The performance of karaoke of ABBA's “Money Money Money” as performed by the volunteers acting as employers of the LTB, The Lithuanian Savings Bank. Video still. DVD. 2001.
Gediminas Urbonas Associate Professor 2009 - present
Gediminas Urbonas, born in Lithuania in 1966, has worked in joint artistic practice with his partner Nomeda since 1997. Both received their masters in visual arts from the Vilnius Art Academy in 1994. The artists have established an international reputation for their socially interactive and interdisciplinary practice exploring the conflicts and contradictions posed by the economic, social and political conditions in the former Soviet countries – particularly the transformation of Lithuania into a capitalist society since the 1989 revolution.
Combining the tools of new and traditional media, their work frequently involves collective activities such as workshops, lectures, debates, TV programs, Internet chat-rooms and public protests that stand at the intersection of art, technology and social criticism. The outcome is often the documentary recording of the activity or the collective production of an artwork. They also collaborate with experts in different cultural fields such as architecture, design and fashion to produce work that crosses over disciplinary boundaries.
In 1993, together with his partner and others, Urbonas established the JUTEMPUS exhibition space in Vilnius, Lithuania’s first artist-initiated space, which functioned until 1996 as a site for exhibitions and cultural events. In 1997, the couple co-founded the JUTEMPUS interdisciplinary art program to initiate new modes of communication between art and society by creating a platform for critical discourse. They are also co-founders of the Vilnius Interdisciplinary Lab for Media Art (2000) and VOICE (2005), a net-based publication on media culture (www.vilma.cc/balsas). In 2005, Urbonas was associate professor at KIT/NTNU, Art Academy in Trondheim, Norway.
An important example of Urbonas’ work is Transaction. Engendered by an interest in the psychological impact of the 1989 revolution on different generations of women, the ongoing project explores the experiences of citizens as they adapt to the sudden change from one governmental system to another. Specifically, the project studies the cinema as a mechanism used to construct an identity for women based on a feeling of victimization, and which can be extended to apply to the entire country. The title refers to transactional analysis, a psychiatric model based on the notion of a dramatic triangle in which three roles are assigned – the Persecutor, the Victim and the Rescuer. In Transaction, the roles are played by women, the cinema and psychiatrists. In the project’s first phase, a range of women were engaged in discussions based on Lithuanian cinema, in which women play a major role. The second phase involved directors of psychiatric institutions discussing the film selections referred to by the interviewed women. The work has evolved still further as it has been shown in different places. At Budapest’s Ludwig Museum, for instance, it was accompanied by a symposium of Lithuanians and Hungarians discussing issues raised by the work and comparing the situations in the two post-Socialist countries. In Documenta 11, Transaction developed into Voice Archive, featuring the voices of Lithuanian women in a set of samples ranging from speech and narrative to chanting and songs.
Pro-test Lab focused on the question of the privatization of public spaces, taking the specific case of the historic Lietuva cinema building. In Soviet times, when culture was systematically subsidized, film was an essential part of the country’s cultural life and huge cinemas were built in many of Lithuania’s city centers. Under the capitalist system, however, these cinemas became targets for the growing property market and many were demolished to make way for large apartment blocks, supermarkets and shopping centers. Pro-test Lab was a complex multi-media exhibition involving an installation, a series of video performances, a fashion collection, a set of posters and other works that drew participants into a dialogue about the demolition of the Lietuva cinema building.
The Ruta Remake project – launched at Kunstlerhaus Stuttgart 2002 and further continued at KunstnernesHus Oslo 2003 and Secession Viena 2003 – is a mapping device to redraw a traditional pattern concerning identity politics in Lithuania today. In Ruta Remake, the archive is formed by recorded voices from radio programs, films and commercials. These recordings are analyzed in interviews with Lithuanian women engaged in different fields relating to oral culture: writers, linguists, musicologists, singers and activists who study the voice as a place between the social and the metaphysical spaces. Ruta is the name of a plant (rue) that is popular both as a symbol of femininity and virginity and for its well-known capacity to induce abortion. In the project, a drawing of the plant serves as the motif for creating the score/matrix for an interactive instrument or device known as the Theramidi.
In addition to Documenta 11, the artists have exhibited at the San Paulo, Berlin, Moscow and Gwangju Biennales – and at Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt/Main – among numerous other international shows, including a solo show at the Venice Biennale and MACBA in Barcelona. They have been awarded a number of high level grants and residency awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize for achievements in the arts and culture (2007); a fellowship at the Montalvo Arts Center in California (2007/08); and a Prize for the Best International Artist at the Gwangju Biennale (2006).
Solo Exhibits (with Nomeda Urbonas) – Selected list
TRANSmute, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany
TRANSACTION. Strangers & Paradise, Witte de With contemporary art center Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Group Exhibitions – Selected list