Industrial spaces are often associated with distant megapolises, with secret, unfamiliar and perhaps even bizarre creative communities, and the constant movement of ideas, people, creators, non-creators and so on. TEMA, one such place, can be found in the city of Klaipėda, at 3 Naujojo Uosto Street, the Northern Horn, to be precise, where it has been for the last couple of years. We spoke with the founder of TEMA, the lighting designer Linas Kuravičius, about its 13 years of existence.
Linas Kutavičius (b. 1979) studied at Vilnius Academy of Art. He uses experimental material to create functional lighting objects, which he applies and installs both in interiors and outdoors. Since 1997 he has been an active participant in various cultural events and exhibitions, has taken part in informal intercultural projects, and has created sets for music festivals and other events. He lives and creates in Klaipėda.
Skaistė Mačienė: TEMA (Tarptautinė Eksperimentinė Meno Akcija, or International Experimental Art Action), an informal artists’ community, met in an industrial setting here in Klaipėda in 2009. Artists from different fields pursued their creative practices and collaborated in joint activities. Throughout its 13 years of existence, TEMA’s location has changed, and so have its members and its aims. What is TEMA today?
Linas Kutavičius: That’s true, both our direction and our community have changed. At the beginning, we gathered in a space that we were able to use for free. That environment was the incentive, the stimulus, to act. These days we pay rent, so naturally the events have changed: there are fewer of them, and their content is different. Meanwhile, new members have joined TEMA, and they’re doing their own creative work. Joint projects have become fewer, and they do not happen often; however, they tend to be of better quality.
SM: What activities take place at TEMA? You’ve opened an art residency programme. Tell me more about that.
LK: During lockdown, we had a lot of obligatory free time and materials. Our attitude here at TEMA is to use what we already have, to reuse, to upcycle. Ideas of sustainability have been intrinsic to us from the very beginning. The secondary use of materials and things was the precondition for our survival; today it’s a trend. And that’s how the new space, the residency, came about. We don’t announce open calls for the residency, it’s possible to contact us any time. Write to us, send us a residency proposal and a motivation letter. We provide discounts on studio rentals. A regular room can be rented too. And we are glad that more and more people are interested in our residencies. TEMA’s inner yard and the gallery are a unique and exclusive space. We’re also glad about our partnership with the Herkus Kantas team.
SM: How do you see Klaipėda’s cultural life?
LK: I think that’s why I’m involved in this creative work, that is, the creation of the TEMA platform. Since I’m able to express myself here, I try to show others the potential they can unlock within this entity too. I believe that’s the inception of a different space where more artists might realise their ideas. As a result, cultural life is going to grow organically and change. It could be said that the space gives an opportunity to materialise one’s work. The virtual reality that existed for a while gave rise to other creative strategies; however, it was also very tiring.
SM: Is there a lack of places to present oneself or to merge otherwise?
LK: In an interview, one of our residents was asked why she had chosen to be here in particular. Her answer was that she managed to fit in easily and find many like-minded people. I’ve received comments that the place is like Vilnius or Berlin. This reference to big cities, I think, is linked to the urban atmosphere of those places, the free creative spirit there. A sense of freedom is essential to people. They want to come here, then to return, and finally to take up something. This sense of freedom acts as a magnet. That’s exactly what Klaipėda lacks, everything here is fettered, there isn’t enough freedom. My time and my creative work are devoted to Klaipėda’s cultural life. I do what I can and what I believe in.
SM: Do you ever get disappointed?
LK: There hasn’t been any disappointment yet. On the contrary, I am glad that my attempts amount to something positive. We are satisfied with our collaboration with bars, which allows us to act more freely. Since we are still renting our space, we aren’t fully financially independent yet. I invest money from my personal projects in this thing. I can’t do otherwise.
SM: You’ve been creating light objects and installations for a couple of decades. What have you learned over the years working with light? What inspires you?
