My curiosity to understand my present place, causes me to scrutinize the details of my past—the turns, the risks, the faults, the successes. How do they add up and how have they created the path before me? I spoke with Liutaurus Psibilskis, a truly independent curator, whose focus is to awaken the public to both the unrecognized historical presence and contemporary significance of, primarily, video and performative artwork. Drinking a record number of cappuccinos before I headed upstate to escape the city for a weekend, I learned that what leads you forward, is the trail behind.
David Goodman: How did you become an independent curator?
Liutauras Psibilskis: I’m from Lithuania originally, and I have lived in quite a few European countries, and in London while studying Visual Culture at Goldsmiths. Both my degrees, one from Vilnius and one from London, are theoretical, but I was always more interested in practical work and since my early twenties I have curated exhibitions and write for the art publications. While I was living in Lithuania I started writing for Flash Art as a correspondent and became editor for Siksi, the Nordic Art Review. I was receiving a variety of writing and curatorial grants throughout Europe-from Switzerland to Finland-and did shows in Holland, Finland or in London. Altogether my history is very European. After my studies I moved on to Sweden and represented Art Forum in Scandinavia, it was a great experience since I was traveling and writing about many things there. But what’s specific about my experience is that I’m actually totally independent, and have never been employed (starts to laugh) so, it’s really quite unusual. Actually, to tell you the truth, I was employed for something like six months when I was finishing my studies in Vilnius in my early twenties at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, which is a great institution. But all the rest has been independent work. Navigating through places, possibilities and ideas has always kept me energized.
DG: Has there been a common thread in the conversations that you seek when you curate and write?
LP: Well, when writing I used to do a lot of features about art in Scandinavia and other countries. I also used to collaborate with this Swiss journal called Kunstbulletin where I did interviews about artists like Fiona Tan or Santiago Sierra. Mostly European international artists. My interest was always to enter the creative process and get to the roots of what is happening and why.
I believe that when you’re working as a writer, it has a lot to do with trying to figure out the reasoning behind what people are trying to create. When it comes to my curatorial work, I have never written a “manifesto”… You start realizing the common thread that really interests you only in retrospect-For me it really comes down to mixing old and new, treating all of it as one substance that can tell something for us. I’m very interested in looking for the roots of the most topical work right now, where it is coming from … At the same time I try not to formulate an explicit historical perspective even if at times this is not easy to avoid. In my shows I’m usually mixing some art from the ’60s or ’70s, or even earlier, with the topical art of the now. I don’t do it in a scholarly way, instead I’m interested in a more creative response to the work-the links I present are more intuitive.
I’d say that I try to generate work together with artists and that I see curating as an activity parallel to the creative process of the artist. I come up with an idea (which can also be a very visual concept) and I look for various forms of art to open up and expand my idea. Sometimes an exhibition takes me in a direction that astonishes even myself… It doesn’t matter from when or where the work comes from… In one show, in an artist’s studio on Delancey, I put a Picasso next to work by young artists from the Lower East Side (NYC) like Rita Ackermann, Agathe Snow or Marianne Vitale, but in that case it thematically referred to the idea of creativity and what it means today.
DG: Do you find that it becomes scholarly anyway, because it’s based on intelligent intuition? Do you think that your approach is in conflict with the everyday thought of curating exhibitions?
LP: I look at the historical work from the perspective of the now and I see the roots as elements of its contemporary significance. I am not interested in the roots as an element of historical research, but rather in work which is connected to the past but legitimate and meaningful today.
DG: A deeper understanding of how the past informs the present, and the other way around as well.
LP: Yes, how some aspects of the past become topical now. What is it about time that makes us indulge in some specific ideas and forms? Why are we suddenly drawn to a particular artist or practice in the past? It is always about exploring an idea from a variety of views…
DG: What work inspires you?
LP: Well, I’d say that in recent years I have predominantly been presenting independent film in the visual art context, as well as performance. In 2004 I started working with Jonas Mekas. I did a show and publication at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and then I was invited to curate the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It was a pretty good exhibition, and very well received. People realized how significant his historical pieces from the ’60s and ’70s are today. It was one of the most topical pavilions of 2005, even though most of the films were shot long ago. Mekas made a couple of new installations for the show; he continues to recycle lots of his footage from decades before… This upcoming autumn I will be showing a performance by him together with his band “Here Now”. I hope that Marina Abramovic will join, since she is also an accidental band member…
DG: Was Mekas’ work topical when he was producing it? Or was it not registering with viewers because the work was indeed visionary?
LP: I think it is about the cumulative effect of the work, the collected experience and imagery that he cultivates. It takes time to amass all the work and then present it in the right spotlight so that, suddenly, you can see all its beauty. The work is about life experience and about appreciation of each moment. Jonas is more than 80 years old now, so definitely he has much more to share with us.
In New York I got to meet some more people, who are incredibly interesting now, like Michel Auder, for example. He’s a great artist. His work is also cumulative; he has been filming since the ’70s, but it seems that it’s only now that you can see all the power of his work and it’s important that it receives recognition. It is not really accurate to see Jonas or Michel as historical figures, they are very much artists of the now both through their past and through present work.
After the Venice Biennale, there was much more demand for Mekas’ work, so I continued curating shows with him around the world, everywhere. And of course I also started meeting more artists of my own generation-mostly in Downtown NYC. In addition, I’m working with artists like Ultra Violet. She is best known as one of the personalities at Warhol’s factory. We are now re-releasing The Last Supper, her performative film from 1972. It was filmed in the Kitchen by the Vasulkas’s. I’m going to present The Last Supper, among many other things, during Performa this November at the Emily Harvey Foundation in New York as a project that will connect the moving image with performance.
I’m really drawn to cinematic imagery. It’s wonderful how films give you a story and a vision. Performance is definitely related to film because it’s a time-based medium, so I am interested in superimposing these two and presenting both forms of artwork in my events.
DG: Why did you choose The Emily Harvey Foundation for your next curatorial project?
LP: The Emily Harvey Foundation space is very specific and so interesting. It’s in one of the first Fluxus co-ops in SoHo, founded by George Maciunas who started the Fluxus movement. It’s the same space that used to be his home and where he staged his Fluxus wedding, when Billie and George exchanged their wedding clothes and blended their gender roles. It’s also where he was beaten up by intruders-Maciunas was at the forefront of establishing an artist’s community in SoHo and they had taken over some properties. Quite a few people were unhappy with what he was doing.
I call the project Roulette. It will be part of Performa and is funded by Outpost NYC DCG. The show indirectly reconnects with some Fluxus game theories, and will use a variety of media and time frames. It will be a dense collection of performances, performative videos, sound works, films and wall pieces. The works will embody different notions of change: unpredictability, risk, obsession, and irrationality. Roulette will change with each successive event. As one event closes, another one will open.
DG: What initially made you interested in work of this nature? Was there a moment in you’re life that you became more drawn to work that wasn’t static?
LP: I grew up as a curator in the ’90s and at least in Europe this period was very much about video art. Much of the most interesting work being created used the moving image. I gradually became very interested in the predecessors of this type of visual language. However I don’t want to become too rigid in my parallels… In the exhibitions I curate, I always want to create a sense of openness so that the public may see the links between the work and themselves, and experience the show as a whole.
BOMB On The Inside is conversation series created by David Goodman that engages artists, curators, gallerists, and visionaries to reveal the dynamism and power of creative thought. This piece was edited with the help of Richard Goldstein.