Gintaras Šeputis, the Pioneer of Early Lithuanian Video Art

Gintaras Šeputis is the pioneer of Lithuanian video art, the founder of the first video art courses (at the Image Studio in Vilnius Art Academy) in Lithuania. He learnt how to film individually, having borrowed an 8mm camera. He later reformatted the filmed images to video tape and edited them manually adding subtitles and music. 

Encouraged by the artist Linas Katinas, who was teaching painting at the Vilnius Academy of Arts at the time, he began to use video technology to perform academic assignments. In 1991, with the help of Saulius Valius, Šeputis went to Düsseldorf (Germany), visited the Department of Photography and Video Art of Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, and presented his works to the lecturers, Nan Hoover and Günther Uecker. He also had a chance to visit the annual exhibition of the best student works of the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts Rundgang, to see the installations of such artists as Nam June Paiko and Joseph Beuys, and to participate in the international exhibition Überfahrt.

In 1994, on the initiative of the artist and Alvydas Lukys, the Image Studio offering the interdisciplinary courses for various speciality students at Vilnius Art Academy was established. Along with the lectures on cinema and art history, students had the possibility to use video filming and editing equipment, participate in informal meetings with artists as well as in film screenings. The early works of Šeputis are poetic, cinematographic, and often interdisciplinary; involving such branches of art as dance, poetry, photography, and documenting live art performances. Important themes: memory, time, image materiality, the relationship of image and sound.  

Laimė Kiškūnė, Image Anthropology

The creative work of Kiškūnė stands out from early Lithuanian video art context not only for its origins but also for its content. Contrary to most of video artists of that time, Kiškūnė came to this sphere from anthropology rather than visual or applied arts, which had also determined the themes she chose to analyse. From the very first projects, the artist was interested in mythological phenomena, marginalised society groups, and subcultures. In her later works, Kiškūnė paid great attention to socially excluded groups, human rights, and the relationship between creativity and social reality. One of the most unique projects of Kiškūnė is her documentary Our Portraits, made in cooperation with the other video artist, Karla Gruodis. In the project, the students participating in the seminar on female studies led by Gruodis had to independently create a video portrait of a selected woman. Today, this artwork is regarded as one of the first participatory documentary projects, when film participants become its co-authors. Kiškūnė is the first and the only Lithuanian female video artist whose works were presented in the festival of France and the Baltic States (Festival Franco-Balte d’art video held in Riga in 1992; in Vilnius in 1993; and in Tallinn in 1994). One of her films reflecting the anthropological direction and presented in the festival is The Teacher. The main character of the film is the artist and director Audrius Mickevičius and his pedagogical and creative activities in the school of Užuguostis. 

Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Linas Augutis, tvvv.plotas

tvvv.plotas (1998-1999) is an experimental television project created as international and interdisciplinary artistic research initiated by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, together with Linas Augutis. tvvv.plotas broadcast via Lithuanian National Television encouraged a critical discussion on the position of an artist in the society, the social context of art, and new art vocabulary. The project researched the connections between Lithuanian and foreign fields of art, and raised questions concerning an artwork and an institution, authorship and artist’s identity. Along with the television, the possibilities of new means of communication were explored, the development of media and its relationship with contemporary art production was analysed. 

tvvv.plotas was created as an independent platform intended for discussions and creative exchange among artists and the community. Each broadcast was discussed live in physical environment together with guest artists, and was also broadcast in the first virtual chat rooms with the help of the software CU-SeeMe. Today, the project tvvv.plotas could be interpreted as a testimony of the speed of media development as well as the ambitions of the active artists of that period.      

The topics of the ten tvvv.plotas shows: artist and cooperation, artist and education, artist and sound, artist and relatives, artist and institution, artist and communication, artist and body, artist and self-presentation, artist and children, artist, modernism and contemporary art.  

