Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė ©Julija Rukas

Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė

Interviewed by Raimonda Tamulevičiūtė

Photographed by Julija Rūkas

Translated by Julija Laurinaitytė

How do you find the topic of the past, the present and the memory in the series of Population 5, By the forest (Pašilaičiai) and Independency (video record)?

Population 5 was one of the final works done eight years ago. The series was made in Dubininkai – my grandfather came from this village. Being abroad sort of ‘put on’ new glasses. I started looking at many things differently when I came back to Lithuania. After a year spent in Scotland, I realized that Dubininkai village is a dying reality. I have to capture the memory of this village because this reality does not exist anywhere else. I showed the series to the lecturers and they found it very interesting. Thus, I was encouraged to elaborate this work. It was the first step towards my roots, I looked back to it only when I was in Scotland. I realized how exceptional it is.

Pašilaičiai are closely linked with my family since my grandparents lived there. It is a small project about the change – a capture of the old world which soon is going to disappear.

Project Independency came out suddenly when my father got an old record from „New York Times“ journalist. He was interviewed about the goals of the regaining Independency. It was the year of the first meeting for the independence – 1987. Back in those times, nobody knew how this period is going to end and will Lithuania regain its independence. The majority was afraid to go to the meeting because they did not know how KGB will react. It was an era of uncertainty and expectations.

Last year I helped my father to find a journalist who interviewed him. She sent him a record with the interview. This was how the idea was born to turn this into an artistic project. Professors found this record invaluable. The situation of those times is known in the West in historical, formal level and this record brings a personal experience which provides that era emotion and truthfulness.

Thus, I find the topic of the past and the memory very interesting and important since it helps to realize who am I and what I want in the future. Although my projects are quite personal, however, it reflects the part of our culture. The importance of independence retrieval will be carried by our and next generations. I think it is important not to forget it, especially with the nowadays situation in Lithuania.

Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė ©Julija Rukas

What do you think, why these topics are always relevant and always find a response in the society? Why are these topics important for you, one of the members of the youth generation?

The topic of the past, even nostalgia is very close to my personality. Some time I ago I read the sociological definition of nostalgia and I really liked it. Nostalgia is a mechanism which helps you to understand who you are now and where are you going, even though you look at the past, but at the same time you are getting forward. Nostalgia affects people, especially the masses, during the period of instability, for example during the years of economical crisis. You are feeling uncomfortable in the present, that’s why you are trying to turn back to the past, where you find something solid. The generation of my parents really wanted the independence. What do we want?

We probably don’t even know what we want… Maybe we are living through identity crisis, that’s why we are talking about the nostalgia and identity themes. I am pondering why can’t we invent a new identity? Why it should exist like it is in the West? We could invent something new!

What does nostalgia have in common with the heritage? Does the feeling of nostalgia can turn the object into heritage or at least have a direct connection with it? 

The heritage and nostalgia are not necessarily connected. As an example of that, we can think about Green Bridge sculptures. Sculptures became a part of Vilnius and while it does not carry heavy ideological signs, it shouldn’t disturb anyone. Vilnius underwent many periods and has many influences which shaped the city view on its way. Strange why Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, was built a long time ago, however it was rebuilt but the recent history has to be demolished. It is kind of a wish to re-write the history.

If we realize these two things, heritage and nostalgia as separate, I believe it would be healthier.

Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė ©Julija Rukas

At the moment, according to UNESCO, Lithuanian immaterial heritage are the traditions of cross-crafting, dances and songs of Balts. What do you think, what is the present situation? Can we really consider the old cultural valuables as immaterial heritage? What is the immaterial heritage for you? What are the problematics of it becoming a heritage?

What comes to my mind now is collective garden or holiday package trip during the Soviet times.

But these are more phenomenon than the heritage. In the Soviet Union, there were various social phenomena which served for the ideological regime. For example, travelling to the holiday resort with the workmates was like a constant wish not to leave a person on his own, an absence of privacy. This is kind of immaterial heritage which nobody wants, one could call it like that (laughing). After few generations, the elements of Soviet life will disappear, people won’t even understand those additional connotations which exist in Soviet times. I think the Soviet immaterial heritage, or better call it social phenomena, would cause even bigger outrage than Soviet sculptures or buildings. What had most power was the „ideological grip“ and its functioning in the society. Soviet architecture has unique and valuable examples which should be protected.

Living abroad or travelling outlines different socializing habits, certain everyday rituals, understanding of norms. Does the social behaviour define society’s culture? Do you seek to reflect these, sometimes difficult to express, elements? Why? What does it say about the society?

One notices cultural differences very quickly. When living abroad, you might miss certain things. While creating the Amber room I was thinking about cultural differences. The lack of openness and certainty, when I was settling in Scotland, is reflected in these photographs. Cultural differences are shaped by many factors. For example, the presence of communism and capitalism. I think interpersonal relations in Lithuania are more simple and in many cases more genuine than in capitalist countries. I was thinking about that when I was creating the Amber room. Another example of cultural differences, which seemed to me as important was that people of similar interest groups in Scotland, their political views would match, in Lithuania – this was not necessarily the case. I grew up in the family which was struggling for Lithuania’s independence. That’s why I did not hide my negative feelings against Russia, its government and people. This attitude in Scotland was met by surprise because not all Russians are occupants. Now it seems funny but living in another country it’s very visible for the people around you. Another factor would be, when post-soviet countries became independent they also became right and they were afraid to support the left. It’s an excessive scare of the past, without a critical view and without realizing the present. Eastern Europe became an experimental field for socialism, which never happened, but equally – for capitalism. I think these differences, social behaviour, without a doubt, define society’s culture.An example of Lithuania shows that our country is gradually changing, at the same time becoming more free, on the other hand, it does not get rid of the shadows of the past.

Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė ©Julija Rukas

Why do you think there is so much interest with the Soviet period not only in photography but also in other arts? Don’t you find this topic already exhausted?

There are few cases. A person or an artist speaks about a personal experience, another aspect – a Western view. I already mentioned that my projects gained an interest from people in Scotland. They find these topics exceedingly interesting, because they are presented from a personal perspective, not from the usual – formal one. However, the Western view consists of recognizing visual elements. Culture which you basically do not know, but you get the picture only from the visual aspect.

I think these themes are fashionable. Especially in the sphere of photography. I suspect it’s just exotic, but maybe an influence of conscious or unconscious dissatisfaction with the capitalism and turning back to another systems. However, it all depends on the intentions of the artist or photographer. There are many who wish to visit post-soviet countries, quickly find strange buildings, people with sad faces and wearing unfashionable clothing, soviet cars and quickly leave after taking some pictures. Without a context, politics, history or cultural studies in this region, these kind of works seem worthless, seeking for a quick popularity. They do not differ much from coffee table books with a colourful photographies from the travels in Cuba or India, which was fashionable 10-20 years ago.

I do not know if it’s possible to exhaust this theme. My incentive to take interest in it rise from the personal experiences and memories which I build inside my head, but also concern about the present political tendencies in Lithuania and in the world. System in which we are living are not functioning. When looking to another system I try to find a direction which I could believe. On the other hand, I plan my closest artistic projects with the topics of the future because it’s time to look.

Kotryna Ūla Kiliulytė ©Julija Rukas

Paskelbta: December 30, 2017

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