On Friday 17th June 2016, Kunstraum hosted AIROOM Artist Residency’s screening of The Road Movie followed by a discussion with the Lithuanian artist and curator Gerda Paliusyte and AIROOM curator Juste Kostikovaite. The Road Movie follows the two remaining members of New York hip hop band Onyx, more than 20 years after the release of their single ‘Slam’, on a drive through Vilnius, a city that has been ‘on the road’ towards a new economic future. Released in 1993, ‘Slam’ was a breakthrough single in the US, but also became the soundtrack for the street riots taking place in the Baltic countries following the collapse of Soviet rule.
The Road Movie was commissioned by XII Baltic Triennial, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius. AIROOM is supported by Arts Council England and Lithuanian Culture Institute. With thanks to Lithuanian Embassy in London.
Juste Kostikovaite: I was surprised when after first seeing this film at the XII Baltic Triennial I read in the text a reference to the collection of Oceanic Art. I was puzzled because I didn’t even notice this line of content in the film. How did the film come about in relation to the collection of Oceanic Art?
Gerda Paliusyte: I used to work in one of the departmens of the Lithuanian Art Museum / Museum of the Radvilas Palace and I was puzzled by it because I didn’t understand how I should think about the time of the city in relation to the time of the museum. In the film one could see that, although the museum is in the center of Vilnius, somehow it plays within a different timing to that of the city outside – although the museum is one of the state representatives of the city in a sense.
Although Radvilai Palace ordinarily displays collections of the Lithuanian Art Museum in the form of temporary shows, a new permanent exhibition opened, from the collection of a Lithuanian collector Dr. Genovaite Budreikaite-Kazokiene while I was still working there. The display of the collection has a problematic title, as it is supposed to be an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal, New Guinea and East-Asian Art, which is of course a hugely general categorisation.
Within the museum it’s a matter of the spectator choosing how to view the collection; either as authentic sculptures, the colonialist representation of Aboriginal art or as both. Most of the objects in that collection are from the 1950s or 1970s, but some are from the 2000s. It’s really hard to know how to approach those things. Are they artefacts or souvenirs? Are they all authentic? What is authenticity? And this strange scenario is also part of the complexity of the museum in general and of the 1990s history of Lithuania.
Thinking about this collection being shown in the museum in between the copies of antique relics and Lithuanian ancient and modern art, I saw Radvilai Palace as one of the potential stations in the film and I thought I should enter it with someone who is also part of that 1990s history. I thought of ONYX, as having this kind of relationship with Lithuania then and now. I wanted to create a road movie in the city through different locations and to see if the museum would get lost between them, or not. And if not, then why not? Would the locations look different to the context of this museum and collection, knowing that they’re part of the same history, as much as ONYX’s history. As for the depiction of the collection in the film – I decided to stick with the poster announcing the exhibition in the foyer of the museum, as well as some other objects which greet you before you explore the building further.
When I started working on ‘The Road Movie’ ONYX were touring through Eastern Europe. They are now in their forties, and are more popular in Eastern Europe and Russia than in the US. People are nostalgic about them but also young people follow them, so there is that mix of generations in the audience during their concerts.
Juste Kostikovaite: And with ONYX in mind as the protagonists of the film, how did you get them involved in the project?
Gerda Paliusyte: I had the opportunity to talk to their managers before meeting them in person just before their concert in Vilnius. I went backstage and had 10 minutes to tell them what the movie would be about, it was an intense moment, but they agreed. I spent four days with them, four full days and it was really interesting . Then I tried to integrate the museum really naturally. It was really all about making them feel at home.
Juste Kostikovaite: ONYX was popular in Lithuania around 1992, and you were born in 1987. Weren’t you too young to have listened to ONYX at the height of their popularity?
Gerda Paliusyte: That’s true, and I’m not an expert on this period of Lithuanian popular culture, but I was aware of the relationship of their music to the struggles during that period in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A few albums of ONYX were amongst the first hip-hop albums to reach Lithuania after independence, and it shaped the history of hip-hop music in Lithuania, as well as influencing music scenes outside of hip-hop. ONYX’s music became one of the soundtracks of what was happening in Lithuania in the 90s.
