Arturas Raila strives to unite opposites in his work. He constantly juxtaposes various alternative and sub-cultures with the classical and contemporary art world. For example, inviting leaders of Lithuania’s neo-Fascist group to the Contemporary art Center in Vilnius, bringing pagan and folk traditions into the museum space, and combining the sounds of a posh Chelsea (London) accent with rock music from Panevyzas. When I asked the artist about the place of these opposites in his work, he told me that “life is like this – they are always here around us.” In uniting these different elements in his work, he calls the structure and inclusiveness of the art world into question, and challenges our notions of what is considered “art” in contemporary society.
In 1997, in a work that was part of a performance art festival, Arturas had a group of bikers from the motorcycle club Crazy in the Dark drive through and into the Centre for Contemporary Art in the center of Vilnius. In this way the doors of the museum were literally opened to different groups from outside the institution.
In his video piece Under the Flag (2000), Raila delves into the personal lives of members of the Unified Lithuanian National Worker’s Movement (VNLDS), a Neo-Nazi group and an unofficial political party, insofar as it was not recognized by the Ministry of Justice. At one point the artist suggested that the party, which was based in Siauliai, moves its headquarters to the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius, although this particular project was quashed. Nevertheless, Arturas was insistent on introducing the art world to these people, and vice versa. He invited them to Vilnius for the opening of the exhibition “Cool Places,” where he had created a performance on the roof of the CAC, complete with drummers and go-go dancers. The members of VNLDS were impressed, especially since the exhibition had changed their preconceived notions about art. Whereas previously they had thought that art was just “monuments” and “stupid abstract paintings,” they were pleased to see that the unconventional installations and performances presented in “Cool Places” fit in with the rubric of art.
Perhaps for this reason, VNLDS was persuaded to participate in the making of Arturas’s film, Under the Flag. For the first part of the film, the artist took footage that he had made in Linz, Austria, in 1999, just after the elections when Jorg Haider was re-elected as governor of Carinthia. Later, he showed the footage to the members of VNLDS and filmed their reactions to what they saw on screen. Both of these episodes were put together, and the film was show as a split-screen image, and when one side of the film was playing, the other side was frozen, so the film alternated from scenes from Austria and scenes from Lithuania. Although the artist did not embellish the scene in Siauliai in any way, and the participants had agreed to be filmed and were even given some control over how they appeared, they did not like the final result. The leader of the party agreed that this was the artist’s work and vision, but stated that he would not allow the film to be shown in Lithuania.
While the integration of art and life may not have been as successful as desired in the previous project, in Roll Over Museum, an extensive project that was done with the participation of four automobile tuning enthusiasts, the artist broadened the category of art by introducing the work of these four men into the museum space. The exhibition consists of the enthusiasts’ four cars, respectively, a photograph of each with his car, and video documentation of the mechanics speaking about their cars.
More recently, since 2005, Arturas has been working with a different subcultural group, one that has ties to the Lithuanian national cultural identity – pagan mystics called dauzas, who are able to map geo-energetic flow in spaces, buildings and cities. He brings these mystics to various places, for example Berlin or Copenhagen, to map the space and also perform rituals in the gallery space. In this project, he not only introduces unusual characters into the museum setting, but also attempts to merge interior and exterior, indoors and outdoors, by bringing these nature-based rituals into the museum. Conversely, the artist also organized one of the first outdoor performances and happenings in post-Soviet Lithuania. In Pump for Art/Art for Pump (1995), rollerbladers and a young rap group to perform in a city square form which a monument to a Russian general had just been removed. Arturas described it as a performance that happened at this time “in between” – between the tearing down of one monument and the erecting of another, between an old ideology and a new one.
In addition to bringing together opposites and broadening the understanding of art, by including outsiders and “others,” I believe the artist’s other main interest is in transformation, be it of the individual or of society, and of those special in-between places where change itself happens.