LK: There are two directions that I’m pursuing: TEMA and light installations. The personal projects that I’m currently working on are different from the ones I did five or ten years ago. The creation of light installations has partly become a business and a source of income. I think many people dream of their creative work earning them money; however, it’s extremely difficult to navigate between independent creative ideas and keeping within the confines of business. I’m glad I manage to maintain my creative freedom, even with all the contracts, commitments and business agreements I have. On the other hand, it makes my personal creative work suffer, since I have less time for it, and I get to do it very slowly.
SM: The rings and bents have become a kind of ‘business card’ of yours. By combining geometric figures and experimenting with materials, you seem to be guiding the light. You use mainly white and red light. Why only these?
LK: Some of the elements become popular during the process. It’s just like a popular song that everybody wants you to sing. Whether you want to sing it or not is another question. I try to manipulate forms, to look for new compositions and ways to apply them, and yet my research process is shorter than before. There was a time when I followed a personal work rule: to create something completely new and yet unseen for all of my projects, something that I wouldn’t yet know how to make, so that it would be a challenge for me. Then you make sketches, think and experiment, but also waste a lot of financial (and other) resources. And, of course, that would complicate communication with my customers.
You ask what I’ve learned. To trust myself even more, to trust that inner intuition that never disappoints. To check the partners in a project. If you feel trust and freedom in another determines whether the final result is either good or bad. I myself plunge deep, I give myself to the project, and then the result satisfies everyone. It’s definitely not easy, though.
To get back to your question, I never use colours, I don’t like them. Colours are necessary, but a multitude of them is usually used for stage lighting, for theatre. After a few attempts in theatre, I realised that wasn’t the place for me. I decided on the direction of my work: my object being light. I drew other markers for myself, namely, to work with colourless light. Those were my rights and I was free to stick to them.
SM: What optical or sensory effects do you seek to create for the viewers of your installations?
LK: We live in a region, in a climate, with lots of darkness, so light is immensely important to us. It is one of those crucial things that either supports or disturbs life. Whatever project it might be, whatever I may be doing, the important thing is to make sure the arrangement of light in an urban setting, or any other space, retains its function. There have been some exceptions, of course. For instance, the project ‘Amberscope’ acts slowly, it is functional, since it provides lighting, but it also has a psychological (soothing) effect. I use electricity, and some other components that have to be durable under conditions outside in nature. My installations aren’t one-off products.
Light determines a person’s well-being. I often observe people through windows, people who light their spaces with cheap LEDs for economic reasons. However, the effect of light is so intense that we often don’t realise why we are feeling so bad.
SM: Individual work has evolved into collective work: seven years ago you founded your studio Lightforms. What experiments and projects are you working on now? What technologies are you connecting and employing?
LK: I make technical drawings and realise the project myself; that’s my principle, although surely, it is now we [that do it]. Whatever it may be, an art project, a short-term or a long-term installation, we install, we do the technical maintenance and we take full responsibility for the production ourselves. The responsibility is mine. I never suggest an idea that I couldn’t carry out myself. That’s why I monitor my capabilities, or use ones that I can control. Sometimes extra partners join at some stage of the project. There are things that I cannot make on my own, such as a solar collector, and I couldn’t construct a volumetric hologram. So you play with and manipulate your resources, and, together with your team, you realise the idea.
SM: Do you employ solar, wind or water energy for your light projects?
LK: We’ve done it all, with wind collectors, water, waves in the sea, or under water.
SM: Is there a particular space that inspires you? Do you look for forms and ideas in nature. Or do you trust your own experience?
LK: Many different factors add to the formation of an idea. It’s usually the initial idea that I trust. Then comes the technical work. In all honesty, it’s been a while since I got immersed in the creative process. I am impatient, I like fast-paced work. Unfortunately, I can’t always allow myself to delve into long creative quests, like creating an exhibition; that would be completely surreal.
SM: Good luck, and thank you for the conversation.