Featured Artist

Ignas Maldžiūnas

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In fact the conception of a trip without any objective and which is, as a result, endless, only develops gradually for me. I reject the picturesque tourist round, the sights, even the landscapes (only their abstraction remains, in the prism of the scorching heat). Nothing is further from pure travelling than tourism or holiday travel. That is why it is best done in the extensive banality of deserts, or in the equally desert-like banality of a metropolis – not at any stage regarded as places of pleasure or culture, but seen televisually as scenery, as scenarios.
(Jean Baudrillard, „America“)

The aircraft, that you are about to board, soon will reach the height of ten kilometers and fly a thousand or more kilometers. A few hours later it will land in one of the cities anywhere in the world so you could accomplish what you have been planning for several months or maybe longer. What is your purpose and destination? Istanbul, New York, Antwerp? Business lunch, visiting museums, adventure? Will you remember this trip a few years later? Never in the history of humanity people have traveled as much as they do today. However, they might be traveling not in the search of the changes, but because they know – once they return, everything will remain as it was before. Maybe that is the difference between a traveler and a tourist. I think, that the traveler never really knows where the journey will end. The traveler takes the road to experience the movement in space.

The author of the cycle “USA” ("Untitled Spaces of America”), a photographer and traveler Ignas Maldžiūnas has covered tens of thousands of kilometers in his tour throughout the United States. The exhibition which is on show at Vilnius International Airport consists of 60 photographs captured with a strip camera. The exhibited works of I. Malžiūnas complement his travel archive. It includes shots from China, India, South America, Iran and other remarkable parts of the world. "USA" is a cycle that captures the urban wasteland of the United States. The title gives a hint that the author dissociates himself from the social or historical contexts of specific locations. The captured spaces are abstract, and set an observer for a calm and impartial reflection, and aesthetic exploration of transience, loss, transformation.

I think everyone would agree that the subjects of photos are somewhat aesthetically appealing on their own. It's difficult to explain why visiting and shooting the abandoned places has become a mainstream journey objective, and what hypnotizes so deeply in the observation of the buildings and spaces in their slow decay. Perhaps the most appealing is the confrontation with a fatal beauty of transience, natural degradation. These ghostly, slightly mystical images that remind us of post-apocalyptic movies awaken sentimental reflections on temporality in our imagination. On the other hand, these locations allow you to experience the moment of surprise. Man-made objects, deprived of care, set on the independent transformational path – paint chips, trees grow on the roofs, creepers and shrubs start push through the doors and windows, birds settle inside. It feels pleasingly creepy, how places, once overrun with people, might be empty and quiet.

On the other hand, the images captured by I. Maldžiūnas raise ideas about the phenomenon of the city, and the human relationship with the city. In fact, city has been tied with photography since its beginnings. Photography helped capture the details of the urban transformation from the nineteenth century to the present days. However, not only the faces of cities underwent a transformation, but the way how cities are depicted in art works changed as well. For example, in the beginning of the twentieth century. artists romanticize, idealize the life in the city, illustrate the progress of the humanity, ideas of dynamism and modernity.

Today, however, the critique of urban lifestyle is more common in photography. In this respect, huge canvases of American panoramic skylines by Joel Sternfled come to mind. The photographer reveals the irony of human impact on the landscapes. I think, I. Maldžiūnas' photography in a similar manner resonates the subjects of current transformation of urban fabric, and functioning of public spaces. The decay, which he captures, reveals how these urban systems breathe, change and slowly move, taking up new territories, neglecting the old ones or slowly disappearing. Among other things, these art works represent a certain educational aspect – they witness the micro-histories of cities, and remind us that individual and collective experiences lie behind each of these objects.

Therefore, I. Maldžiūnas' exhibition not only fuels our imagination, it also leaves us with interesting questions to reflect on when traveling from point A to point B. Poetically speaking, these journey photos touch another form of movement, the time shift.

Please, tell us the story of this cycle. Why did you avoid showing the hive of American cities, the people? Why did you want to capture the urban wastelands?

