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Lithuanian photographer Antanas Sutkus in his studio

But Lithuania is already the main protagonist, the landscape, the very fabric of your photos; it does not need “to come”, to appear, or to confirm itself, as it already is in the content of the works.

Yes, but when talking about image-making, this is the best form of image-making, but nobody is using it. I remember president Vladas Adamkus. I really respected his practice of usually taking artists and exhibitions along with him when he was visiting foreign countries. I was with him in Czechoslovakia and in Dublin, Ireland. I think he took along other artists as well. I think that photography is a very suitable art form with which to represent a country. A lot of people do not know anything about us. A lot of people say that we need to become more “European”. In answer, I would say that we have been, and we still are, in Europe. During the occupation, morals and ethics were suppressed, but at the same time, we had an opportunity to cherish them, to save them, to survive through them.

Song Festivals. Rabbits in a Dressing Room. Vilnius, 1970

How did you decide to participate in Darius Mikšys's project “Behind The White Curtain”, as seen in last year's Venice Biennial?

His assistant called me. I will tell you very openly. I am skeptical about the Venice Biennial because it seems that Lithuania knows only the Venice Biennial in which a lot of money is invested. Some years ago, the Latvian pavilion showed the Latvian photographer Inta Ruka.

But the Lithuanian pavillion has always been special. In 2011 we got a special mention, in 2007 – an Honorable Mention for the “Nomeda ir Gediminas Urbonai” project, and in 2005 – a special mention for the Jonas Mekas retrospective.

Yes; because we are preparing projects specially for it, we sort of try to adapt our cultural events towards it. But there is also the MoMa in New York, and we do not do any special actions for it. I do not see the meaning of it. I do not call it art. I call it “KVN” (in Russian: the club of merriment and creativity). Is it spiritual art, in which we can find the answers to our main existential questions, like life, death and love? Or, maybe it can be called sport? And, these projects... How can you call all artworks “projects”? Look – we are now going not to the concert, but to “the project”. Music – a “project”, theater – a “project”. Once, we were in the British Embassy jury with Lukys, and he says – this project is very good. I agreed with him, but I wondered about what kind of exhibition it will be. And then Lukys says - yes, but it is more difficult, more important, to write a proposal for a project. So there is the question, “is art necessary for human beings in this chaotic world?” I find answers in music, in cinematography, in literature; in photography – not so often. A big part of contemporary art, what I have seen of it, is cosmopolitan art. It has nothing specific, nothing national.

Mother's hand. Vilnius, 1966

Deimantas Narkevičius, who participated in a show in Paris with you recently – he shows rather national themes; they are not about Lithuania per say, but very much tied to the local context and living, but hidden, histories. He often uses the word melancholia, and tries to avoid nostalgia, when speaking about his work.

Everybody is afraid of the word nostalgia because they fear to appear to be longing for the soviet times. Nostalgia and sentimentality, for me, are sacred words. I feel nostalgia for my youth, for my family, my small children, this time-line; but not for whatever party was in rule at the time. People loved, were born and died, both under the fascists and under the communists. Life did not stop during these regimes. Life is the thing for what we feel nostalgia. I am surprised how my works, the ones that are not contemporary, are more interesting than the contemporary works. And then, how can we define the contemporaneity, the now-ness? If I say the word “now”, after two seconds this moment drifts into the past. When we are going to finish the interview, today is going to be yesterday. Art has to be needed by people and, also, by artists, which can not live and express him/herself otherwise. But when I see that people are competing against one another, then what we have is called the Olympics.

Jean-Paul Sartre in Lithuania. Nida, 1965

How do you see art fairs in this context ? For example, the Frieze Art Fair?

Frieze is a very big art fair. It made a big impression on me. It is like a party of the society's elite. Not everything is being sold, but the most important thing is the meetings which happen during the fair. People are introduced to each other. Actually, I started my sales through Whitespace Gallery, which presented me in London in the 2011 Frieze Art Fair, during which I had the opportunity to meet collectors. British Photography magazine also published an article about me. In my mind, without participating in the fairs, you would not be so interesting to collectors, even if you had an exhibition at Tate. Of course, a show at Tate would definitely mean recognition and prestige. But collecting also has its own nuances. For example, the numbering of editions, in order to indicate their rarity. I want to propose that the quantity of artwork depends solely on its medium. Therefore, an oil painting is unique, but a photo negative also has limits, because you cannot print millions of photographs. Edward Weston, when he printed his last, the thousandth, photograph of his negative, he sold it for 100 thousand US dollars. I find numbering problematic, because how can you know the limits, which work will be sold well?

Maybe a personal art agent could advice you on these questions.

Definitely. For example, in Brazil, there is the Moreira Salles Institute (IMS), founded in 1990, which promotes, develops and disseminates Brazilian photography. The founder of this center was Walter Moreira Salles, a Brazilian banker, politician and philanthropist. Now his children donate money to the Institute, which is situated in the center of Rio de Janeiro. They are buying up all of the collections connected to Brazilian culture.

I, myself, have a public organization – “Photography Archive”, which I can sustain only through the selling of my photographs. Usually, countries buy whole collections and work with them; for example, they use it as a representation of their country. Book publishing and so on. Here, in Lithuania, we only do that with basketball.

Did you take photographs while in Brazil?

I documented a little bit. I was not making pictures, as that is a very difficult venture. At the moment, publishers are constantly reminding me to write my memoirs. But I say that it is too early. On other hand, they are right – now is the time. I am afraid to start writing – becausee I want to write the truth. And it is very hard to write the truth. You have to find the right time to write memoirs – not too soon, but not too late, either.

Antanas Sutkus: an Unrestrained Gaze
Museu Oscar Niemeyer
Through May 20, 2012