LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 46, No.4 - Winter 2000
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2000 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
LITHUANIA, MERCURIAL AND ADVENTUROUS
Algimantas Kezys. Lithuania 2000. Images of Lithuania. Remembering the Past—Looking to the Future. Chicago: Galerija, 1999.
The Principle of adventure allows me to make Photography exist. Conversely, without adventure, no photography.
Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire.
Earlier, much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art. The primary question— whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art—was not raised.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
September 25, 1999
Algimantas Kezys's book Lithuania 2000 has a strange effect on me. I am looking at the Vilnius Cathedral, which I used to pass on my way home several years ago. I am glancing at the courtyards of Vilnius University, which I know like my own body. I am contemplating the Gate of Dawn (Auđros Vartai), which leads to the train station. I see the Vilnius streets so familiar to me. And the Baltic Sea with the Palanga bridge. And Trakai castle. All these images have long been considered archetypically Lithuanian. In Kezys's book, however, they have become unrecognizable and strange. Looking at the black-and-white architecture and landscape photographs that Kezys has colored using a computer photoshop program, I feel both affected and puzzled. The author has replaced the reality known to me with a new and unexpected one. My expectations of a nostalgic and sentimental illusion of Lithuania encounter a different Lithuania—strange, multicolored and unpredictable.
September 28, 1999
In his book Lithuania 2000, Kezys, with flair and discernment, reflects on the relation between Lithuania, its illusion and the technology that creates that illusion. Kezys's technology—computerized coloring of black-and-white photographs—reveals the richness of the imagery of Lithuania. The direction chosen by the photographer leads a viewer from classic simplicity to a baroque playfulness of color and an abundance of visual information. Here, intensive "screaming" colors are more important than form, line and nuanced shadow, which had been the focus of Kezys's earlier works.
In his photographs, Kezys defamiliarizes seemingly banal and familiar images and forces a viewer to see them anew. Looking at Dominican Street in Vilnius, I cannot escape the impression that I had never seen it before. In his pictures, Kezys transforms the Vilnius streets that I know by heart into strangely attractive and heterogeneous visions. The photographer upsets the viewer's conventional reactions through defamiliarization and surprise. Juxtaposing nostalgic imagery and technology, the illusion of Lithuania and the play of colors, the author changes the viewer's romantic understanding of Lithuania. Kezys does not present fragments of Lithuanian reality but manipulates the reflections of that reality.
October 1, 1999
So much depends on you, the viewer. The book Lithuania 2000 makes you an important participant of the illusion created by the photographer: not only must you admire and contemplate the aesthetic beauty, but you must also decode the meanings of the colors the photographer joyfully plays with in his pictures. You become a decoder, looking for the keys to the imagination of the author. To do this, you must erase the boundary between reality and illusion.
October 2, 1999
To describe Kezys's photographs, one needs new metaphors. But to invent new metaphors, a viewer must get rid of her conventional way of looking at things. Now, a viewer has to be able to picture an image without its equivalent in reality. The image does not reflect reality, because photographic art has become a reflection of a reflection. Unexpected combinations of computerized colors do not reflect the inner or outer world of a viewer, but reveal the ways she interprets herself and others. Perhaps it is true that "... the photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity."1
October 3, 1999
Photography as an art form has always existed in dangerous territory: its simplicity and accessibility to the viewer's perception have obscured the fact that photography has always been an act of esthetic, political and ideological construction. Photography is not a neutral reflection of the world, but a construction of a new self-reflexive reality. Kezys's book puts a particular emphasis on this idea: here, the uncomplicated pleasures of a viewer are transformed into strenuous decoding and astonishment, a re-vision of Lithuania. Kezys's photographs interrogate and problematize Lithuania, leaving the viewer no comfortable viewing position. Ultimately, Kezys's works become subversive because they not only make us think, but also force us to imagine the unimaginable.
