The 1st at Moderna: Jonas Mekas

Moderna Museet, Stockholm, March – April 2005. Göteborgs konsthall, Göteborg, January – February 2006.

Co-curated by Magnus af Petersens and Liutauras Psibilskis.

Jonas Mekas was born in 1922 in Semeniskiai, Lithuania. Since his arrival in New York as a displaced person in 1949 from a Europe devastated by war, he has established himself as one of the leading figures of American avant-garde filmmaking. Mekas’s extensive oeuvre includes celebrated films like Guns of the Free (1961), The Brig (1963), Walden (1969), Lost, Lost, Lost (1975), Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), Zefiro Torna (1992) and As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2001) and stretches in time from the early 1950s up to this very day.

Mekas has also been an important force in the development of American independent cinema. In 1954 he became editor-in-chief of Film Culture; in 1958 he began writing his Movie Journal column for Village Voice; in 1962 co-founded the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and in 1964 the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque, which grew into Anthology Film Archives, one of the world's largest and most important repositories of avant-garde films.

A book entitled Jonas Mekas – Diary Film was published in conjunction with the exhibition. This book includes texts by by Jonas Mekas, Liutauras Psibilskis and Magnus af Petersens as well as Frozen Film Frames and other photographs by Jonas Mekas. Jonas Mekas – Diary Film is published with support from the Lithuanian Institute, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and Göteborgs konsthall.

Keeping a written diary was always part of Jonas Mekas’s life. As a displaced person in Germany during and after the war he started writing down his observations. In his diaries, which have been translated into many languages, Mekas notes a variety of memorable or simply mundane moments, creating a distinct view of his life at the time. His writing has a lot in common with his later diary films: they take us from one moment of his life to another, sometimes keeping pauses, not forcing any straightforward connections between the moments, just letting us indulge in the life on the book pages as well and in film frames.

The screening programme of the 1st at Moderna Museet gives us a few important cuts and insides from Jonas Mekas's life and work. It represents his ideas about home, about life in New York; it takes us to meet his friends who often are legendary persons of the 20th century: John Lennon, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono and many others. All of the films are an important part of the history of American independent cinema.

The Farewell to SoHo video installation takes us through the changes that came across the SoHo neighbourhood in New York, which was brought to life in the seventies as an artists’ utopian colony started by the father of Fluxus George Maciunas. With the recent changes in the city most of the artists were pushed out of SoHo by new trendy enterprises. Jonas Mekas left quite recently. As he says, an artist utopia was overtaken by a business utopia. This work takes us through the visual memories of the place, projecting special atmospheres and inviting us to experience subjective lives there. It’s a diary of a place that has vanished and changed into something else.