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Vytautas Balčytis
About the Author
  • Photography artist.
  • Born 1955 in Vorkuta, Russia.
  • Graduated from Vilnius Civil Engineering Institute, 1979.
  • Member of the Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers, 1982.
  • Works owned by Lithuanian Union of Art Photographers, Vilnius; Lithuanian Art Museum, Vilnius; Lithuanian National Museum, Vilnius; Muzeum Narodowe, Wroclaw, Poland; Museum of Fine Arts, Lodz, Poland; Museum of Fine Arts, Paris, France; Zimmerli Art Museum, New Jersey, USA; Private collections.
About the Artworks
Vytautas Balčytis is a quiet, patient observer whose eye picks up all that is insignificant, plain, leftover or forgotten. He tells his stories in whispers, endowing his modest pictures of seemingly random things with existential importance. The titles of his works, which note only places and dates, could be fragments of journal entries. Looking at a Balčytis photograph is like sifting through or awakening the memories of people who lived through the late Soviet era. A viewer who belongs to that generation feels a moment of relief as they conclude, with Balčytis, that it was just like that.
Balčytis has been investigating the nightmare of everyday Soviet life since the 1980s. Nothing happens in his photographs. But, although there are neither aggressors nor victims, every building or object becomes a mute hostage. The photographer is especially interested in the most mundane objects – the ones that don’t draw much attention yet shape everyday life all the more. In the memory contained within each photograph, Balčytis archives abandoned factories and construction sites, run-down student residences, dusty windows and telephone booths in some of the poorest Vilnius, Kaunas or rural neighbourhoods. The photographer notes every expressive detail. In these bleak settings, propaganda slogans become dangerously familiar, even intimate. The banality of oppression is simply horrifying.
With the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, Balčytis continues to study the scars left by the Soviet occupation. In Soviet-built residential neighbourhoods, he photographs crumbling facades, abandoned electrical stations, ugly kiosks, garages and warehouses, gigantic empty advertising panels. The art critic Alfonsas Andriuškevičius has called this category of Balčytis’s iconography “cultural abasement.” The art historian Agnė Narušytė explores the photographer’s distinctive interpretation of time: “It seems as though two different time speeds are meeting here – a slowly vanishing past and a rapidly vanishing present. The past (or perhaps consciousness of the past, as embodied in various objects?) always drives out the present.”
Balčytis applies this concept of time not only in his studies of vestiges of the Soviet period but in his explorations of other themes. Like many of his colleagues, Balčytis lovingly photographs Vilnius architectural monuments, paying tribute the beauty of the city’s Old Town. Although Balčytis often views Vilnius from the same angles as the great nineteenth-century photographers of the city, he chooses moments when they city’s panorama is dissolving in fog, hoarfrost or dusk. And when he photographs individual buildings, he avoids poetic impressions, instead carefully recording the finest details. He is interested not only in architectural masterpieces but also shacks attached to residential buildings, or bleak industrial structures. Balčytis’s photographs of Vilnius, erase the distinction between document and symbolic image.
Another, even more substantial aspect of Balčytis’s projects has been to document shifting images of Lithuania’s towns. Having initiated this scheme with Alfonsas Budvytis in 1988–1991, Balčytis continued to develop this theme for two more decades with remarkable patience and consistency. The art historian Renata Dubinskaitė wrote: “Traveling around Lithuania in search of a place where he would want to settle, Balčytis did not find one. But he came across spaces where the past has lingered longer or is more distinctly engraved, or is simply still there.” Small towns have changed less than large cities. Balčytis succeeds in finding communities in which the most important annual event is a church festival and manages to recreate a feeling of cosiness, of the charm of a sleepy day’s rhythm. Although he started by documenting panoramas of these small towns, with time, Balčytis increasingly focused on individual old houses, monuments or temporary structures. Shrouded in fog in these deserted spaces, objects seem like relics from a mysterious and rapidly receding past.
Photographs from these different periods in Balčytis’s oeuvre are conceptually and stylistically connected. These small-scale photographs reveal an unusual mix of the documentary and the melancholy. Of no less importance is the subtlety of the artist’s own prints and the gently pulsating subdued light he captures within them.
Raminta Jurėnaitė
All works by this artist
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