrential rain, but they had shut. Just before closing time, just before I gave up hope and would have two hours to come up with a new performance, I found a gardening shop and bought a brand new cast iron shovel. I had read recently (On the plane over in fact!) does a rifle kill someone? yes. does a spade kill someone? yes. does a spade dig a hole? yes. does a rifle dig a hole? no. Choose the right tool for the job.
I had real, sweating, retching fun in this performance. I loosed, so rare I get to express anger so immaturely and bare monkey power in the process of the concept I felt somewhat behind. I reached moments during the performance where I felt like I was going to collapse from exertion, and had to keep repeating my mantra, and reading the excerpts of found text I had taken from the net about abandoned urban spaces and the history of Riga. I smashed floors, walls, piles of glass, cement, tiles, concrete, wooden boards, furniture. I smashed a metal dress into hundreds of pieces. I stopped when, with extraordinary satisfaction, I broke the brand new steel spade in two pieces.

After the performance I felt elated, but also like a pall had fallen over me in the space. People seemed understandably weary of me, though complimentary, and the standoffishness, which was not anyones fault but was terribly exacerbated by a few moody hipsters (who made me think for the first time that the abandoned space / squat vibe is a stereotype of vapid artists, especially in East London, and that this hadnt even come close to occurring to me in Riga was such a compliment to the legitimacy of Austra and Kaspars activity and attitude) made me feel like I should leave, to let the adrenalin of the assault fall away gently.

Ive walked across unfamiliar cities at night when travelling over the last few years, quite regularly, by accident, as I tend to leave late but earlier than others when they start drinking. In the last half year Ive nightwalked Mexico City, Bratislava, Reykjavik, Paris, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Venice, Erbil, Prague, and now Riga, crossing the Daugova to fireworks. An hour back to the factory, more, suburbs and high rises, I realised as well as cutting my hands quite badly during the performance (which was bandaged at the venue) I had mushed my previously broken right big toe with the spade. The adrenalin wore off, its what I deserved.