Three days in Brussels with Jonas Mekas: meetings, films and exhibition

22 October 2013, Last updated at, 14:32 EEST
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author: Mindaugas Mikulėnas

On 15 to 18 October after a 50-year break Jonas Mekas visited Brussels, where he presented his works that transcend art disciplines, institutional, national and continental boundaries. The retrospective film show was opened in the most important hall in Brussels – the CINEMATEK film theatre of the Belgian Royal Film Archive and BOZAR Visual Arts Centre. A discussion with Vytautas Landsbergis was organised, the Jonas Mekas/The Fluxus Wall exhibition was presented, meetings with viewers and a special viewing of the film Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR were organised.

All these activities are a significant part of the cultural programme of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council.

Films - Beauty and Magic of Experienced Moments

On 16 October J. Mekasʼs retrospective show was opened with the newest film Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man (2012) at the CINEMATEK film theatre. In his interview with viewers, J. Mekas said that this film, like many others, is not memories. According to him, memories do not exist at all, all images and experiences are real, and it does not matter that they were filmed.

“I like what I see,” said J. Mekas about his accumulated filmed materials. Every time in creating a new film, the artist takes it from his archives and “strings” the images one by one like “on a knitting needle”, binding their texture and semantic layers with a sound track.

The retrospective show, which will run until 27 October, exhibits films from the works of 1964-2012, selected by the author himself: Walden (1969), Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), Lost, Lost, Lost (1976), Sleepless Night Stories (2012), 16 mm film collection and others. In these the film creator focuses on the flow of everyday life - places he visited, family, meetings with friends - and turns these images into impressionist pictures, which reveal the beauty and magic of experienced moments.

Talking about the Works, Lithuania, Friends and Politics

On 17 October a meeting between J. Mekas and Prof. V. Landsbergis was organised at the BOZAR Visual Arts Centre, which was managed by the Director of the National Art Gallery Lolita Jablonskienė and the exhibition curator Liutauras Pšibilskis. This was the first time the old friends had organised a public dialogue. During their conversation, J. Mekas and V. Landsbergis shared their experiences, which were evoked by the dramatic changes in Lithuanian history during the past century, and which conditioned their subsequent life and activities. When J. Mekas moved to the West, he formed his identity by his experience as a displaced person, while V. Landsbergis as a person whose place had been displaced. Dynamic and in some places coloured with humorous conversation revolving around the creations, Fluxus, Jurgis Mačiūnas, Lithuania and friends, and in the end they got into a debate about current international political issues.

The exhibition presents the major topics of the works.

After the talk at the BOZAR Visual Arts Centre, the exhibition Jonas Mekas/The Fluxus Wall was opened, which presented the selected works of J. Mekas from the 1960s to the present. Rare photographs, video installations and poems are exhibited, being grouped according to the most important topics in the works of J. Mekas: Lithuania/Home/Heaven; Friendship/Family; Now/Existing in the Present.

Visitors are welcomed by a specially prepared video greeting by J. Mekas. The theme of each of the five exhibition halls is defined by the poetry verses of J. Mekas, which he selected and wrote on the walls himself.

In the first exhibition hall, Now/Existing in the Present shows the 365 Day Project, a visual work opening a window into the current life of J. Mekas. Every day in 2007, J. Mekas created a short video film that he uploaded to his website At this exhibition, visitors can see the full 38-hour work on a big screen for the first time.

The Lost Paradise in Lithuania and Hades in America

The Hall Lithuania/Home/Heaven reflects the idea of Lithuania being the home, the lost Paradise, and at the same time a country fighting for its freedom.

In the impressions Images from Purgatoria, viewers can see the first steps of J. Mekas and his brother Adolfas in America, the memories of the Lithuanian emigrant society, and life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn recorded by J. Mekas in 1949-1950.

“After a ten-year war and displaced person camps, Hell was nothing, we felt better in Williamsburg, though it was not the Paradise everyone had told us about when speaking about America. We rather accepted it as a transitional period, like our Hades,” wrote J. Mekas.

A video installation synchronically demonstrating four parts of the film Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR recreates recent events in Lithuania and also world history, and the drama of the Lithuanian struggle for freedom.

In the centre of the hall, attention is attracted by the installation the Lithuanian Soul, created especially for this exhibition from Lithuanian folk belts and flaxen towels.

Tribute to Fluxus Movement
For J. Mekas the feeling of a meaningful life derives from friendship and the beauty of the world surrounding it. In the hall, the Friendships presents a 40 portrait collection called the Fluxus Family. Photographs represent members of the family, friends and acquaintances, which used to be members of the Fluxus movement, and celebrated persons in various art areas photographed as performance art or during gatherings. The visual piece Mačiūnas and Warhol joins two close friends of J. Mekas, whose contribution to twentieth-century cultural development he considers the most significant.

A separate part of the exhibition is the Fluxus Wall, devoted to the founder of the Fluxus art movement J. Mačiūnas and Fluxus performance art. Photographs and documents from J. Mekasʼs personal archive and the Fluxus collection in Vilnius reveal hitherto little known episodes of J. Mačiūnas’ life and work. For the first time were exhibited photographs of Hollis Melton from the performance art of the J. Mčiūnas and Billy Hutching wedding, which took place in 1978, where the bride and groom exchanged their clothing. Next to them the photographs by Peter Moore from the Yoko Ono performance art are demonstrated, with Yoko’s handwritten statement On the Rape. Four screens display the Fluxus performance art documented by J. Mekas.

The exhibition Jonas Mekas/The Fluxus Wall was supervised by L. Pšibilskis in close cooperation with Jonas Mekas and L. Jablonskienė. The exhibition was organised by the National Art Gallery and BOZAR Visual Art Centre. Part of the Fluxus exposition was borrowed from the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Centre in Vilnius. The exhibition will be open until 26 January 2014.

J. Mekas: “I am a Farmer’s Son. I Work, Work and Work”

The last live meeting of people in Brussels with J. Mekas took place on 18 October at BOZAR, where he presented the video film Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR. The film chronologically recreates the Lithuanian independence revival of 1989-1991. The basis of the film is the USA TV news announcements, debate programmes and interviews, which J. Mekas followed and filmed at his home in New York. Presenting the film to a mainly young audience gathered for the viewing, the author said that at first comprehending the meaning and scale of the unexpected and rapidly developing significant political events was difficult, both for political analysts and for the main actors in the political drama. This can be evaluated from the perspective of time.

In breaks between events, J. Mekas gave interviews to the Belgian media and guided several tours of the exhibition. When asked whether he gets tired of such an intense schedule, the 90-year-old J. Mekas replied: “I am a farmer’s son. I work, work and work.”

Presentations of the works of J. Mekas in Brussels were organised by the Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU, in cooperation with the National Art Gallery, International Cultural Programme Centres and Belgian cultural institutions BOZAR and CINEMATEK.

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