Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevicius carefully considers what was left behind. The Soviets may have taken their politics and ideology with them when they left but there was much that remained: from the echoes of war to the cold relics of communism and the memories of social dichotomy that the title ‘Double Youth’ hints towards. Narkevicius subverts the conventions of various mediums to question the meaning they embody.
When it was announced that several socialist monuments were to be removed from a prominent site in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius a debate was sparked on the decision to do so. The realist sculptures were erected during the Soviet occupation in 1952 and had stood on the Green Bridge ever since. Prevented from fading into the background these obsolete sentinels were given renewed prominence with the announcement that they were to be removed. Narkevicius documented their removal using stereoscopic lenses and presents the film ’20 July 2015’ here for the first time, in what is also the first 3D film ever shown at BALTIC.
The displacement of something that is not designed to move is unsettling. Even if that something is functionless it still projects meaning. Over time this may shift as the discourse it inhabits changes and evolves. Like the statues that were destroyed during the French revolution those on the Green Bridge had been redefined. No longer did they champion the socialist ideals of Communism, they now stood as marks of oppression and occupation. Yet Narkevicius sees the attempt to erase them, so long after the country gained independence, as an almost nonsensical act.
Fearful that representation can come to constitute the event, and thus legitimise it, he undermines his captivating film with absurd acts. A disheveled man spontaneously clapping is accompanied by the cleaning of a stereoscopic lens, which snaps one out of their reverie so abrasively the mind aches. Along with the creation of a dysfunctional newspaper Narkevicius repeatedly seeks to challenge the ‘mediatisation’ of the event.
Tracing the gradual removal process over a series of days the film offers a view of the sculptures that few would have seen before. The intimate shots are heightened by the sheer immersive quality of the 3D projection. It allows the resolute figures to be admired for their aesthetic beauty, to see their unwavering pride slowly corrode away and slick rain transform them in to portents of grim menace. As they come to the fore, and the public begins to take note, their contested meaning becomes renewed. When the harsh, visceral screeching of metal signals their erasure has begun in earnest, it sounds like an attempt to forcibly rip the Iron Curtain from the collective memory.
‘Books on Shelves and Without Letters’ (2014) documents a young band playing a gig in a secondhand bookstore in Vilnius. Twin projections are shown side-by-side, frequently changing size and crossing over in to one another’s space. A speaker sits in the centre of the floor playing the jangly guitar music of the band. As vintage cameras record wandering footage, old photos add to the sense that the scene is displaced in time. Narkevicius speaks of repetition, of a bygone era when young Lithuanians would have to meet their friends in bookstores so they could speak openly with one another.
Coinciding with the annexation of Crimea, ‘Sad Songs of War’ is a vinyl recording of war related songs sung in Russian and Ukrainian. Performed by a group of people who imitate the culture of the semi-military Cossack communities, the music carries the listener across their history. The lyrics on the wall may reveal their meaning, but it is far more stirring to search for it yourself. The evocative sounds could be an ominous warning, a lament for the bleak reality of war or simply a soldier pining for the warm embrace of a lover.
The small video installation reserved for ‘Dud Effect’ belies its imposing theme. Following a former Russian officer who served at a military base in Lithuania, it reenacts the procedure he would have undertaken had he been given the command to launch its thermonuclear missiles. A camera slowly explores the crumbling bones of the abandoned base, which is haunted by the untold calamity it harboured. This unsettling narrative offers further proof that memories and the subjective nature of history should be examined and debated. For returning to the past can help us navigate our way in to the future.