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Irma Balakauskaite

Ljiljana Ćinkul: You have participated in International printmaking triennial in Belgrade in 2014 and 2017, and also in April/May this year, as one of the awarded artists at the mentioned exhibition, you had your solo exhibition in Grafički Kolektiv Gallery. How would you compare Serbian and Lithuanian art scene and the mainstreams in the field of printmaking?

Irma Balakauskaitė: I am very happy that I have had the chance to take part in the International Printmaking Treinnials in Belgrade and thankful for the recognition of my works. Printmaking triennials are a great opportunity to see and evaluate the processes that happen in the modern day graphic art scene.
Answering your question I will probably not make a mistake by saying that the tendencies of the development of graphic art are very similar both in our countries and the world. The development happens naturally in two directions: 1) traditional view of printmaking is still dominant (the relationship that is based on the use of the craft and technology and satisfies the need for the “true print”) and 2) conceptual approach, which is more akin to the usual modern art/interdisciplinary format, is developing (the relationship where conceptual motion is more important than a beautifully crafted image).
When comparing the formal aspects of Lithuanian and Serbian graphic art I would make one observation: Serbian artists like and use abstraction in a very convincing way, whereas Lithuanian artists do so very rarely. Most currently actively creating Lithuanian artists primarily choose figurativity, which more or less conceals a narrative. Serbian printmaking has more of abstract exploration. However, I think that this difference is also influenced by some historical-artistic tradition.

Lj.Ć: You work in different media: painting, graphic art, sculpture and scenography. What is the relation of that rich artistic experience with your personal concepts of art in general?

I.B: I have been drawing all of my conscious life from the time I could hold a pencil. I do not know how but the very clear understanding that I want to be a puppet theater artist came when I was about ten years old. I was thoroughly reaching for my goal- preparing to study scenography. The year when I was applying to the Institute of Arts (now Academy of Arts) there was no admittance to scenography as the course was only assembled once every two years. I very successfully applied for a painting course thinking that I could switch to scenography in a year. But that did not happen...
Graphic art only came into my life by accident… I had the chance to acquaint myself with the technologies of graphic art when I was studying in my second year. I fell in love with etching. Over time, graphic art has become my main passion (in 1999 I was admitted into the Lithuanian Union of Artists as a graphic artist). Unexpectedly, during my student years, painting, printmaking and the childhood dream of mine – Puppet Theater had organically intertwined in the time of creative experiments and experiences. Interdisciplinarity is a natural state that meets my inner and creative requirements and does not allow me to drown in the routine or constrain myself within the boundaries of any one discipline/one guild.
With my friend Vytautas Pakalnis, I founded an experimental mechanical theater “Ū” which existed for 5 years and was even invited to festivals... After Vytautas Pakalnis had tragically left life I had decided to create my “Artists Theater” on my own. This had become my long term strategy and a creative goal – script of my creative life, where individual works or cycles of works, sculptures, mechanical, graphical objects and installations would over time fall into place as puzzle pieces of a coherent system that represents my worldview. Not one of my exhibitions or cycle of works is ever final. I try to solve specific questions of plasticity in each of the interim results that are always oriented at the end goal – the “Artists Theater” as a means to understand myself.

Lj.Ć: You said that your each print represent a kind of small theater, a small scenography... Is there a certain measure of that synergy of scenography and graphic art and how do you explain it?

I.B: Scenography (that is to say, notional direction of theatrical plot and the “puppet-ification” (stylization, objectification) of characters) is the red strand that stretches throughout the entirety of my art whatever I choose to do.
Asking the question “how graphic art and scenography interact in my works”, You probably were talking about my exhibition “Būsenos/States” at the Grafički Kolektiv gallery..? When presenting the exhibition I mentioned that “I place my visual reality in a 2D format as scenography”.
In “States”, by using a visual form I sought to express my relationship with reality and the internal (spiritual/emotional) states that arise at this junction: solitude, resolve, longing, tension, despair, resistance… Working on these pieces, it was exceptionally important to maximize the communication between the viewer and the piece; to express myself in the most obvious way so that what I am trying to say would be clearly read/understood. I had thought of ways to achieve this and theatrical experience had suggested a solution. In the most straightforward sense, I tried to imagine how would a director, working on a silent spectacle, express a feeling using only the motion and the scenic image; visualize it so clearly that it would resonate with the viewer. There must be nothing accidental, unnecessary or pointless on stage. For this reason my scenography only has the most necessary objects-symbols (mountain, ground, house, chair, tree, well, balcony), some “special effects” (water, wind, smoke), minimum props (rock, ball, plane) and light. My characters communicate with the viewer through symbolic action, which they act out in the scenography that I have prepared for them.


Irma Balakauskaite, Stages

Lj.Ć: In your work you are focused on emotional and spiritual states which emerge through human interaction with nature and/or reality. To what extent is that related to local tradition and heritage of Baltic space?

I.B: Of course, a person is shaped by the environment they live in. Introspecting, contemplative/observational relationship with the environment is typical for a Lithuanian spirit. The symbolism of sad Lithuanian songs, dark expression of the folk tales, silence and implied meaning in relationships, restrained and refined aesthetic taste… - all of this is reflected in my world view, one way or the other. Although, I would not say that this defines my innermost choices. It is difficult for me to pick out details from a complicated and intricate field of various influences. I was born to a family of mixed ethnicities, spent my childhood in Kyiv, my circle of communication has always been multicultural and multilingual.
I think, that a person brings a buquet of existential questions/touching problems as they come into the world. Geography has nothing to do with it.

