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Deimantas Narkevičius
About the author
  • Born 1964 in Utena.
  • Graduated Sculpture at Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts and studied in London in year 1992-1993.
  • In 2008 received Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art. 
  • Artworks are acquired by 28 private and public collections, among that are MoMA in New York, Tate Modern in London, French National Collection.
The most important solo exhibitions
2016 Doubled Youth, The Baltic, Gateshead.
2015 The Role of a Lifetime, Maureen Paley, London.
2014 Da Capo Deimantas Narkevičius, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.
2014 Deimanto Narkevičiaus vaizdo kūrinių retrospektyva.Tarptautinis trumpametražio kino festivalis, Oberhauzenas, Vokietija
2013 Da Capo Deimantas Narkevičius, Marino Marini Museum, Florence,  Magasin - Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble.
2012 About Films, Deimantas Narkevičius, Para/Site Art Space, Hong Kong.
2011 Solo film programme, 15th International Short Film Festival, Winterthur.
2010 Getting a lost tune, Artra, Milano.
2009 The Unanimous Life, Kunsthalle, Bern, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
2009 Deimantas Narkevičius, BFI, British Film Institute Southbank Gallery, London.
2008 The Unanimous Life, Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madridas
2007 Among the Things We Touched, Secession, Vienne.
2006 This not What you See, Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków.
2006 Screening, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris.
2004 Films screening, Tate Modern, London.
2003 Energy Lithuania, LISTE 03, gb agency, Basel.
2002 Deimantas Narkevicius' Project, Kunstverein, Munich.
2001 One day film and video screenings, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
2001 Lithuanian Pavilion, 49th Venice Biennial, Venice.
2000 8 x 16 x 35, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius.
1994 Unforced Reality, Akademija Gallery, Vilnius.
The most important group exhibitions
2016 Auf den Schultern von Giganten, Kunsthalle Mainz, Mainz.
2015 The Future of Memory, Kunsthalle Vienna, Museumsquartier, Vienna.
2014 Museum as Hub: Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module, tranzit, New Museum, New York.
2014 Manifesta 10, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, St. Petersburg.
2014 All that Falls, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
2014 New presentation, Permanent Collection, Tate Modern, London.
2014 The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology, Museum of Contemporary ArtChicago (MCA), Chicago.
2013 Da capo, Deimantas Narkevičius, Marino Marini Museum, Firenze.
2012 Performing Histories, MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
2012 Un nouveau festival, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris.
2011 Side by Side Poland - Germany. A 1000 Years of Art and History, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin. 
2011 Ostalgia, New Museum, New York.
2011 Space, About a Dream, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna.
2010 There’s Always a cup of sea to Sail In, the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial, Sao Paulo.
2010 The Promises of the Past, 1950–2010, Centre Pompidou, MNAM, Paris.
2009 What Keeps Mankind Alive? 11th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul.
2008 The Vincent Award 2008, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
2007 Future in the Past, Slovenian Pavilion, The 52nd International Art Exhibition Venice Biennial, Venice.
2007 Deimantas Narkevicius and Jùlius Koller, Art Premiere, gb agency, Art 38, Basel.
2007 Macba im Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt.
2007 Cine y Casi Cine, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid.
2006 Plug In #1, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
2005 Video Rental, e-flux space, New York..
2004 Busan Biennale, Busan, Korea.
2004 Time and Again, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
2003 Utopia Station, 50th Venice Biennial, Venice.
2003 Déplacements, ARC, Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris.
1998 Manifesta 2, Biennale Européenne d'Art Contemporain, Luxembourg.
1997Invasion, International Saaremaa Biennial, Kuressare, Saaremaa.
1991 Europe Unknown, TPSP Exhibition Hall, Cracow.
About the Artworks
Deimantas Narkevičius belongs to the “turning point” generation: he began his studies at the Soviet-era Vilnius Art Institute and finished them at independent Lithuania’s Vilnius Art Academy. While still a student he gained some very meaningful experience when, in 1992–1993, he participated in the Delfina Studio residency program in London. The works he created toward the end of and after his studies strayed from traditional sculptural forms: he began to create so-called “ready-made” art based on found or household objects which he transformed and reinstalled in various new ways. While in London Narkevičius was also interested in site-specific art, and he later began to film conversations.
