GENIUS SECULI_Despina Meimaroglou & Deimantas Narkevicius ENGLISH INFO
Dates happen: 06/03/2008 ... 30/04/2008
DESPINA MEIMAROGLOU & DEIMANTAS NARKEVICIUS
Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki
Μarch 6 - April 30, 2008
According to Johann Gottfried Herder, the term genius seculi or Zeitgeist refers to the manner in which the dominant mood of an era is experienced and mainly becomes evident at times of socio-cultural change.
Art functions as a screen/mirror for the recognition and deeper understanding of the self. Both the artist and the observer face different versions of subjectivities that they are called on to unconsciously identify with or reject. Besides, artistic creation itself is to a great extent the product of identification and discourse with images (imagos) that arise from the collective unconscious, from a common tank of myths, representations and narratives.
A strong tension in contemporary artistic creation in an international level is dealing with the politics of memory and particularly with the manipulation of the painful memory, which presupposes a reconciliation with the past –personal and collective- and stimulates rethinking as well as re-interpreting the traumatic past.
The works of Deimantas Narkevičius deal with the first instance: How does one coexist with the ‘ghosts of the past’ in contemporary post-Soviet Lithuania? Why are we afraid of and why do we banish the sculpted monuments of the communist era? Can one uproot a part of his past simply by banishing its repulsive symbols? And what happens to those fond memories of our childhood years, our first loves, the friendships and happy moments that happen to coincide with that 'time of terror?
Despina Meimaroglou touches on recent dramatic events that do not evidently concern her personal story and creates her own artistic narrative through the experiences and testimonies of others. Her works converse with the contemporary history of Cambodia and Northern Ireland. How can one overlook the fact that millions of civilians were eradicated by the Khmer Rouge regime, a regime that not only crushed its political opponents, but also the social fabric itself, thus destroying the very core of the family? Why are the citizens of Derry in Northern Ireland so obsessed – even today, 37 years after the tragic ending of the protest that became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ – with keeping alive the images of the dramatic events by depicting the protagonists-martyrs of the conflicts against the British repressive forces on huge murals? How can you drink a beer in the neighbourhood pub next to the pictures of the victims of the shots fired by British soldiers, or see the face of your dead thirteen-year-old daughter painted on the wall of the house across the street everyday? Why do we stubbornly refuse to forget that which hurts us?
Meimaroglou uses secondary speech to reassign meaning to the fragments of memory – visual and acoustic footage – thus limiting the visible processing of primary material. The manner in which she entwines the individual and the collective, and sheds light on the unseen aspects of History, thus subverting the established roles of observer-observed and forming a unique point of observation, defines her select relation to the work of Deimantas Narkevičius. The two artists have different geographical and political scopes of action, as well as different degrees of personal involvement in the expression of the historical experience, but they share the tendency to explore and reconstitute the spirit of the time through a dramatically timely and humanistic glance.
Deimantas Narkevičius studied sculpture in Vilnius in the early 90s, when the Velvet Revolution had put an end to the imposition of socialist realism at the level of artistic practice, whereas at the same time it marked the end of a period in the modern history of Lithuania that is today officially known as the ‘Soviet occupation’. Within only a few days, almost all of the repulsive monuments of the Soviet period were removed from the city. Huge masses of public sculptures were torn down, shattered and banished from the squares. The young sculptor began to film the process. In his work titled Once in the XX Century, he uses a simple technique to create a montage of pictures taken from television and private footage in order to comment on the recent period of political iconoclasm. By creating a reverse montage of the natural sequence of the pictures, he stages the ‘re-erection’ of the oversized brass statue of Lenin in the central square of Vilnius, in an atmosphere of frantic enthusiasm and applause, reversing the historical reality of its removal in September 1991. As the artist notes: ‘Everybody appeared to believe that the removal of these objects would lead society to immediate change’. However, in reality, they merely got rid of – in a violent manner – the material testimonies, the traces of their Soviet past, without this removal of the visible symbols being able to ensure the desired oblivion and utopia of liberalism, which at the time seemed like the only way.
