2012/3–4 (21)

Special Issue ‘(Un)blocked Memory: Writing Art History in Baltic Countries’
Edited by Linara Dovydaitytė

Preface. Linara Dovydaitytė


Kristiāna Ābele.
The Picture of the Period 1890–1915 in Latvian Art-Historical Writing: Ethnocentric Distortions and Ways to Correct Them

Since the turn of the twentieth century, when Latvian art began to emancipate itself from the general cultural scene of the Baltic provinces, its rising national self-awareness has permeated most art-historical writing about this period, giving rise to a strong ethnocentric tradition, which has managed to prevail in all phases of Latvia’s history throughout the past century and still exists as a peculiar ‘default setting’ for the way Latvians envision their country’s art on both popular and academic levels. The focus on phenomena identified as ethnic Latvian involved an art-historical uprooting of non-Latvian (basically German) aspects of the local art scene and distorted the general picture. This article examines the Latvian ethnocentric narrative in its various stages of development in order to determine what should be changed on the way to a possibly all-inclusive, many-layered and reliable representation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the most multicultural episode of Latvia’s artistic past.

Iveta Derkusova. The Most Recognised Latvian [?] Artist in the World. The Case of Gustavs Klucis

The political history of the twentieth century created several distorted gaps in the art history of the Baltic countries and in the collective memories of our nations. We are used to thinking in such categories as ‘before’ and ‘after’, i.e. in relation to the fifty-yearlong Soviet occupation, and ‘here’ and ‘there’, i.e. art development in local art centres and in the rest of Europe. One of the topics in recent European modernism studies has been the reintegration of Eastern European national art schools into overall twentieth century European art history. However, the inclusion of individual artists in a ‘national art’ context may bring up specific questions. The case of the Latvian-born artist Gustavs Klucis (1895–1938), whose worldwide recognition has been achieved in the framework of Russian avant-garde art, is among the most complex to be discussed within the context of Latvian art history, since his national and professional identities are hardly parallel.

Silvija Grosa. Rethinking National Romanticism in the Architecture of Riga at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

The article deals with the problem of interpretation related to national romanticism in Riga’s early twentieth-century architecture, focusing on the development of the term, as well as on its suitability. The complex cultural-historical context of early twentieth-century Riga is delineated; as in many peripheries of Europe, Riga was permeated by searches for a national style in the neo-romanticist vein typical of the period. This study attempts to answer the question of whether this trend, known in the Latvian history of architecture as Latvian national romanticism, really expresses the aspirations for a Latvian national style, as Baltic German architects were involved in its implementation and the trend was critically reviewed in early twentiethcentury Latvian periodicals. In addition, architects of Latvian origin also put forward some ideas regarding classical heritage as a possible paradigm of national art.

Maija Rudovska. Expired Monuments: Case Studies on Soviet-era Architecture in Latvia through the Kaleidoscope of Postcolonialism

In this article, I use the tools of postcolonial theory in order to explain the processes of architecture and its understanding in the time of the Soviet occupation. Carried out under the influence of socialist ideology, architecture in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic became more artificial and deformed in comparison to the ‘original’ – the Soviet Russian example. Notions such as ‘our own’ architecture and the ‘other’ were present in architectural thinking. These features could be found in all three periods of architectural development in Soviet Latvia: during Stalinism (mid-1940s – mid-1950s), in the modernism revival (late 1950s – 1970s) and in the regional architecture that regained its prominence within a framework of postmodernism (1980s – early 1990s). This approach brings into focus a set of questions: how appropriate is it to apply the postcolonial theory to the studies of art history and architecture of the Soviet era; what features allow one to do so; how does postcolonial theory affect the analysis of styles and aesthetics of certain movements in architecture etc.?

Linara Dovydaitytė. Art History and Postcolonialism: A Lithuanian Case

This article concentrates on the problems of applying postcolonial theory in post-Soviet art history. The postcolonial perspective remains a subject of debate in the field of art history, partly because the theory itself is mostly based on literary research. Another part of the problem lies in the very way in which this theory is applied, as well as in the choice of postcolonial concepts. With a focus on existing (mis)uses of postcolonial theory in Lithuanian art historical analyses, I examine different concepts of postcolonial theory and various (dis)advantages of their application to writing the history of Soviet art.

Maria-Kristiina Soomre. Art, Politics and Exhibitions: (Re)writing the History of (Re)presentations

This paper addresses the importance of a relatively new discourse within our discipline – the history of exhibitions – and its role in the post-Soviet context of the regional art history of the Baltic states. Presenting the cases of two exhibitions related to the Venice Biennial – Printmaking Today (1972 in Ca’ Pesaro) and New Art from the Soviet Union. An Unofficial Perspective (in the framework of The Biennial of Dissent, 1977 in Palazetto dello Sport) – as well as the significant presences and absences in these politically charged – either originally or in retrospect – events, the author points out the need for contextualised studies of Soviet-period exhibitionary practices in order to indicate the power relations around representations and history-writing, as well as the rather intertwined nature of what have commonly been referred to as polar official and unofficial canons.

Renata Šukaitytė. The Drift along a Traumatic Past in the Cinematic Worlds of Šarūnas Bartas

This paper examines the reflections of a recent past and formations of post-1990s subjectivities in the films of the Lithuanian film-maker Šarūnas Bartas, namely Three Days (1991), The Corridor (1995), Few of Us (1996), Seven Invisible Men (2005) and Eastern Drift (2010), and presents an analysis of the interrelation of aural and visual layers in Bartas’s films, which fall under the discourse of trauma culture (Hal Foster) and de-territorialisation (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari). All the films tackle the relationship between the past and the present, local and transcultural, stillness and mobility, individual and communal in a sustained and complex way. Therefore, Bartas’s films reflect geopolitical and aesthetic perspectives. Bartas’s protagonists are nomads glimpsed through the Deleuzian crystalline image. They trek from one place or community to another in quest of lost belonging, freedom or adventure. Their national or cultural identity is not clearly articulated. However, they can be recognised as Eastern Europeans whose land has always been a corridor for different nations and a temporary home or place of freedom. They are like Vilém Flusser’s digital apparitions operating in Deleuzian any-space-whatevers. The nation’s land, represented by the archetypical images of a bridge, a corridor, a harbour and a home, signifies a period of historical transformations and mental transitions in society.

Agnė Narušytė. Contemporary Lithuanian Photography: The Discourse of Memory

As Lithuania approached the twentieth anniversary of its independence, the need to consider the development of contemporary culture resulted in histories of various media, including photography. The latter posed specific methodological problems because of its heterogeneity and involvement in the social and political history of the country, not only as an artefact, but also as a recorder and catalyst of change. Therefore, a historian can neither use traditional art historical approaches that emphasise style and iconographic analysis nor focus exclusively on photography as a medium used by artists. This paper provides an example of writing a history of contemporary photography as part of visual culture, in which images are artists’ texts about memory, meta-texts about the status of photographs as tools of memory, documents that record memory and artefacts that help to recover memory.


Photographic Research in Lithuania: Between Reflection and Restoration. Kęstutis Šapoka