Earlier Narkevičius works include a pair of shoes filled with sand titled Per ilgai ant paaukštinimo (Too Long on a Pedestal, 1994, acquired by Lithuania’s National Gallery of Art), and a crib filled with paraffin titled Niekada atgal (Never Backwards, 1994, acquired by Tate Modern), in which individual or universal history cannot be reversed. The themes of history, memory, and the relationship between present and past remain important to Narkevičius, as reflected in the titles of his works (Kartą XX amžiuje, Once in the XX Century) and exhibitions (Prisiminimų archeologija, Archeology of Memories).
In more than one interview Narkevičius has said that he began to create films because, when everything was changing so fast during the last decade of the twentieth century, sculpture was no longer sufficient for the narrative that he wanted to express. His first film work, Europa 54’54 – 25’19 (1997) was a road movie. The film records the artist’s trip to the geographic centre of Europe, which the French Association of Geographers had identified as being 20 km from Vilnius – something that Lithuania was very proud of. The film raises questions about the shifting relationship between centre and periphery: what had recently been the border of the Soviet Union and had become the Eastern edge of Europe suddenly becomes the centre of Europe (which incidentally was, soon after, moved to another location by the same association). At the same time it speaks about how that which is nearby is important to us, regardless of whether it is called the centre or the periphery.
At the 1998 Manifesta 2 exhibition in Luxembourg, which marked Narkevičius’s debut on the international art stage, he showed the film His-story, which explores the issue of subjectivity in history. The artist explained that before beginning to film other people’s stories, which would inevitably be subjective interpretations, he felt ethically obliged to depict the most painful, and even shameful, moments of his own family’s history. Travelling from the coast to the village where his parents lived, Narkevičius at first reservedly, but then more expressively, recounts childhood memories to his wife. He mentions that films and especially television reportages made a very strong impression on him when he was young. He was also very interested in changing technologies, how they impact questions of form, and then how form itself affects the content being portrayed. For that reason, the film was shot, processed and edited with old Soviet 8mm technology. With gentle melancholy, it tells the story of an utterly unheroic character and his personal tragedy.
One of the films that has brought Narkevičius the most acclaim is Kartą XX amžiuje (Once in the XX Century, 2004, acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York), which shows, without any commentary, the removal of the statue of Lenin from Lukiškės Square in Vilnius. Narkevičius created the film from television reports and amateur videos but edits them in such a way that, just after a crane rips the “great leader” from his pedestal and raises him above the cheering crowd (a clip that was repeatedly shown on CNN), the action is reversed – as the crowd applauds, Lenin is firmly, if temporarily, put back in his place, triumphing over all.
Recalling the events that led him to make the film, Narkevičius describes how, in late September 1991, by pure chance he was walking by the square and witnessed the removal of the Lenin monument:
I actually felt my legs buckle or the ground shift below me, because, until that moment, it had seemed that nothing would ever change, not for a thousand years. The stable political system with which I had grown up appeared so solid, encompassing half the world […]. But then, when the statue rose above the crowd and began to fly, […] I had the physical sensation that the unimaginable had happened.
But the impulse to make the film came later, in Paris in 2003, during a conversation with French intellectuals:
[To them] communism still represented potentiality, a still vital utopian idea about how their own society could be energised by it. The idea of communism was still entertained as an alternative [. . .] This made me realise that something we saw as a fact, as a document, to them was the was the manifestation of a powerful idea. These were completely different positions.
Narkevičius says that the “upside down” sequences both recall the real revolution in 1917 and are a reference to Sergei Eisenstein’s film October, in which the director incorporates original film footage of the storming of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg into a film dedicated to the October socialist revolution.
Critics have noted that the title of Narkevičius’s film can also be interpreted in multiple ways – it can be read as Roman numerals representing the twentieth century, or simply any (“X”) century. As a result, the concrete story that is told acquires the features of universal history. Narkevičius’s film can therefore mean many things: it explores the possibility of manipulating documentary material and its understanding, the idea that the ideals of the past can turn into their opposites, that memory and history are dynamic processes, and it reflects upon the ways in which we confront the ghosts of the past . . .
One of Narkevičius’s works that is most closely related to film is Aplankant Solaris (Revisiting Solaris, 2007), which can be seen as a response to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris. Tarkovsky was commissioned to make the film by the Soviet government at the height of the Soviet-American “space race,” so Solaris is in some sense a retort to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Narkevičius was fascinated by the way that the actors of Solaris did not seem to represent real characters but, rather, ideas or visions, which was not typical of cinema of that period.
