Lithuanians in the News
12th November, 2006
Celebrated Avant-Garde Filmmaker Jonas Mekas Exhibits in Sydney
Jonas Mekas, an American Lithuanian, is a famous avant-garde filmmaker in New York, whose video installation on four monitors, The Destruction Quartet, was opened at the Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney on 10 October 2006. The exhibition
Jonas Mekas in New York.
Photo courtesy Lithuanian Theatre,
Music and Cinema Museum
afforded a glimpse into the leading avant-garde filmmaker’s most recent work and bears witness to a new direction in the artist’s themes. Mekas has been known so far for his celebration of "the beauty and wonder in life’s small and everyday events." (Darren Knight Gallery brochure.) Destruction has become an everyday phenomenon in the world and we seem to be bombarded daily by disastrous news on radio and television. By creating The Destruction Quartet, Mekas has used real life events and portrayed them as a symbol and/or a metaphor of "destruction per se", without any inimical, wanton, material and political motives or feelings.
In the first of the four installations Nam June Paik, of Fluxus fame, and three helpers destroy a grand piano in a repeated, monotonous sequence. The filmmaker’s reason for choosing this segment seems to be his desire to emphasise the quintessential meaning of "destruction", which he finds gratuitous.
The second segment dates from 1990 and documents the demolition of the Berlin Wall, part of which was filmed by Mekas. Jan Verwoert has this to say about his filming technique:

"A distinctive characteristic of Mekas is the way in which he challenges his own control over the image. Some frames are obviously shot from the hip, without Mekas checking the image through his viewfinder. In many sequences it seems that the succession of takes was not decided on the editing table. You might expect footage generated this way to look random - but it doesn’t. It gives you the paradoxical sense of indefinite definiteness."

In this segment the viewer sees footage of debris of the wall, the sky, the workers, bystanders and heavy bulldozers "gobbling" up the wall in great chunks. Every frame changes in rather quick succession. The viewer is shown all the frames, some of them repeated twice and more times, from which he can rebuild all the implications of the Wall’s symbolism. There are workers munching their lunch, bystanders looking rather unconcerned as big chunks of the wall topple down. Souvenir hunters are bargaining for chunks of the wall. Some people are fossicking for small pieces possibly with graffiti on them. There are no feelings expressed in this historical moment. No importance is attributed to it. The filmmaker brings everything down to a commonplace everyday event. And so the destruction goes on...

The Destruction Quartet alludes to September 11
The third installation is by Danius Kesminas, an Australian Lithuanian. This is a more ambitious project. Danius Kesminas, who successfully created the exhibition of the art critic Robert Hugues’s car crash in Western Australia, was deeply impressed by the events in Lithuania during the years 1990 - 1991. The Soviet Union, which had occupied the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for 50 years after WWII, began to loosen its grip in the Baltic area. Kesminas was particularly impressed by Soviet soldiers storming the television tower in Vilnius and the loss of life of peaceful demonstrators who tried to bar the Russian tanks moving in to disperse the defenders of the tower. He was also influenced by Jonas Mekas who had told him:

"Instead of marching and shouting against things I didn’t like, I decided to try to construct something new, outside the system.

That is how Danius Kesminas came to create his fire sculpture in New York, on a site strewn with all kinds of rubbish from the city. He constructed a sculpture of plywood and iron bars. When this sculpture was ignited and burned down, the shape of the cross was formed, reminding the viewers of the struggle for freedom in Lithuania. The whole proceedings was filmed by Jonas Mekas, who successfully used his technique of filming unconnected scenes to obtain the wanted outcome - fire and cross, as symbols of suffering.
The fourth installation of the Quartet is a more recent event, going back to 11 September 2002. It is the graphic destruction of the twin towers of the Trade Centre in New York. However, the filmmaker’s interpretation of the gradually collapsing towers is interspersed with an alienating device. A young boy’s picture from the past century is interspersed between the frames of the slowly crumbling towers and fragments of frightening cries. The awesome picture and speech contrast with the serene and interested eyes of the boy. Showing the repeated picture of the boy allowed Mekas to put distance between the viewer and the horrifying development on the screen and to present the event and the fragmented speeches like a fairy tale.
Jonas Mekas "documentary" is unusual and makes the viewer think how mankind demolished, burnt and destroyed their fellowmen and their surroundings throughout the ages.

Isolde Poþelaitë - Davis AM
Sydney, 11.10. 2006