Camerawork and editing: Linas Augutis, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas

Sound: Darius Čiuta

Episode cooperators: Artūras Raila, Robertas Kundrotas, Algimantas Lyva, Justas and Jonas Vaitekūnas, Svajonė and Paulius Stanikas, Andrew M. McKenzie, Ralf H. Graf and etc.

Project partners: Press, Radio and Television Support Fund, Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Lithuanian Artists’ Association, Nordic Information Office.

Project presentations: Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, Bristol’s International Centre for Contemporary Arts Arnolfini (United Kingdom), Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA, Spain), BAK, basis voor actuele kunst (Utrecht, Holland).

Eglė Rakauskaitė, Body Boundaries

Eglė Rakauskaitė is one of the key Lithuanian artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In her work, she has employed sculpture, objects, installations, art performances, and video films. The early artworks of Rakauskaitė reveal distinct corporeality, the ephemerality of organic materials, the studies on cultural phenomena, and social criticism. A part of her early art performances were created as independent video artworks. One of her most well-known works of this genre is the video performance, In Honey, first presented to the public in the exhibition Subordination, the Contemporary Art Centre, in 1999. The exhibition performance prop consisted of nearly a hundred litres of Alpine meadow honey poured onto an impregnated white-cloth cocoon stretched among four metal bars. During the performance, Rakauskaitė tried to submerge herself in this honey – acquired for the artist’s scholarship granted in Switzerland – breathing through special equipment. In the same year, the film made on the basis of her art performance documentary material was shown in the first Lithuanian pavilion of the Venice Biennale. The project Cinemateque presents the documentary material of this performance captured by the artist’s father, a classic of Lithuanian school of photography, Romualdas Rakauskas. 

Evaldas Jansas, Radical Daily Life

According to Jansas, he observes the principle of existential romanticism in his creative work, i.e. this “aesthetic attitude when internal experiences and feelings constitute reactions to social problems, moral condition, cultural processes, archetypes, and symbols.” Actively involved in live art performances and video works from the early 1990s Jansas has earned the reputation of a provocateur in the context of Lithuanian art by constantly testing the limits of body, daily life, and political correctness. In his early video art works, the artist documented the reality depicting not only his friends artists but also strangers, people he encountered in bars, people teetering on the brink of survival (drug addicts, the homeless), or the absurdity of bureaucratic procedures. The art critic Kęstutis Šapoka states, “To Jansas, a video camera became an extension of his body, a continuation of his vision, an intuitive psychosomatic expression; even a discharge when there is no difference left between ‘I’ and the ‘world’.” Such anthropological works of Jansas serve as a comment in respect of external system constraints peppered with a good dose of self-irony, grotesque, and kitsch. Yet this is also a reflection of social and economic development of Lithuanian society and its problems.   

Start of Video Art in Lithuania – Unimaginable Things

The exposition Unimaginable Things by Henrikas Gulbinas in the exhibition Encounters (Klaipėda, 1988) is one of the first public presentations of video artworks in Lithuania. In the exhibition, the abstract and meditative, three-hour manually generated video work by Gulbinas was displayed next to the sculptures by Klaudijus Stepanovas and graphic artworks by Romas Klimavičius. The exhibition Encounters and individual experiments by Gulbinas have become one of the reference points when speaking about the origins of Lithuanian video art, whereas Unimaginable Things dating back to 1988 is the piece of work by Gulbinas which has been continuing until today with slight re-editing by the author (e.g. adaptations of his favourite music).

The Best Works of Lithuanian Video Art (1996) - the first selection of Lithuanian video artworks