In his work titled Disappearance of a Tribe (2005) he recomposes the story of his father and an entire era by using black-and-white photographs from his family album. The story begins in the early 1950s with snapshots taken on trips, at friendly gatherings, during his military service, at youthful parties, and ends with the devout scene of friends and family gathered around his father's coffin. The video is accompanied by sounds coming from the very spots where these photographs were taken thirty or forty years ago. The places have changed drastically, to the point that they have become hard to identify. In the Disappearance of a Tribe Deimantas revisits the recent history of Lithuania, offering us aspects of a socialist social model of collectivity that belongs to the soviet past and has now ceased to exist in his country. He recomposes the traces of the past in everyday life through personal experiences, emphasising the small communities of friends and family. More than a memorial, this specific work is perceived as a calm and slightly nostalgic tendency for introversion and the search for the constituent elements of an identity from the fragments that have intentionally been silenced and forgotten.
In Energy Lithuania Narkevičius visits one of the last surviving remnants of that which was once called the ‘Soviet Paradise’. An entire city built in the mid 1950s around a power generating plant is revived through the images and testimonies of the people who worked there for decades. Many of them, having returned in 1956-7 from the prisons of Siberia, truly felt as though their lives had found new meaning: ‘Nobody has ever felt as much joy as those people who had put the lines for the generation of electricity into operation’ narrates one of the anonymous protagonists of the collectivist vision. Deimantas grew up hearing stories of this electrical paradise. Now, at the age of thirty, he visits this city that has practically remained the same, he records the daily life of the city with his super 8 camera, talks to the inhabitants, and uses his lens to explore the details of the monumental mural in the plant’s canteen, which is an amalgam of the futuristic and realistic depiction of the dynamism of the workers who had built this Soviet utopia. This work talks of a part of the past that is oddly still a part of the present, in spite of the cosmogonic changes that have occurred. He participated in the 49th Venice Biennale with this work titled Energy Lithuania in 2001 (official state delegation).
Despina Meimaroglou’s work titled ‘DISCOVERING THE OTHER – TUOL SLENG. After all Who rewrites History better than You?’ refers to one of the most heinous forms of ‘communist utopia’. It is about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which under the leadership of notorious Pol Pot seized Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975, and which following the vision of agrarian utopia prohibited Buddhist worship, forced thousands of young people to abandon their families and join the collective farms, arrested and murdered all former government officials, intellectuals or the merely literate (including those who wore glasses, since that was a sign of literacy), homosexuals, Muslims and Buddhist monks, the Vietnamese, the Chinese, Christians and all those who were deemed incapable of farm work. Within four years approximately 1.7 million people had lost their lives. In 1979 the oppressive regime was overthrown following the invasion of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Pol Pot died on 15 April 1998 without ever answering for his crimes, since the trials regarding the Khmer Rouge regime began only recently.
Despina Meimaroglou has created an installation on the verge of being a faithful representation of a prison-torture room in Phnom Penh, which was once a school and today functions as a Genocide Museum. The photographs that she herself took inside the museum – depicting some of the victims of the regime – where put up on the inside of this black room. The distinction between the victim and victimiser is relativised when in the face of the young Cambodian soldier one sees the reflection of his victims’ portraits. The same applies to the relation between the observer and the observed. Despina Meimaroglou, being true to her artistic practice, attempts to penetrate History and use her artistic means to reconstitute her personal narration. Photographic footage transforms into experiential representation, since the artist ‘takes on’ the form of the victim, adopting his/her posture, age and behaviour, in this way dramatising the personal reinterpretation of History.
The reading of history through a personal glance also constitutes a constituent element in the second work titled ‘ANNETTE McGAVIGAN. A personal story becomes History’ by Despina Meimaroglou. The case of young Annette, who was shot to death by British soldiers in Derry during the protests, constitutes the core of the artistic dramatisation of the trauma of Northern Ireland. When working on this, Meimaroglou systematically employed the methods of a contemporary historian who searches for the short hidden stories behind the great events and their protagonists. Following many years of research into historical sources, police and television files, and a collection of footage and testimonies from Annette’s circle of friends and family, she attempts a reading of that troubled period, using Annette’s case as her axis, whose wrongful loss has taken on a symbolic dimension in the local community and has literally haunted its collective memory. Art as a means of reconciliation with the painful past functions as such in any case in the monumental murals on the facades of houses in Derry. Meimaroglou uses secondary speech to reassign meaning to the fragments of memory – visual and acoustic footage – thus limiting the visible processing of primary material. The manner in which she entwines the individual and the collective, and sheds light on the unseen aspects of History, thus subverting the established roles of observer-observed and forming a unique point of observation, defines her select relation to the work of Deimantas Narkevičius. The two artists have different geographical and political scopes of action, as well as different degrees of personal involvement in the expression of the historical experience, but they share the tendency to explore and reconstitute the spirit of the time through a dramatically timely and humanistic glance.