Juste Kostikovaite: The 90s marked an interesting moment in street life in Vilnius, because teenagers were spending more and more time there, perhaps as was the case more internationally. Near Sportpalace for instance, members of different subculture groups such as ‘Rappers’, ‘Ravers’ and ‘Metalheads’ would meet there and together there would be street fights against ‘Urlaganai’ – mainly aggressive skinhead guys dressed in trainers, listening to Russian pop music and intolerant to all the other subcultures. Those identifications were really important at that moment, it was really ideological.
Gerda Paliusyte: It’s interesting to note that those groups were built around musical tastes. For a few years the tension between the different subcultures was really intense. After the fall of the iron curtain, the import of everything was very fast, including music. So many new things appeared at the same moment – so many options to adapt the subculture.
Juste Kostikovaite: Speaking to some British people its clear that around the late 80s and early 90s we in Lithuania actually had more exposure than the British to American culture through MTV. We were sharing a lot, recording, living it!
Gerda Paliusyte: After independence one of the first two western TV series which were watched by everyone in Lithuania were Santa Barbara and Twin Peaks. This represents a tension between the state of things quite nicely.
Juste Kostikovaite: There’s an interesting moment in the film when ONYX are approached by two men in their forties who meet them by chance near the museum. For the two men, ONYX represent the memories of their youth, they don’t really care what ONYX is doing now. The band members want them to download their new album on Soundcloud, but what they really want is to meet the past personas of ONYX, not listen to their present output. It’s interesting to talk about what this present means, because they represent an ethnographic present – they come from their past but are very real. There is a kind of materialization of memory.
Gerda Paliusyte: I guess in this encounter we are made aware of the existing cultural gaps as well as overlaps. Lithuania is changing rapidly and it’s trying to deal with the past but you still see it. In ‘The Road Movie’ ONYX becomes an observer of the town but the town also observes ONYX.
Juste Kostikovaite: The city observes ONYX because Vilnius is still not that diverse in terms of inhabitants, it’s not like East London. Coming to Vilnius, ONYX are exoticised but they also exocitise their surroundings. In Vilnius you have this new and shiny shopping center and there is ‘Skybar’, which is actually from the 90s, which has a great view of the city, but at the same time there is that ’10 dollar bills’ which is at odds with the surroundings. But isn’t this scenario something the members of the band are used to, because of their many tours through Eastern Europe?
Gerda Paliusyte: Yes but at the same time I think they’re exaggerating a bit, they are performing. There is that thin line between being real and acting. Both members of ONYX are professional performers – They have taken part in various mainstream TV Series such as CSI Miami – they’re very comfortable with the camera and really love it. There are performative elements in the film, as in the conversation in the bar. When they finished talking they asked if we had got that on camera and they moved on. I really found this interesting because they performed the characters they think should be seen in the film.
Juste Kostikovaite: That’s a strange moment in the film for me, because one moment they are representing something and then suddenly there is this an almost 10 minute conversation about money and who should pay for the driver and then the film cuts to a view from the Skybar where we see new skyscrapers being built in the place of destroyed old buildings like the Youth Center. But in all this there is nothing about the music itself. I also wanted to ask about an essay that Anders Kreuger wrote at the occasion of the Baltic Triennial. He lived in Vilnius for some time right?
Gerda Paliusyte: Yes Anders is a Swedish curator but he lived in Vilnius. He’s also an art historian. He visited the Radvilai Palace together with me and has been really critical about it and its neo-colonial perspectives. He expressed that in a really honest way in the text which was published in the catalogue of the Baltic Triennial. It was a nice gesture from CAC (Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius – Organizer of the Baltic Triennial) to actually start talking about these things. The Lithuanian Art Museum is a state run organisation, but the artistic content rarely comes under critical scrutiny. It’s a vast subject to talk about, but it seems that for the current Lithuanian government the economical issues are far more important to discuss. So I think it was a great move to include this text.