In his own film, Narkevičius uses a scene from Stanisław Lem’s novel that was not included in Tarkovsky’s film version. The artist convinced the actor Donatas Banionis, who was the lead character in the original Solaris, to reprise his role 35 years later. Narkevičius says that Banionis is “like a Soviet-era Marlon Brando – his face communicates all of film history to you.” An excellent Lithuanian actor, Banionis was even more lauded in Russia and was a major Soviet film star. Narkevičius asked Banionis to act a scene in which an old astronaut returning from his mission remembers Solaris and warns a young colleague not to rush to travel to outer space.
Here again the artist creates an ambivalent situation: Banionis is at once the young astronaut (as in Tarkovsky’s film) and the old one, but at the same time both is and is not the person who has returned from outer space. Narkevičius says that in Aplankant Solaris it is impossible to recount remembered events, just as it is impossible to say what happened in the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, where he filmed the scene. In his visual representation of the planet Solaris, Narkevičius used photographs taken by the Lithuanian artist Čiurlionis in the town of Anapa, by the Black Sea, which helped him to create the impression of limitless space and time. Interestingly, Tarkovsky used the surface of the Black Sea as the prototype of his own Sea of Solaris, which adds another associative level to Narkevičius’s work.
Critics categorise Deimantas Narkevičius’s films as belonging to the experimental or reflexive documentary genres because the artist not only represents but comments upon reality. These authorial comments are often indirect. Using varied editing techniques and juxtaposing seemingly unrelated objects, the artist expresses his views about the things he is representing. This can involve irony, the questioning of expressed truths, or the indirect manifestation of his own attitudes.
A perfect example of this is Narkevičius’s 2003 film Gyvenimo vaidmuo (The Role of a Lifetime), which at first glance appears to be a documentary portrait of Peter Watkins, the famous British documentary filmmaker. Watkins drew attention with his 1965 film The War Game, which depicts England following a fictitious nuclear war. Because of its exaggerated realism, this reportage-like film was banned in the United Kingdom, which caused Watkins to go into self-imposed exile in the United States, Scandinavia, France, and even, for a few years, Lithuania.
Narkevičius’s film is edited around a 2001 conversation that he had with Watkins, who would soon leave Lithuania. It connects three levels of narrative. The audio track of the film consists of Watkins speaking about his work and the close relationship between biography and creativity, while the screen alternately shows Mindaugas Lukošaitis’s drawings of Soviet sculptures in Grutas Park (which Watkins was visiting) and amateur film footage of the town of Brighton in the 1950s–1970s (apparently a reference to Watkins’ childhood memories). By using this kind of editing technique Narkevičius seems to be saying that reality is not one-dimensional but much more complex, and that it is therefore better that sound and image function separately, complementing each other: this leaves the viewer with the difficult but interesting task of abstracting the information presented in order to comprehend it in some way. At the same time, critics have noted that the film says just as much about Narkevičius himself – about the connection he feels to the British filmmaker and their penchant for similar themes – history, memory, the utopianism of truth, explorations into creativity and its limits. For these reasons, the film is often seen as Narkevičius’s artistic manifesto, even self-portrait.
Having shifted from sculpture to video early in his career, Narkevičius says that video is an extension of sculpture in time. During the last several years he has directed increasing attention to sound and sound art, which have become another independent dimension of his work. The artist is interested in sound extraction technologies and the possibilities they offer for the diffusion of sound in space – perhaps yet another spatial extension of sculpture?
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, questions of memory and reflection upon the Soviet era became very current. Sensitively, artistically, and at the same time accessibly embodying these themes – making historical experience relevant today – Narkevičius has achieved significant international recognition.
At the same time it must be noted that similar motifs can be found in video works by other artists of that generation, such as Gintaras Makarevičius’s Hot and Kristina Inčiūraitė’s Uždarymas, Laisvalaikis (Closing, Free Time). Other works exploring different aspects of recent history include feminist explorations in Croatian video artist Sanja Ivekovic’s Gen X, S.O.S. Nada Dimic, Lost & Found (1998–2004) and Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas’s Ruta Remake (a study of female voice and its shortage); Miroslaw Balkas’s films examining uncomfortable issues around the Holocaust; or Grzegorzo Klaman’s Lech Walesa’s Memorial Room, which looks at the ties between religion and politics in Polish history. In a broader context, critics compare Narkevičius to Canadian artist Stan Douglas, who also studies modernist utopias; the Australian artist Tracey Moffatt and her reflections on aboriginal history; South Africa artist William Kentridge (who has Litvak roots) and his examinations of apartheid; and Albanian artist Anri Sala’s and French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s experimental flms.
Complied by Danguolė Butkienė
All works by this artist
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