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Photo from the personal archive

An Interview with Algirdas Gataveckas 0

By Etsuj

During the ARTVILNIUS'12 art fair, which took place in Lithuania in June 2012, the artist Algirdas Gataveckas exhibited his large-scale project, "Effects", consisting of five life-size photorealistic portraits of young people living in the Alytus Child Care Home. This project garnered Gataveckas both the Lithuanian Young Artist award and the ARTVILNIUS'12 audience prize. After the fair, however, Gataveckas decided to sell these drawings to the collector A.Butkus and his newly established Modern Art Centre, and all of the money was donated to the Alytus Child Care Home, where Gataveckas is continuing to work on his project. The Alytus Child Care Home is also where he and his twin brother grew up. 

Could you tell us about the project, “Effect”, and your reaction to the recently achieved awards?

After the awards, we got a lot of attention. Journalists literally were attacking us and wanted to know everything, especially our motivation for this kind of project. But I am just continuing to do what I consider is important. This situation comes naturally to me. One person may think that one should try to cheat or use some other strategies, but my attitude is to work honestly. There are many things that I don’t control, but when I am doing my project, there is hope that it will take the message further. People in the government don’t often understand what the important things are. They are sitting and solving some meagre problems. In this sense, I see my project as a platform, as a structure of analysing this specific social environment – childcare homes.

So, your process is mostly based on analysis?

I am analysing this particular childcare home, yes. It is more like an observation, and a confirmation of my hypothesis. I have lived in this institution for many years and therefore, I already know many things. I have certain expectations towards what the final result should be, but of course, no one knows what it will actually be. 

How many more artworks do you plan to produce for your project, “Effect”?

This number is fluctuating. Some kids have been transferred to other childcare houses. One girl went mad. But I am sure that there will be no shortage of subjects.

Can you tell us how this process takes place?

The children of the Alytus Child Care Home hold a pose for me. Drawing happens in two or three stages: first I do a life drawing, then I draw from photographs, and lastly, I draw while looking closely at the materials. The children don’t need to work for us everyday.

Is the process completely open, where everyone can enter your studio? Doesn’t it disturb your productive work?

Yes, the process is completely open. Sometimes, if smaller children come and play with scissors or pencil sharpeners, it does disturb the process, because I don’t want them to get hurt. Regarding other children, it is actually very refreshing to hear what they have to say, especially when they talk to each other and comment on what they see us doing. They are not asking much, but I am very interested to hear how they exchange their opinions.

What is the aesthetic purpose of the extreme white, almost vacuum background in your drawings?

I just took the simplest form – the standing position, which, in my opinion, is the most neutral. I sought something that would not give any additional layers of meaning. A childcare home is actually a vacuum in itself. Everyone needs to leave it when they reach 18 years of age. You should come and see our childcare house yourself. It is the biggest in Lithuania. It’s the most busy when all the children are back from the holidays - we have 165 of them.

But getting back to the drawn figure, a standing figure is the simplest form, and it suits me because I only want to speak about the person I am drawing. In addition, the stretched vertical posture reminds me of small soldiers or stamped figures, which are like objects that can be discarded after being used. Maybe it refers to the fact that parents sometimes leave their children in childcare houses, as if they were no longer useful objects. 

How does it feel to work and to be amongst so many children?

For me, it was nice, because I could play football. My brother and I always find something to do. But not all the children are the same. Not everyone likes to be active and communicate all day. If one does not like it, a childcare home can become hell, as there is no place for solitude.

And how about break-dancing? Is that where you started to dance?

We started dancing in a collective in Alytus. We were constantly dancing before art school and after art school, and we were playing football as well. When we were 14 or 15 years old, we even tried smoking and drinking, but now we are not interested in that. 

Are you in contact with Redas Dirzys and the Alytus Biennial? What do you think about his art practice? 

I know him. He is my teacher. The previous Alytus Biennial involved an art-strike against free art. Redas is against the decorative role of artwork. He believes that when a person is being photographed near an artwork, he or she takes on a somewhat “lower” importance while assigning a “higher” role to the art. He is involved in participatory art and institutional critique. At the same time, however, he is a tutor at the Vilnius Academy of Art and teaches classical painting techniques, which he believes are useless.

