Photography and Media Art | undergraduate | Vilnius

PRETEXT: Symposium on
Baltic Media Art: 1989-2019.

Cracks and Continuities

This publication invites the readers to find out how artistic imagination used different media over the span of several decades and consider the artworks from the perspective of the changing times—past, present, and future. In addition to that, the temporally oriented format of a reusable calendar will allow the readers to contemplate one piece of art for the whole month from the future perspectives. While some artworks are directly related to Nida as they witness the artists exploring the environment with their media, others are endowed with the temporal traits of specific decades.

Within the Retroactive Dynamics of Techno-futurism: Media and Time

It would be difficult to recall what was on the minds of the members of an artist group “Žalias lapas” (“Green leaf”) who, back in 1990, staged an improvised performance-action “Angakoko sugrįžimas” (“The Return of Angakkuq”) in the dunes of Nida. However, as a former member and one of the leaders of the group Gediminas Urbonas told us two decades later, “we were interested in the global processes, performativity and collective practices. (...) Another important aspects of creativity were interdisciplinarity and relation with technologies. (...) happenings, performances, actions, readymades, objet trouvé, quotes, texts and documents, social sculptures, collective actions—these were all concepts of a new era.”[1]

Pinpointing the origins of media art in Nida might prove to be just as difficult, but, if we considered participatory performance as media art, or if we, by way of a retro-futurist gesture, regarded a general concern for  the problems of ecology and sustainability as an prophesy of the forthcoming discourses on sustainability and bio-trans-disciplinarity in media art of the future, then the people action “Neringai – nacionalinio parko statusą” (“Declare Neringa a National Park”) held in Nida on 4 September 1989, would definitely be that founding event. The event gathered hundreds of people who, by forming a human chain, protesting and praying, called for the preservation of nature of Curonian Spit and an establishment of a National Park. These goals were actually achieved two years later, and in 2000 the National Park became a UNESCO heritage site. This politico ecological action took place two weeks after the Baltic Way / (‘Baltijos kelias’, 23 August 1989)—online search of the both actions will lead to ample documentation, including Vytautas Daraškevičius’ spectacular report. Today, each of the elements of the Park, including their current and future impacts, can be considered in a global context. For example, sand (silicon dioxide SiO2) that forms the dunes everyone admires so much, is also one of the main components of media screens. So how can we enjoy the sandy landscapes and the rustling beneath our feet without thinking of the global impact of the monumental silica sand mines in China and USA?

These events are three decades old now. So, what is the state of contemporary (media) art in the localised context of Baltic region? 

Symposium as Temporary Artist Colony: 2019–1989

On 15–25 September 2019, a crowd of artists, curators and theorists from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland came to Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Academy of Artsto discuss the Baltic media art with all its cracks and continuities. The participants also set out the task of finding commonalities and differences between the local identities within the region.

According to Jurij Dobriakov, one of the publication’s authors, media art discourse is often politically engaged and is endowed with the elements of activism/participation/protest. Over the recent years we also saw the development of the themes of ecology, sustainability and biopolitics. In Dobriakov’s “What Happened to Techno-future of the 2000s After 2010?” and Anna Priedola’s “What Makes Latvian Media Art Sustainable?” you will be able to find out why these discourses are less developed in Lithuania compared to Latvia. In addition to that, Laura Kuusk adds her subjective perspective from Estonia, while Anka Leśniak conceptualises the problem from the perspective of intermedia and provides an historical analysis of Polish art. Yet Dobriakov’s provocative question about the death of Lithuanian media art and his proposal to approach media art rather as an artistic style left the participants creatively agitated for the whole week.

The most intense  art of the program was rich with all kinds of activities, both discursive and experiential—for instance, a re-enactment of Vitalij Červiakov’s “Quicksilver Jet”, a walk project originally devised in 2017 as part of the Nida Art colony residency programme “Along Lines“.

This year’s Symposium began with the experiential tour through the sites used by the symposia during the period of 1990–2019. The tour involved occasional stops with brief sessions of localisation and ‘analog owerpoint’ resentations during which I demonstrated slides printed on the sheets of A3 paper. We stopped by the site of former USSR prime minister Alexei Kosygin’ Villa that hosted artists in 1990 and visited some of the Inter-format sites—from “Error Sauna“ (by Error Collective) to “Moai Emoji” (by Olav Westphalen). The previous nine symposia have left a rather thick archive of documents:

After the intense week-long program, the young artists found some energy to embark on new challenges—you will find the resulting processes and artworks documented in this publication.

The Idea of a Sustainable Calendar

This calendar is sustainable—it can be used not only in 2020 or 2021, but even repurposed in respectively 2048/2076 and 2027/2038, or even later on in the future, because it takes advantage of a cyclic recurrence of the same arrangement of weekdays. More on this here:

By using a calendar format, we seek to question how time relates to media art, given that the latter is particularly sensitive to and depends on the development of specific apparatus-based media. Media shifts now are occurring much faster than 40–50 years ago, when they took decades to witness a radical advancement.

The imprint of the materiality of media is particularly evident in art. By taking into account the technologies and their material qualities—graininess, resolution, colour palette, formats, screen proportions, etc.—it is possible to trace the date of an artwork with the margin of error of five years. Hence the aesthetic and possibilities of expression are defined by both media and the times. It is evident in the aesthetics of artworks and photos that accompany the calendar months and essays that cover the period of 1990–2019.

We thus offer this calendar as a form of time travel—by reusing it in 2027 or 2048, you can open up its contents to the future perspectives.

Vytautas Michelkevičius,
editor of the publication and symposium moderator, 2019, Vilnius/Nida

Download the Calendar by pressing HERE