Curator of Genius Seculi – Director of the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki
Despina Meimarglou was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1944 and studied at Maidstone College of Art, Kent, England (1961-1965). She resides in Athens, Greece. Her works span from video to, photography, painting, installation works and artist books. She has been invited to numerous prestigious group exhibitions all over the world, including France, Canada, Czech Republic, Alexandria/Egypt and in the US in Boston, Washington DC, New York and Chicago, as well as many significant international exhibitions in Greece. From the mid nineties D. Meimaroglou has participated in several art –workshops as well as artists’ residencies, invited by universities, in the USA, London Uk and Quito in Equador. From 1981 to 2006 her work appeared on 24 solo exhibitions in Greece and abroad. Her recenet one women exhibitions include “The Flowers of Evil”, Pyramid Atlantic Center, Washington DC, January 2006, “Against the Wall: Women on Death Row”, CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, March 2006, “The Clear Valley Incident”, Collumbia College Chicago, May 2003, “Thy Neighbour”, Despina Meimaroglou from the Portalakis Collection, The Rethymnon Centre for Contemporary Art, Crete 2002 and various exhibitions at the AD Gallery, Athens Greece (1991, 1994, 1997, 2000). Her recent participations in group shows include the international show “Flowers in Contemporary Art” Benaki Museum, Athens Greece, Summer of 2006, :The Athens Effect”, Photographic Images by Nine Contemporary Greek Artists”, Mudima Foundation, Milan Italy, Sept. 2006 & Museum of Photography, Paris France, June 2007, Masquerades: Femininity, Masculinity and other certainties”, State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece, Dec. 2006, “Legendary”, Pyramid Atlantic Gallery, ArtDC, April 2007. Her latest photographic installation “Maimi Vibes: Dec. 2005” featured at the International Photography Meeting, Photography Museum of Thessaloniki, Greece, in April 2007. In 2006 D. Meimaroglou’s photos appeared in the prestigious international “Shots Directory”, featuring amongst 77 chosen artists around the world as a result of a worldwide competition.
Deimantas Narkevičius was born in 1964 in Utena, Lithuania and lives and works in Vilnius. He graduated from the Art Academy in Vilnius as a sculptor and spent a year in London in 1992/93. On his return to Lithuania he was concerned with site-specific objects but a strong interest in narrative led him to record interviews and conversations with artists. This process evolved into an exploration of different narrative structures through film and video, the work for which Narkevicius is now best known. Narkevicius is one of the most consistent and widely recognised Lithuanian artists on the international art scene. He represented his country at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001 and exhibits at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 in ‘Utopia Station’ curated by Molly Nesbit and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Since 1992 he has exhibited extensively around the world in group shows at many significant contemporary art venues and events. He showed at Manifesta II in Luxemburg in 1998, Venice Biennale 2001, Baltic Triennial το 2005, IBCA Biennale Prague 2005 and Skulptur Projekte Münster 2007.
He has exhibited in London, Paris, Brussels, Vilnius, Manchester, Dublin, Vienna, Brussels, Helsinki, Stockholm, Zurich, Rotterdam, Melbourne and many other cities. Solo shows include ‘Either true or fictitious’, at FRAC Pays de la Loire in France in 2003 and ‘Deimantas Narkevicius Project’ at the Munchner Kunstverein, Munich in 2002.
PRODUCTION: Contemporary Art Center of Thesaloniki
CURATOR: Syrago Tsiara, Director of CACT
DESPINA MEIMAROGLOU - DEIMANTAS NARKEVICIUS
CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER OF THEESSALONIKI
WAREHOUSE B1 -THESSALONIKI PORT