Contemporary artists grapple with the big issues

  • 2004-12-09
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The Contemporary Art Center is wrapping up another good year by simultaneously putting on three interrelated exhibitions under the title "Emisija" (Issue). This multifaceted exhibition will be showcasing the works of some of the most important contemporary Lithuanian artists, who between them have been pivotal in shaping the language of contemporary Lithuanian art over the previous decade.

Egle Rakauskaite features prominently with her latest project: "My Address is Neither a House nor a Street; My Address is a Shopping Center." The title alludes to the ubiquitous Soviet saying: "My address is neither a house nor a street; my address is the Soviet Union."

Rakauskaite's video project was filmed at several large supermarkets using hidden cameras. The artist approaches unsuspecting people and asks them: "Would you give away the goods you've just bought for the same price so you could go back and enjoy the pleasure of shopping over again?"

Deimantas Narkevicius, one of the most consistent and widely recognized Lithuanian artists in the international art scene, also features in the show. Narkevicius uses recent Lithuanian history to explore the difficulties of being creative and adopting an avant-garde stance in art in a given cultural context.

The narrative of his film "Kaimietis" (A Man From the Countryside) is based on the monologues of two individuals, neither of whom knows each other. One of the characters is a sculptor who shares his memories about how he once produced a statue to glorify a national hero that resisted Soviet oppression and was executed in 1949. The sculptor tells his story while his sculpture stands in the background, looking strangely disconnected from reality.

The second monologue comes from a young writer who reflects on the time she moved to another city and is accompanied by photographic snapshots of her first days there.

Narkevicius' work is a powerful look at the dilemma of identity in contemporary Lithuania and how the country has had to turn a new page in order to reconstruct a fragile sense of national identity.

The artist is scathingly sarcastic in the way he believes Lithuania has gone about this by selectively taking those fragments of its past which best suit its purposes for the present. For example, the statue that was made to honor the anti-Soviet hero shares all the characteristics of Soviet-style social realism, and so becomes almost a pastiche of the very thing it tries to glorify.

Narkevicius becomes even more sarcastic later on in the film when he sets abject images of the country to the superlatively bombastic strains of Wagner.

Anne Katrine Dolven is one of the foreign artists on show at the exhibition. Dolven comes from London and Lofoten, Norway, and in recent years has established herself as one of Norway's leading contemporary artists.

Her videos are almost devoid of narrative. Their carefully composed, painterly imagery is shot in real time and left unedited.

One of the video installations showing at the CAC, "Between Two Mornings," was filmed on the Lofoten islands, north of the Arctic Circle, during the extraordinary hours of midsummer night when the sun doesn't cast any shadows.

Four strangely genderless and limbless bodies disrupt the almost idyllic harmony of the landscape. The motionless and hairless figures are perched on large dark boulders facing the sea. This intensely lyrical work is satisfyingly enigmatic and almost classical in some respects.

Another wall projection, "Moving Mountain," is displayed inside a room-sized box. The sound, a loud, distressing cacophony of screaming birds, was filmed on a bird island in Norway.

The camera is fixed on two women that stand facing a forbidding landscape. Their heads, one blonde and one brunette, fill the bottom corners of the image.

Once the viewer enters the box, it seems as if he is drawn inside to join the other two on an apparent cliff. As the fog gradually lifts more and more birds are revealed flying in and out of the cleft of the rock face.

"Emisija" is well-worth seeing for many reasons, and is welcome proof that contemporary Lithuanian art is alive, well and as bitingly ironic as ever.

The Contemporary Art Center

2 Vokieciu g., Vilnius

Open: Tue. - Sun.

11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Until Jan. 9

Tickets: 4 litas (1 euro)