October 4, 1999
Susan Sontag has argued that photography is riddled with paradoxes. It both records and justifies, yet also imprisons, arrests, and falsifies time. It both certifies and refuses experience. It is "a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."2
October 6, 1999
I know that in perusing the pages of Kezys's Lithuania 2000 and recording my reactions to it I repeat myself. But my dreams and fantasies also repeat themselves. So do my days.
In Kezys's book, a new technology of representation dramatizes the traditional principle of reflection. Kezys's photographs contradict the author's preface infused with nostalgia: the unexpected transformations of artistic imagery destroy the photographer's experience nostalgically recounted in the preface.
October 8, 1999
Today I ponder three photographs by Kezys: "Gateway of the Evangelical Reformed Church, Birţai" (p. 37), "City Hall of Kaunas" (p. 32) and "Cathedral of Vilnius at Night" (p. 16). I am well aware that every photograph can be changed in a variety of ways: there is no single "true" way to color a cathedral, city hall or evangelical church. I try to imagine what would have happened if the columns of the Vilnius cathedral had been changed to resemble the colors of the Lithuanian national flag? While trying to imagine new color combinations for the Vilnius Cathedral, I am struck by the question: Does the author have a definite set of rules according to which he colors Lithuania? My answer: Lithuania—chameleon. Lithuania—mercurial and ever-changing.
October 10, 1999
Kezys uses computer coloring techniques that expand the boundaries of not only photographic art, but visual art in general. Kezys's photographs inspire questions about what is possible and impossible, "natural" and "unnatural, " organic and nonorganic in art. What is the connection between an object and color, imagination and color, fantasy and technology?
In his book, Kezys denaturalizes the above connections. He demonstrates that technologies, constructing our cultural imagery, esthetic and political codes and delimiting the boundaries of representation, are artificial and, consequently, subject to change. To change the boundaries of representation, one needs to transgress cultural, artistic and ideological conventions. Our knowledge and vision change along with the taxonomies that order them.
By problematizing the boundaries between the photograph and the computer, and color and form, Kezys makes us think about the complex relation between technology and creativity, objectivity and subjectivity in art. At the same time, he proves that the possibilities of photography are genuinely limitless.
October 12, 1999
Not too long ago, I heard a comment on Conceptual Art which I shall recount in my own words: an artist, Manfred Schmalriede, argued that Conceptual Art had answered the questions about art so thoroughly that not only paintings and drawings, but also diagrams, sketches, theories and even philosophical texts, had come to be regarded as so-called "reflexive art. " Photography has also taken part in this new art. It has become not only an interpreter of the world, but also a new world to be interpreted.
I cannot help but repeat: Kezys's photographs are analytical. They not only interpret Lithuania through new images, but they also theorize about new photographic possibilities: what was earlier impossible to imagine, now has become possible.
October 15, 1999
Contemporary art is essentially a hybrid. It combines different genres, different ways and means of representation. Kezys's works are combinations of photographic forms and new electronic technology, of technologic experiment and artistic imagination. These combinations, however, do not exhaust the hybridity of photography, since photography is also a semiotic hybrid. It is a hybrid of self-reflexive pleasures, hidden meanings, exotic tastes and colors; a hybrid of artistic transformation and colorific deformation.
October 16, 1999
The photographs of Lithuania 2000 refer to the pop culture happenings saturated with "loud" colors, forms and sounds. Kezys's photographs, however, operate on multi-referentiality. Balancing between high and low art, the photographer's works refer not only to commercial photography, but also to Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. Kezys's Lithuania 2000 reminds us of Michel Foucault's idea that "The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network."3 Similarly, a photograph is a node within a network of references, reflections and self-evasions.
I close Kezys's book, Lithuania 2000 with Roland Barthes' words about photography in mind. In his book, La Chambre claire, Barthes wrote: "In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in 'lifelike' photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure."4
1 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections of Photography, trans. Richard Howard (London, 1984), p. 12.
2 Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York, 1977), p. 179.
3 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), p. 23.
4 Roland Barthes, op. cit., p. 20.