At the junction of 1970s and 1980s, when the political situation in Lithuania started shifting, artistic activities also acquired more and more forms of self-expression, including the early video art. An artwork could be displayed not only at an exhibition but also in public places; not only as a static work but also as a live performance, an artistic campaign. The selection of video artworks The Best Works of Lithuanian Video Art released in 1996 embraces a decade of Lithuanian video art – from the first film Two Times by Henrikas Gulbinas dating back to 1988 to the video dance Wordplay by Gintaras Šeputis created in 1996. Speaking about her way of compiling the selection, Sonata Žalneravičiūtė, a film researcher and a program coordinator at Skalvija Film Center, mentioned that, “While observing what was happening in the early 1990s, and then, later, collecting the material about the origins of Lithuanian video art for my Bachelor Paper and also searching for video art creators in other cities, I realized that video art as creative expression emerged mainly because of one new technical tool – a video camera. In the hands of artists of different fields, a camera turned into an instrument offering new, unpredictable possibilities to enter unexplored artistic territories. In my selection, I’ve included all the authors from that time, to whom this was one of the most important forms of creative expression. The films revealed multiple artistic languages, forms and a variety of themes and intonations of each artist.”

Activities of Image Studio in 1994–1997

On the initiative of Gintaras Šeputis, a key creator of Lithuanian video art, the Photo Studio of the Graphics Department of Vilnius Academy of Arts was transformed into the Image Studio – interdisciplinary courses or simply a ‘pirate academy’ – in October 1994. Apart from avant-garde cinema or media history, various speciality students from higher education institutions had the possibility to use filming and editing equipment and get acquainted with editing technologies in the Studio. The Studio also housed informal meetings, screenings and discussions often continuing well into the evening hours. During the first years of the Image Studio, student work reviews were arranged at the Contemporary Art Centre. This particular period of the Image Studio shaped the first generation of video artists who studied in Lithuania represented by such creators as Irma Stanaitytė, Jurgita Remeikytė, Vilma Šileikienė, Vygandas Šimbelis, Aistė Lapinskaitė, Paulius Zavadskis, Eglė Gelažiūtė, Marius Kavaliauskas and others. In 1997, the Image Studio was transformed into the Department of Photography and Video Art (the Photography and Media Arts Department since 2000), which has been functioning actively until now.  

Situation Documentaries by Aleksas Andriuškevičius

Painter, member of the group POST ARS (1989-2009) and one of the few Lithuanian video performance creators Aleksas Andriuškevičius started his performing work in the early 1990s. The situations expressed through minimal means and arising out of day-to-day experience are typical of his artworks. Andriuškevičius employs elements of absurd and records everything in a free way with a home video camera. At the centre of the situations – the author and his directed performative, sometimes monotonous actions that turn into abstract, paradoxical rituals. Today, the artistic practice of Andriuškevičius highly reminiscent of avant-garde aesthetics has become one of the paradigmatic examples of Lithuanian video performance.

ATG – Deadpan Humour in Lithuania

The Academic Training Group (ATG) is a group or artists – painters Giedrius Kumetaitis, Mindaugas Ratavičius and Simonas Tarvydas – that functioned in 1992-1998. From the very start, ATG ignored and subverted the boundaries of art genres, canons or spheres; they never avoided a clear, politically motivating and ironic content. Having originally focused only on video art, gradually the artists moved on to create objects, installations. According to Mindaugas Ratavičius, “Our manifesto was that, actually, there never was any manifesto.”1

1Miglė Survilaitė, Humour in Visual Arts: Study on Academic Training Group (ATG). Master Thesis, Vilnius: Vilnius Academy of Arts, 2016.

„Festival Franco-Balte d’art video“

“Festival Franco-Balte d’art video” is the first festival of France and the Baltic States that lasted for three years and was organised by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1992 – Riga; 1993 – Vilnius; 1994 – Tallinn). The following Lithuanian artists were among the participants of the festival: Aleksas Andriuškevičius, Laimė Kiškūnaitė, Džiugas Katinas, Gintaras Šeputis, the Academic Training Group (ATG) and etc. In 1993, the festival was organised at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius. The latter event not only enabled the local artists to learn more about the works by foreign creators but also marked the beginning of video art as legitimate and relevant form of creation in Lithuania. The author of the best artwork selected during the festival was granted with the possibility to reside in Paris for a month. The segment presents the work Proportion (1992) by Džiugas Katinas and Linas Liandzbergis shown in the programme of the 1992 festival in Riga.

