Celebration of the Small and Personal in the Time of Bigness

Jonas Mekas in the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale

Liutauras Psibilskis, curator
Lolita Jablonskiene, commissioner

A winner of Special Mention, awarded by the International Jury of the 51st Venice Biennale

Exhibition Dates: 12 June – 6 November 2005

Exhibition Venue: Ludoteca, Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Venice

Funded by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture and the Lithuanian Fund for Culture and Sports. Organised by the Lithuanian Art Museum

Jonas Mekas’s work was presented in an extensive exhibition in the Lithuanian pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennial the consisting of video installations, screenings of his films and of his collaborations with other filmmakers.

The exhibition took viewers through the development of Mekas’s work, which is already part of the history of independent filmmaking, and also showcased his most recent projects, including the premiere of Home Videos (1987/2005).

The book Conversations, Letters, Notes, Msc. Pieces etc, focusing on interviews and conversations with Jonas Mekas throughout the years, functioned as the exhibition’s catalogue. It contained rare and earlier unpublished material and was edited by Jonas Mekas and Liutauras Psibilskis. The book included texts by Jonas Mekas, P. Adams Sitney, Genevieve Yue, interviews and documentation of public appearances by Jonas Mekas from over four decades.

The exhibition and the book reflected Jonas Mekas’s philosophy, with particular focus on his ideas of subjectivity. The image of his home country Lithuania, closely linked with his experiences of childhood and early youth, is a strong presence in his work. Jonas Mekas writes about his idea behind Celebrations of Small and Personal in the Times of Bigness: ‘In this exhibition, as in my work in general, I am concerned with the discovery and celebration of small, insignificant, personal moments of our life, my life, life of my family, my close friends; joys, celebrations, being together, small daily events, feelings, emotions, friendships.’

The Lithuanian Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennial was strategically located in the Ludoteca at the end of Via Garibaldi, which was transformed into a black box for this purpose. There were two spaces for video installations and two for non-stop film screenings.

The screenings of Jonas Mekas’s films consisted of 6 programmes, including the celebrated earlier films Diaries, Notes & Sketches a.k.a. Walden (1969); Lost, Lost, Lost (1975); He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of his Life (1969/1985); Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972); As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2001); Biographical Quartet and the recent film A Letter From Greenpoint (2004).

Home Videos (1987/2005) was a newly produced 8-monitor video installation showing images of Jonas Mekass family and friends. In no particular order the monitors roll personal material shot after he switched from Bolex to using a video camera. Visitors will be invited to move from one monitor to another and make their own movie.

The other installation included: Travels (five short travelogues from Italy, Russia, and Sweden, 7 min, 1970), Happy Birthday to John (a homage to John Lennon, 24 min, 1996), Cassis (condensing an idyllic three hour sunset into four minutes of film, 4 min, 1966), Notes on the Circus (12 min, 1966), Film For Maya: Father and Daughter (4.5 min, 2005) and the double-film Elvis (incorporating footage from Elvis Presleys last concert, 1 min, 2001) and Wien & Mozart (1 min, 2001).

In the spring of 2006 this exhibition was also be presented at the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius.

Jonas Mekas was born in Semeniskiai, Lithuania, in 1922. He lives and works in New York. After being imprisoned by the Nazis in a forced-labour camp and a period in Belgian Displaced Person camps, Mekas studied philosophy at the University of Mainz 19461948. He then emigrated with his brother Adolfas to the United States, settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Mekas discovered avant-garde film at venues such as Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16, and began to screen his own films in 1953. In 1954 he became Editor-in-Chief of Film Culture magazine, and in 1958 he began his groundbreaking Movie Journal column in The Village Voice. In 1962 Mekas founded the Film-Makers Cooperative (FMC) and in 1964 the Filmmakers Cinematheque. The latter eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives, one of the worlds largest repositories of avant-garde film, which Mekas continues to direct.

In addition to his prolific output in film, Jonas Mekas has published 24 volumes of poetry, essays, interviews, and diaries, and has been the subject of 12 book-length studies. His films have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, including Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo, Documenta 11, the Venice Biennale, and many others.