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Deimantas Narkevičius “Doubled Youth” 0

Q&A with Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius

Deimantas Narkevičius “Doubled Youth”
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
Through January 8, 2017

Through January 2017, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art will be presenting the new 3D film by Lithuanian video-artist Deimantas Narkevičius – “20 July 2015”, which traces the removal of several socialist realist sculptures from a prominent site in central Vilnius known as the Green Bridge. Alongside this new work, Narkevičius will also present works on paper relating to the many hours of footage, and a further installation, “Books on Shelves and Without Letters” (2013). Presented as a twin projection, it documents a young Lithuanian band playing a gig in a secondhand bookstore in Vilnius.

Narkevičius usually works with the researching of time, history, and memories; he does so by using documentary video diaries and techniques taken from traditional movie-making, as well as sound, photography, dubbing, and interviews. In his works, he deals with our rather recent history by reflecting on Soviet modernism and its legacy, and he does it in a manner that makes it interesting even for those who live outside of Lithuania. Although Narkevičius focuses on the context of the Soviet legacy, he has found a successful language of art and form that is interesting to those for whom this subject is foreign and distant. It is no wonder, then, that his works have been acquired not by post-Soviet and post-socialist countries, but by museums in Western Europe and the USA, including the Tate Modern in London, New York’s MoMA, the Queen Sofia Arts Center in Madrid, the Paris Museum of Modern Art, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, among others. In a 2015 interview with the Latvian newspaper Diena, Narkevičius said about his art created in the 90s: “It wasn’t post-Soviet art like that of Ilya Kabakov and others, who directly exploited the Soviet past. For me, it was a reflection of what had been, and what, in perspective, could be again and repeat itself.”

In connection with the exhibition at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, asked Narkevičius the following two questions:

Your work is largely based on experience and memories that are specific to a certain region with a certain history. What have you done in your work to make it universal and understandable, for example, in England?

The subjects of my film and video works invoke themes which are quite common in England at the current moment. UK society is very much driven by historical consciousness, perhaps even too much… My recent 3D video work features the removal of Socialist Realism-style sculptures from the center of Vilnius. To many Brits, the work echoes a recent debate on the issue of the sculpture honoring Cecil Rhodes in Oxford. Students from Oxford University have initiated a debate about the removal of the Rhodes figural portrait from the University’s facade, as his personality is associated with severe British colonialism and exploitation in South Africa. That is just one example.

The phenomena of the past and memory are at the core of your works. How would you describe your own memories, on a very personal level? What kind of shadows do they have?

As any individual, I have very complex memories of my past. There were no periods which invoke only positive or only negative experiences. This complexity drives my ambition to carry on as an artist. I am creating politically engaged work in which solutions are difficult to find in a simplified way. The themes and subjects of my work suggest a critical approach towards the interpretation of our recent past. Unlike in journalism, I do not provide any formulated solutions to the viewers of my work. They have to make up their minds by themselves. This ability – to leave contradictory subjects to a very polarized appreciation by international art viewers – is one of the brightest and most positive sentiments I am eager to go through, again and again. 

Read in the Archive: An interview with Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius