The lives of people living in East Germany during the late 1970s come under the spotlight in an exhibition at the BFI
Deimantas Narkevicius is a Lithuanian sculptor who works mainly in the medium of film and he refers to his pieces as examples of "digital sculpture". Having represented Lithuania in the 49th Venice Biennalle back in 2001 he now exhibits all over the world and is widely acclaimed.
His show at the BFI marks his first London exhibition and not only coincides with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall but is also part of the BFI season exploring the idea of a "New Europe". The exhibition consists of two simultaneous running films, one entirely of his own (The Dud Effect) and one he has created using footage from the archives at the BFI – specifically employing the ETV footage from the socialist countries of that time.
Dazed caught up with him to see what this commission meant to him (having grown up on the other side of the wall) and what it was like having the coveted opportunity to rifle through the archives at the BFI.
DD: How did you feel on receiving this commission from the BFI, especially as it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall?
DN: The anniversary is artificial. I don’t know why it should be celebrated at all, Europe has just changed over time. The pulling down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union was the end of a long process which took place over many decade. Today Europe has other challenges. The commission was quite surprising to me. I needed to access the ETV footage, which is part of the BFI collection. Incredibly, the surviving ETV footage exists due to the initiative of a single individual, and the material is fantastic.
DD: How did you go about selecting the material you chose from the archive?
DN: It was all about making a choice according to a very brief description of each film. There is so much in the collection that it is impossible to see all material – there are so many documentaries on socialist revolutions in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, not to mention hours of propaganda on the Prague 68 uprising and endless stuff on the achievements of the USSR. I focused on some films produced by DEFA at the end of the 70s, which portray the relatively insignificant, everyday lives of DDR people.
DD: How do you view the socio-political situation in Europe in relation to your film The Dud Effect?
DN: I disconnect politics from aesthetics. Aesthetics has its own politics. My work is about the pinnacle of modernisation, the technological peak in the 60s and 70s. It’s not about politics, it’s much more about encouraging viewers to think about a social experiment.
The Dud Effect is at the BFI Gallery until November 29