My travel photography began with fascinating cultures – India, Iran, Pakistan. Later, I began to long for something new. I thought that there are countries that we hear of a lot about through media, say, the leading countries. I realized that I don't know anything about what daily life is like over there – in China, the United States, Russia. I have “reportet” on China, and presented the exhibition already. Now is the time for the United States. And then Russia. These exhibitions will be connected in some way. Most likely, this will be the nature of the captures sites – these are the places, where nobody steps, the ones that do not normally present any interest.

Why the journey around U. S. was special for You?

U. S. is special because it is very spacious. You can take a long ride and there is absolutely nothing around. It is incredibly beautiful. You can say that our dunes of the Curonian Spit also extend into the infinity. But the body still experiences the presence of a border. Meanwhile in U. S., you are dealing with thousands of kilometers that your brain is not even capable to grasp. Oh, what a great feeling that is...
But overall, I am not too keen to identify the locations. It is often more important to capture the moment, not the place. It is just that it is easier to notice curious things in a foreign country, because you can see everything from a different angle.
As for the importance of time, there are also moments, when the body is less or more ready to take.

The places that you captured in the cycle, were they random?

Yes, it was sort of teasing the fate. At some point I realized, that there is very little we can influence. That's why I decided to loosen up, stop controlling and supervising everything. Then you learn, that things happen on their own.

Is the city a positive or negative phenomenon to You?

I enjoy living and working in smaller cities like Kaunas. Mega-cities attract me less... But to me cities are just as beautiful as the nature. You need a bit of everything, there has to be a balance.

All important art movements and genres of the twentieth century were born in cities. Would you agree that the arts and the city are inseparable? That the arts need polyphony, pluralism, community, therefore, at its basis it is an urban phenomenon?

I myself grew up in the wild, on the banks of Nemunas. And from there – straight to the high school of arts, to the tenth grade. It was a grand explosion for me. You accumulate your own energy and then slip away to the place where people think similarly to you. It was a real miracle. It continues to the present days.

But I think that the greatest artists live where we have never been, or even sniffed around. Here in Lithuania, Zemaitija, I have met incredible people! I would say that they are the true artists, as to me the word “artist” represents someone who has a certain self-identity that is different from the others. And self-expression can have billions of ways...

When I look at your journey images, a contradiction emerges: we cannot exist without the cities, but during the holidays we rush away. What do you think is the reason that keeps us in the cities?

I think all cities are designed to have a comfortable life and help us communicate. As a result, there are concerts, parties and exhibitions. Might be cities are also a miracle. A man-made miracle. In my photos I definitely do not want to say that the city is an evil phenomenon. I totally love cities! And even the large ones, which make you feel really tiny! The experience of being small makes me smile.
The landscapes of abandoned cities allow me to experience the transience of a human being and of everything that he has created. It seems to me that we live on the yet another cultural threshold. And I really hope that love, human love for each other will triumph! Otherwise, I think, a total self-destruction will come.

There are a lot of people who leave their homes and dedicate their lives to traveling. What makes the travelers to move forward? Who are these people who are constantly on the move?

It is often, that the families of these travelers are formed of different nationalities: a Thai mother, a German father, etc. They have homes around the world and do not reside in a specific location. These people are much more open to the traveling and they can feel at ease when traveling.

Perhaps there are also those, who just happened to have an unhappy, sad childhood, which they want to escape. Something failed in their past life.

In most of the cases, travelers preserve their national basis of the identity. But it happens often, that they have been far away from their country for so long, that probably they are even afraid to go back. Because they understand that they probably have forgotten what they had over there.

And what do you call a home? Is it walls, language, family, culture, what is it?

Everyone has formative stages. The most intensive stage is the start from birth to graduation, when you suck in probably 90 per cent of your world. Later in life, perhaps, you only digest the same information and draw conclusions. It think, that your home is what you have accumulated during that period. People, food, air, nature, memories. But first of all, people.

Thank you!

Ana Čižauskienė

The exhibition USA: Untitled Spaces of America is on show at Vilnius International Airport until February 1st, 2015.

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