Recombination No. 5

Kristina Martinkeviciene’s (director of Information center for Contemporary Art in M.K. Ciurlionis national Museum of Art, Kaunas) interviu with Contemporary Art Centre curator Raimundas Malashauskas.

Kristina Martinkeviciene:

What is today’s situation of contemporary art in Lithuania and what perspectives could you see? What are the tendencies and artists orientations?

Raimundas Malashauskas:

The migratory state: "Back then (in Lithuania during the Soviet period), it was the territory that had moved farthest away toward the West; now it's the territory that had moved farthest away toward the East" (Vilnius' artist Deimantas Narkevièius)

Is it true that 70 percent of Lithuanian art is of travelling nature: emigration, deportation, “inner emigration” under totalitarianism, art for export? Time and ideology: the most devout communists in Vilnius meet the New Year at Moscow time, while watching Moscow TV (Lithuanians at that time are under the influence of direct broadcasts from Vatican and forgive the Communists their disloyalty).

The metaphor of "unreal time" suits to describe the processes taking place in Lithuania (and in the majority of the Eastern bloc territories) after the decline of USSR and the fall of the Berlin wall. Since the concept of real time implied the categories of synchronicity and homogeneity, unreal time was related with asynchronical processes of the heterogenisation of reality, whose macro-dimension seemed too unreal - "like in a movie". It did not take much effort to see that it lacked general rational order and the logic of development. The summer of 1999 was impressively different from, say, the winter if 1995.

The process of heterogenisation that shattered the mono-cultural and ethnocentric society of Lithuania, in the recent years clearly manifested itself in all aspects of life. The nationalist euphoria that lasted for several years and united the Lithuanian-speaking population like a giant Ecstasy pill "Made in Lithuania", is over. The sense of unity has evaporated, and the collective identity has sunk into the subconscious, giving way to personal or voluntaristic motifs and programs of individual identity (certainly, here we speak only of a certain part of the population). The nature and rate of development was obviously different: in some fields of life the changes were rapid and progressive, while in others - zero or regressive. In some fields of life the scene was synchronized with the West, in others - with USSR, and elsewhere - with Chicago of the thirties. Norms and schemes that had been applied in the morning used to lose sense in the evening.

In the aesthetic respect, it was quite an interesting phenomenon. However, this kind of situation is traditionally called unstable. It automatically provokes extreme reactions of its participants: reactionary fundamentalism, which can also be called ethno-hardcore in Lithuania, on the one pole, and on the other - its antipode, a cosmopolitan and liberal attitude to the state, an individual's place in it and the processes taking place in it. The conflict of these positions did not escape the art world as well. However, here it arose not so much because of ideological confrontation, but rather because of the invasion of the new media into the temple of traditional means of artistic practice. Gradually increasing ideological differences precipitated the natural processes of balcanization of society and dispelled the cozy condition of peaceful coexistence that prevailed in the totalitarian regime. In unreal time, the understanding of an artist's identity and role was obviously split. Attempts to perform the same functions that had been effective in an isolated ethnocentric community turned out to be futile. But these functions gained more meaning for those artists who were interested in the protection of national identity. Having identified themselves with the role of dissidents in the period of Russification, and enjoying the privilege of not-experienced-before democracy to express their thoughts freely, now they started shaking their fists at the users and spreaders of global information. The theory and practice of ethno-hardcore has spread into different forms of active and passive resistance against both Lithuania's integration into the existing European political structures (EU), and the common information space of the West.

A different kind of strategies and functions arose in the practice of pro-global art of the recent years. Its representatives prefer active participation in the life of the global rather than local village. They have grown less and less concerned about the issues of national representation and devote more attention to exploring the individual rather than collective identity. The deepening inner miscommunication of the art world is accompanied by more frequent acts of outer communication with the West. Certainly, the most meaningful participants of these acts are messages transmitted through the contemporary media  (from an object to social expression and TV). What contents do they have? Mainly existential. (Of course, the success of outer communication and flashes of career in the West do not guarantee an artist the attention of the local audience, museums, collectors and mass media. Contemporary art actually is a subculture in Lithuania.) However, trying to synchronize the movement of their thought with the discourse of contemporary art in the West, Lithuanian artists have been stuck in unreal time, as precise synchronization is impossible; moreover, the Western discourse is not homogeneous in itself. It is no secret that synchronization is a utopia. Reality is unreal time.


Kristina Martinkeviciene:

What is relation between regional and Vilnius as centre’s art in Lithuania? What  artists represent Lithuania abroad?

Raimundas Malashauskas:

There is no contemporary Lithuanian art, there is the Vilnius art scene, but it is sterile in its Lithuaniannes. It is made up of artists from different regions of Lithuania; in Vilnius they can speak English to strangers, while they recognise each other without saying a word.

 We may also speak of the existence of double standards (or contradiction), which has clearly become manifest in the world of art in recent years with the intensifying of communication with the West. These have become pressing equally for the institution as for the individual. These double standards are meant for internal issues and for foreign policy. Their appearance is induced by the fact that criteria, views, traditions and values in the context of art and art administration in Lithuania and, e.g., Western Europe are often different. The same is true in the area of descriptive systems - the theoretical models of Western art development do not fit the Lithuanian context and vice versa. The system of dual standards, it seems, is well known to other Eastern European arts centers as well.


Kristina Martinkeviciene:

What art fairs do lithuanian artists participate in?

Raimundas Malashauskas:

Lithuanian artists who participated in Venice, Stambul or Manifesta biennials had never took part in Basel, Berlin or Frankfurt am Main art fairs.

Lithuanian artists who didn't participate in Venice, Stambul or Manifesta biennials had never took part in Basel, Berlin or Frankfurt am Main art fairs either.


Kristina Martinkeviciene:

What is lithuanian artists relation with the East Europe and Russia?


 To continue the cinematographic theme, one can recall that once actors from Lithuania or other Baltic states used to perform the roles of Germans and Americans (but never Lithuanians) in films about World War II or the cold war produced in Moscow, and films about the West filmed at the Baltic sea were highly popular in the whole USSR. Now, as Lithuanians go to London, Paris and Amsterdam, they usually perform the role of Easterners. Sometimes - Russians. It's interesting what could be their role in Russia now, in the year 2000.