Creative Work of Karla Gruodis and Feminist Excursus

In 1996, film critic and curator Sonata Žalneravičiūtė compiled the first selection of the best Lithuanian video artworks. The movie X Beats per Minute (1996) by artist Karla Gruodis was among the fifteen selected pieces – the only work by a woman artist on video tape. The author of this artwork which highlights the relationship between maternity and woman’s body, shaped the foundation for the discourse of feminism in Lithuania: in 1995, Gruodis compiled the first Lithuanian anthology of feminism Feminist Excursus: The Concept of Woman from Antiquity to Postmodernism, conducted a cycle of seminars on feminist theory at Vilnius and Pedagogical Universities. However, as art critic Linara Dovydaitytė observes, “The educational and artistic activities of Canadian Lithuanian Karla Gruodis, who returned to her mother land, is more of an exception rather than a rule in the context of 1990s.” [Kultūros barai, 7/8, 2018]

Tomas Andrijauskas: Music, Friends, Nihilism

Video art creator, photographer Tomas Andrijauskas started experimenting with cine film in the seventh grade of secondary school, when he attended Šiauliai Children and Youth Club Kibirkštis. Before the admission to Vilnius Academy of Arts, Andrijauskas had already worked at Šiauliai Television and cooperated with director and producer Remigijus Ruokis, together with whom Andrijauskas made a music video for the song Control Shot (1995) by the band SEL – one of the greatest hits of Lithuanian music at that time. The artist has also worked with such bands as BIX, Exem, Lemon Joy, Biplan and etc.; his music videos have often been evaluated at national level. The works by Andrijauskas stand out not only for their link with alternative music or ‘rowdy’ style, but also for the attention toward his most immediate surroundings, i.e. colleagues and friends.

Creative Work by Aurelija Maknytė, VHS as Ready-Made

Having originally used VHS tape as a means of filming, Maknytė eventually employed tapes in her continuous project VHS Studio: Ways of Storage and Usage of VHS Tape Archive (from 2009 until now). A part of this project – the collection of over 3,000 VHS tapes from a once flourishing video rental shop Eliksyras in Vilnius (1998-2012) – was exhibited at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius and Kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga. VHS Studio also includes the tapes accumulated by Maknytė’s father where he recorded his favourite films and TV shows as well as her own tapes that were often re-edited, recorded over and, thus, used for the birth of new artworks. For example, her work Recording (2003) is an archive of the then popular television show SMS Entertainment. This Maknytė’s film shows live broadcasts of ‘chats,’ ‘online dates’ and reveals the popular communication forms from the near past.

Television of 1990s – Zorro TV Project

According to Šiauliai-based video artist, painter, production designer, member of the band Žuvys and co-founder of the Medusa Art Gallery in Vilnius Paulius Arlauskas, the Lithuanian television of the 90s is the most original and continuing Lithuanian video artwork. In the opinion of one of the creators and hosts of Zorro TV – an experimental TV show dedicated to culture, shown on Šiauliai TV in 1999 – the early Lithuanian television served as an alternative space for experimenting; the then Šiauliai context was very favourable for that and there was no generally accepted ‘format.’ Subsequently, this was substituted with the emergence of the first commercial television and the boundaries of political correctness shifting in time.

Laura Stasiulytė. Search for Identity in Video Art

In her artwork Intention to Remember (1999), Stasiulytė is filming herself seated at the kitchen table and singing Lithuanian feasting songs. Both the length of Stasiulytė’s work and the length and number of the songs depend on the memory of the film character – the songs last only as long as she manages to remember them. This work and other works of the artist contain no explicitly expressed irony or nostalgia for the past. They are open and, at the same time, refer to ethnic stereotypes, aesthetics and language as ideological means. While looking at the characters or rituals in Stasiulytė’s films (the counting of the Senegalese artist’s braids in German in Counting Braids (2002); or the national welcoming of foreign tourists in a cruise ship in Hailing Ship (2007)), at least several unofficial stories of the people living in the country where the action is being observed unravel in parallel.