Andrej Vasilenko   ©Julija Tamulevičiūtė

Andrej Vasilenko

Interviewed by Raimonda Tamulevičiūtė

Photographed by Julija Rūkas

Translated by Gabija Seiliūtė

The first project “This is Vilnius” idea is to search identity of Vilnius. Has your attitude changed to this once the project has gained momentum?  Who has motivated you to start “This is Vilnius”?

The idea of This is Vilnius project was and is to search for identity. This idea has already arose in my study years in the Art Academy of Vilnius.  One part of my final work was interior photography of a private apartment. Those photographs reflected signs from various periods to create a common identity. This “museum”, created during a lifetime was an interesting subject for an identity analysis. The next part of the work is video project of the city areas. It is about attempt to play a history. Rebuilding of the Royal Palace in 2009 as well as restoration of Vilnius´s Defense Wall and bastion in the same year have encouraged an interest in this project. In case of Vilnius, historical buildings are becoming artificial after being renovated, losing their authenticity, have nothing in common with the past.  I call them “marshmallows”. After studies I went to London, where I have lived for five years. It has also contributed to the development of the identity topic upon returning to Vilnius.

©Julija Rukas

What is Vilnius’s identity and how is it changing? What kind of heritage do you most often capture on a camera?

Vilnius’s identity lies in its multiculturalism. Poles, Russians and Jews who have been living in Lithuania from the old days have contributed to the formation of the city. Project “This is Vilnius” is about “layers” of the city, that emerge during city´s development. It is a photography documentary project, where rather than answering, I am posing questions in search for city´s face. It is a project about city´s changes, that are ongoing, therefore it is difficult to clearly define the direction of these changes, which will be more visible in the future. The aim of ‘This is Vilnius´ is to capture these changes. In the city, I am searching for indications leading to its identity, be it objects of heritage protection or Western cultural signs or a mixture of both. I am trying to find a perspective and lightening so that photography is not limited to a mere grey documentary. I also always consider photography as scenography or a movie shot.

Why the topic about identity is relevant to you? Is it hard to looking for identity in the city?  Why you choose the city itself for identity searches?

City is a great reflection of people. I chose the city itself because it has less masks (despite the excessive adornment of the old town) than people. You cannot perform the city, its processes are slower, it is open and public, which fascinates me.

The topic of identity is interesting to me because of my origin – I am from Russian/Ukrainian family. I was also born in the Soviet Union and began studying at a Russian school when the Soviet Union collapsed. All the changes and the Soviet Union itself were still alive for a decade until they started to slowly disappear. Now, the effect of Soviet period is perhaps the least noticeable. These periods are familiar to me, therefore I´m interested in how the society´s thinking changes. The representatives of some ethnic minorities still live in their own world. Especially Russian national minorities. For instance, in many post-Soviet countries Russians often think they are aliens or inferior and therefore deliberately emphasize their Russian origin, though in Russia their situation would be similar. To me, it is an interesting point. It is sad that young generation, growing in similar families continue to think and behave that way because they were raised according to the Soviet model. Everything comes from the family and expands into the city.

©Julija Rukas

When discussing our relationship with the Soviet heritage, art researcher Giedrė Jankevičiūtė  claims that it is difficult for us to take up with it not due to the traumatic past experiences, but because of a deformed perception of urban environment and an inability to adapt it to the real city´s needs as a result. Do you think urban disharmony prevail Vilnius?

Yes, urban disharmony exists in Vilnius, which has arisen due to the prevailing lack of responsibility. Things are being done the simplest way possible. The connection of old and new could give great architectural examples as a result, while an inability to adapt the old to the new requirements of the city is a problem. Often, a quick result is wanted, without thinking too much, therefore the heritage is also handled irresponsibly.

A good example of how “old” is adapted to the modern city needs is Berlin. Soviet buildings are being developed without any holding back. Excessive dramatization of the Soviet heritage is an unnecessary “sore” and has to be stopped by now.

A bad example of  handling the Soviet heritage is Georgia. After gaining independance, a lot of Soviet buidlings were demolished, regardless any preservation of heritage. Amongs these buidlings there were many of those breaking Soviet reglaments of the time and architects had a hard time gaining permission to build them. This serves as an example that not all Soviet period buildings are witnesses of opression, all the more , “milder” years were also prominent amongst stricter ones during the Soviet regime.

What do you think are the reasons behind a current interest in the Soviet architecture and in this period in general, not only in photography, but other forms of art? Isn´t it, in your opinion, an exhausted topic?

The history is fresh and still prevails our minds. We are living in times, where the Soviet period is remaining, yet slowly fading away. At the same time, many new elements and foreign fluences exist. For me personally, these aspects create Vilnius´ strangeness and uniqueness, which I want to capture. Many topics can be generally exhausted and already produced, although, as I have previously mentioned, all of this is happening now, which means that with new occurrences we can always find something new and unique.

What other photography projects do you participate in apart of this one?

I currently participate in the project, where I document Vilnius´ old town. Old town is not a main theme in my photography, therefore it is somewhat of a challenge to me.

©Julija Rukas

Paskelbta: December 30, 2017

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