Magazine article Art Monthly

Deimantas Narkevicius

Magazine article Art Monthly

Deimantas Narkevicius

Article excerpt

Deimantas Narkevicius Arnolfini Bristol May 6 to July 2

The camera pans over pencil drawings of a mysterious sylvan setting where an assembly of dethroned totalitarian statues gather snow; now debunked, these once towering colossi of Marx, Lenin and Stalin, having escaped the post-Soviet iconoclasm that befell many such monuments, have been collected and perversely forced to congregate in the woods like stern-faced but redundant tombstones to buried ideologies. These images depict the curious Gruto Park, also known as 'Stalinworld', Lithuania's communist theme park, portrayed in Deimantas Narkevicius's film The Role of a Lifetime, 2003. In many ways this peculiar venture and its inhabitants relate to the artist's central preoccupations: the exploration of an ever-disappearing communist history and the visual world of the former eastern bloc, the relationship of its peoples to their past, and what it means to retell the stories of these regimes. To these ends, Narkevicius employs interviews, archive footage, animation and still photography in an investigation of the documentary, its aesthetic and techniques.

The exhibition at the Arnolfini brings together four fascinating films by Narkevicius. In the first, Energy Lithuania, 2000, the artist tells the story of Elektronai, a town created to service an electric power plant during the Soviet era. As in many of his works, here Narkevicius utilises equipment from the period that he seeks to evoke, an approach that involves an excellent confusion of the idea of found footage, which his archaic films effectively parody. In this case this means using Super 8 film, which fuzzily frames the insides of the power plant and the forests of pylons that surround it. Typical of the artist's approach, the film flits from the self-consciously documentary mode to the more deliberately aesthetic and subjective, so that the footage of a former worker from the plant talking to the camera about his experiences and the history of the power station, is juxtaposed with long shots of a socialist mural on the wall of the plant, accompanied by the sound of classical piano music. Painted as a memorial to those who died during the construction of the plant, the details of the mural are followed by the camera's eye, and its complexities and ambiguities seem to gesture at the political and aesthetic paradoxes experienced by the Soviet satellite states. The mural that Narkevicius fixates upon is far from any orthodox Socialist Realism: strangely modernist shapes twist and dissolve in mechanical and abstract decoration, while the figures' sorrowful and earnest eyes stare balefully, brows furrowed painfully, their outstretched limbs grasp at each other with an almost Blakean biblicality.

This disjointed strategy is also employed in the second film in the show, The Role of a Lifetime, 2003, where the documentary moves between film, pencil drawings, and archived Super 8 footage from the 60s. The piece is largely a portrait of the oft-neglected British documentary filmmaker Peter Watkins, and the recording of the artist's interview with Watkins provides the work's narrative and also seems to suggest an articulate manifesto for Narkevicius's own approach to documentary. Watkins, best known for his disturbing 1965 film The War Game, has long felt ostracised by the film and television industry, and has lived a self-imposed exile in Lithuania for many years. …

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