Tell me about your other projects, as I know you have done more.

One of our last projects was about involving ourselves in the situation. We were feeling somehow ashamed of admitting that we come from the childcare house. We decided to shout out-loud about these kind of institutions through exposing ourselves, in the literal and conceptual senses, in public, and showing that there can be other kinds of people from childcare homes. In one of the projects, my brother Remigijus and I were drawing each other without the use of a photograph. I was drawing him, he was drawing me. We took the canvas from the childcare home – the one on which we were standing, and on which the marks of our feet had imprinted during the drawing process – which, in turn, had lasted half a year. So, we also exhibited this imprinted mark because it allowed us to project a reference to the visuals that were related to religion and birth-documentation. The current project, “Effect”, is going very slowly because instead of using oils, we are drawing with pencils.

It seems that you attempt to highlight the long process of drawing. Is this a reference to the meditativeness and repetitiveness of the practice?

I am not afraid of saying that when drawing, we enter “another world”, or a sort of trance. My brother even said that if you have problems, and you then start to draw, during the first half hour of drawing you're still thinking of your problems, but later, the problems disappear  – as if you're entering some other reality. The effect of drawing is like watching a very good film. Another reason why the process of drawing is very important is that it gives one opportunity and a place with which to communicate with other people. I am not drawing random people – only the people that I know, with whom I play football. This time of being together allows for a more expanded dimension of the artwork. The project continues when the people who have posed for me then participate in the exhibition's opening, and so on, and so on. In that way, I am exploring the ways and strategies of communication and of being together. And to top it all off - I am just doing what I like, which is to be with other people. These days, a lot of people like to go to the village just for the sake of being alone. But being alone totally disinterests me.

What is your dissertation about?

It is about young people, and analyzes the impact of certain art education tools on the development of the personalities and visual imaginations of young people. It is quite complicated, actually. 

Very often you and your brother, Remigijus, appear in the media as one artist-collective. You also present yourself in Facebook as one person.

During ARTVILNIUS'12, they invited me as a doctoral student, because this project is a practical part of my doctoral thesis. My brother and I do a lot of things together, but the Vilnius Art Academy is not ready to accept collective art production. They usually say things like, “how do we know which part of this drawing was produced by you, and which part by your brother”? We use Facebook solely for advertising, for spreading information about both of us. I think that at the moment, it is the best platform to keep a sort of a diary, as it can expand the possibility to communicate about various things, including our break-dancing and exhibitions.

Which artists inspire you?

From the Lithuanian artists, I really like Kostas Dereskevicius, Jonas Gasiunas, Valentinas Sabanavicius, Palemonas Gintaras Janonis, and Gintatas Navakas. Regarding foreign artists, I like Damien Hirst. Although very often it seems that for him, money is more important than art, I can’t help myself; I still like his art. I also like Jeff Koons, Bruce Naumann and Gerard Richter. From street-art, I like the work of JR, from France, who also participated in the Venice Biennial.

Would you relate part of your artistic practice, in some cases, to relational aesthetics?

From the Lithuanian artists, there are projects by Arturas Raila and Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonai. For my part, I use academic drawing techniques, because that's what I know best. I do things first, and then decide if they are good or not.

What do you think about the tendency of many art academies to no longer teach academic drawing techniques to students in the Fine Arts Department?

I am observing this tendency at the Vilnius Academy of Art, in their Sculpture Department. Maybe for the first couple of years, the sculptor Antanas Snaras  teaches skills for a little bit, but then, very quickly, all of the teaching takes the students straight into conceptualism. The same goes for the Photography Department. The most important thing is that one does what one likes. I think it is a good tendency.

Have you seen this year’s dOCUMENTA?

No, we do not have the money for it. We're spending everything on our planned trip to the United States.

Maybe you should have kept the money that you received after selling your drawings to the Modern Art Centre, instead of giving it all away – to the Alytus Child Care Home?

If I thought like that, I wouldn't have even started the project.  

Algirdas Ir Remigijus Gataveckai