On Thursday, September 9 at 6 pm Galerija Vartai is pleased to announce the opening of Deimantas Narkevičius solo exhibition Sounds Like the XX Century. He is one of the most internationally renowned and acclaimed Lithuanian artists with his work widely represented in museums, art institutions and galleries around the world. The installations and films of Deimantas Narkevičius are often described as artistic research into the relationship between historical documents of political repressions and our memory. The artist is particularly concerned with the way representation is used to construct the perception of truth and reality, and the influence personal and collective experiences, as well as the medium itself, have on the latter. Art critic Neringa Černiauskaitė notes in her description of the artist’s work that Narkevičius ‘adopts a program that combines the modalities of a completely free artist and authoritarian television, and becomes an editor or, rather, a “moulder” of “reality” information whose academic background in sculpture enables him to approach images from a distinctive spatio-temporal perspective.’
Curated by the artist himself, Sounds Like the XX Century presents films, installations and objects from various periods that have not yet been shown to a Lithuanian audience. Sound becomes the exhibition’s central formative element and principal agent. It disperses in space, migrates from one hall to another and undergoes various transformations, spawning different contexts, meanings and semantic centres of gravity.
The display begins with the film Disappearance of a Tribe (2005), in which sound, albeit not being manifestly central, acts as a very important underlying element. Disappearance of a Tribe is a collage of black and white family photos capturing episodes from the artist’s father’s life. Yet the autobiographic aspect is not emphasised in this family story; on the contrary, the artist seeks to find common, universal elements in the everyday life of that time and to revive the shared experiences of the Socialist era. The film’s soundtrack refers to particular scenes: buzzing bees, bubbling water or a creaking floor. It is only the funeral scene that is completely silent. The soundtrack is assembled from field recordings made in the places where the photographs were taken during the period 1940-1989. Having revisited the locations captured in the photographs, the artist recorded the sounds that were present there at the time. With the introduction of motion, photography becomes film, while manipulated sound assumes the role of living history and reality. Simultaneously, the juxtaposition of sounds from the present and images from the past gives rise to a temporal contradiction. Disappearance of a Tribe is a powerful historical document that sheds light on the traditions of Soviet Lithuanian amateur photography.
Narkevičius’s sound installation Matching the TU-144 (2012) refers to the 1960s, when France, Great Britain, the USA and the USSR actively competed in their attempts to create a supersonic passenger aircraft. The Soviet Union built the Tupolev TU-144 plane, which exceeded the speed of sound in 1969 and became the fastest airliner in history. The human body physically feels sound waves before the mind perceives the source of where they come from and associates them with a certain familiar phenomenon or object. The sound of the TU-144 engine re-created in the gallery space revives the historical tensions and alludes to the competitive aspect of power.
The film The Role of a Lifetime (2003), screened in the adjacent hall, combines three different narrative modes. The first is an interview with the British filmmaker Peter Watkins recorded during his residence in Lithuania. Watkins’s reflections on his work, films and the close relationship between biography and creativity are juxtaposed with Mindaugas Lukošaitis’s drawings of Lithuanian landscapes, including the Grūtas Park with its post-war Socialist sculptures. The third element of the film is footage filmed by an amateur recording the life of his home town Brighton (UK) found in the city’s archives. Watkins and Narkevičius share a sceptical attitude towards images traditionally understood as authentic. Independently from each other, the two artists seek to deconstruct the conventional visual rhetoric of historical testimonies and look for a cinematic language that does not subjugate history to ideological assimilation or media manipulation.
Deimantas Narkevičius’s newest two-channel video installation Books on Shelves and Without Letters (2013) shows a band called Without Letters playing at a second hand book store in Vilnius. Although the concert by a young Lithuanian band is shot in these times with a spontaneously moving camera, the very texture of the image, the editing typical of vintage music videos and the peculiar aesthetic of the book store seem to transport the film to another dimension and make it difficult to read historically. The mythical reality of a young rock band created in the film is punctuated by fragments of another time pulsating in the books being leafed through by the readers. History, the present and the dream of the future become intertwined.
The exhibition also features the work Proposal for Whatever You Play, It Sounds Like the 1930s (2012), produced for the newly built National Socialism Museum in Munich, and one of the artist’s earliest sculptures, Game No. 1. Made in 1995, this work is a soccer ball consisting of separate segments which are casts of the surface of the artist’s own body. In this way, the latter becomes a part of a familiar object designed for playing. The original 1995 work was made of concrete, while the present version has been re-created in bronze using the same form.
Deimantas Narkevičius (b. 1964) represented Lithuania at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001, and received the prestigious Vincent van Gogh Award and the Lithuanian National Culture and Art Prize in 2008. He has participated in Manifesta 2 and Manifesta 10, the Istanbul, São Paulo, Busan and Gwangju contemporary art biennials, Sculpture Projects Münster, as well as the Rotterdam, Oberhausen and Berlin international film festivals. Works by the artist are in major private and state art collections including MoMa in New York, Tate Modern in London, Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the French National Collection, and many others.