Lj.Ć: Titles of your works have literary and poetic tone. How much are these titles important to you, your work and communication of your graphic art with audience?

I.B: Words are very important to me. Often a concept, an overheard phrase or an anecdote becomes an inspiration for my art, a starting point for the choice of the theme. Usually, I work in cycles, where I seek to ponder the meanings encoded in words or phrases in a visual form. The cycles “Exodus”, “Conversations”, “Antique Landscapes”, “States” came to be this way… The names of the cycles usually serve as frames that help to concentrate on a topic and define the boundaries of a chosen problem. In some works I use personal symbols that may not be understood.
In such cases the titles serve as communicational bridges that guide the viewer towards the thought I am trying to express without showing it in an obvious manner.
My titles are usually very simple: “Waiting Ones”, “Watching Ones”, “Standing Ones”, “Ones that Walk Together”, “Fear”, “Silence”… I wouldn’t say that they are very literary or poetic… Maybe the theatricality and some sort of Poesis arises at the relation between the title and the image..? In that case it fits the purpose.
More often than not, the titles of my works are completely opposite to the image that viewer can see. This way I create a paradoxical situation where the mismatch of image and text enables the grasping of semantic layers which exist between the words and the images.

Lj.Ć: Use of different materials is typical for your work in graphic art. What is the ratio of Poesis and Techne in your work?

I.B: The Poesis of the image is something I think about the least. Poetry in a piece of work comes to be naturally or does not come at all. The artistic truth is much more important to me, it can be whatever you want. And sometimes it is not poetic at all… I do not attempt to consciously enrich/poeticize the image. I was always more interested in the Poesis of the creative process – a dialogue which happens in the work process between me and the matter which I am trying to defeat. I believe that all matter is alive: it is always resisting, trying to test me, taunting, trying my patience and the sincerity of my intentions… Any chosen material (whether it is paper, metal, wood, plaster or clay…) has its own character and caprices… as well as its own authenticity which it sometimes reveals by suggesting a solution that I would have never come up with on my own. I never know what the result will look like beforehand. But that is exactly what I like! That is why I choose different materials for different ideas, come up with new ones, experiment. A work is born only out of the relationship with matter which always resists at first and then it takes the lead, corrects, suggests and even does some things on its own. Poesis and Techne in my work meet outside of the image.

The Graphic Collective, 2017

Lj.Ć: You also work as a professor. How does the exchange of creative energy in communication with students affect your work as an artist?

I.B: Teaching is a large part of my life. Most of my creative energy gets invested into it. I have worked with children aged 3-15, students and adults who wish to expand their view or acquire creative experiences. The fact that teaching is a very difficult job that takes away a lot of time and energy from creative work is not a secret to anyone. Educators by calling stop working in any other creative fields and realize themselves through teaching. But for those artists who have at least some creative ambitions, education becomes the most favorable compromise; it takes away time from your main job – art, but still allows to stay close to it as well as ensures a humble living. In this sense I am not an exception. But in return, I had gained invaluable psychological, creative and even directorial experience that completely freed me from all my fears! After this I could teach my subject to anyone and anywhere. Working with children and students I realized that there is a lot of theater in education: same directing, same creative process, same dialogue and confrontation when trying to overcome the resistance of the pupils (which is inevitable); same “accidents” and creative joy when your effort reaches the goal, resonates, and reflects back in the form of the pupils’ astounding results and the backlink in relationships!
When teaching, my goal is to help develop the individual authenticity of each and every pupil/student (originality, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of the quality of art). My practical experience allows me to show different approaches for expressing and technically realising that authenticity.
I never force my own style or taste onto my students, I try to notice that which comes from within them and suits their needs. As an educator I am very proud of that the works of all my students are very different, not similar to any of my works or the works of each other. I manage to be genuinely happy for the achievements of my students.
I get the responsibility to “put on a good primer” (basis): to teach them to see, get to know and understand the causational and semantic connections in a piece of visual art, to think conceptually, to provide a possibility to touch the grammar of the visual language.
Even though my students cannot influence my creative work as much as I do theirs, they still strongly polish my character- develop the positive aspects of my personality. Sometimes I can be very critical and incisive. The contemporary youth is very vulnerable and sensitive. They teach me to be softer, more tolerant, to express my thoughts carefully and correctly.

Part of the interview with Irma Balakauskaite
Belgrade, July 3rd, 2017

Irma Balakauskaitė (1968. Kiev, Ukraine), graduated from Vilnius Art Academy (1995), the speciality of painting. Since 1999 she has been a member of the section of graphic arts of the Lithuanian Artists’ Association. Irma works in the spheres of painting, graphic arts, sculpture and scenography. Since 1992 she has participated in various exhibitions in Lithuania and abroad. The artist has organised 14 personal exhibitions in Lithuania. Presently she is living and working in Vilnius. More



Graphic Collective Gallery, Dragoslava Jovanovića 11, Belgrade, Weekdays 12 - 20h, Saturdays 12 - 17h, Sundays closed
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