PLAN 73: Article
New Faculty: Gediminas Urbonas

Associate Professor of Visual Arts

Gediminas Urbonas has been appointed Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Program of the Department of Architecture. Born in Lithuania in 1966, Urbonas has worked in joint artistic practice with his partner Nomeda since 1997; both received their masters in visual arts from the Vilnius Art Academy in 1994.

The artists have established an international reputation for their socially interactive and interdisciplinary practice exploring the conflicts and contradictions posed by the economic, social and political conditions in the former Soviet countries – particularly the transformation of Lithuania into a capitalist society since the 1989 revolution.

Combining the tools of new and traditional media, their work frequently involves collective activities such as workshops, lectures, debates, TV programs, Internet chat-rooms and public protests that stand at the intersection of art, technology and social criticism.

The outcome is often the documentary recording of the activity or the collective production of an artwork. They also collaborate with experts in different cultural fields such as architecture, design and fashion to produce work that crosses over disciplinary boundaries.

In 1993, together with his partner and others, Urbonas established the JUTEMPUS exhibition space in Vilnius, Lithuania’s first artist-initiated space, which functioned until 1997 as a site for exhibitions and cultural events. In 1997, the couple co-founded the JUTEMPUS interdisciplinary art program to initiate new modes of communication between art and society by creating a platform for critical discourse.

They are also co-founders of the Vilnius Interdisciplinary Lab for Media Art (2000) and VOICE (2005), a net-based publication on media culture (www.vilma.cc/balsas). In 2005, Urbonas was associate professor at KIT/NTNU, Art Academy in Trondheim, Norway.

According to Ute Meta Bauer, head of the visual arts program, 'Gediminas is media-savvy and conceptually strong, and he engages in the kind of transdisciplinary work that is really a perfect fit for the Visual Arts Program. Interestingly, he comes to us from a university in Norway, where (like MIT) arts, architecture and technology are combined. So he will already be familiar with the terrain inhabited by our program. He's a young artist at the top of his field and we're very excited to begin working with him.'

An important example of Urbonas' work is Transaction. Engendered by an interest in the psychological impact of the 1989 revolution on different generations of women, the ongoing project explores the experiences of citizens as they adapt to the sudden change from one governmental system to another. Specifically, the project studies the cinema as a mechanism used to construct an identity for women based on a feeling of victimization, and which can be extended to apply to the entire country.

The title refers to transactional analysis, a psychiatric model based on the notion of a 'Drama Triangle' in which three roles are assigned – the Persecutor, the Rescuer and the Victim. In Transaction, the roles are played by women, the cinema and psychiatrists. In the project’s first phase, a range of women were engaged in discussions based on Soviet Lithuanian cinema, in which women play a minor role. The second phase involved directors of psychiatric institutions discussing the film selections referred to by the interviewed women.

The work has evolved still further as it has been shown in different places. At Budapest's Ludwig Museum, for instance, it was accompanied by a symposium of Lithuanians and Hungarians discussing issues raised by the work and comparing the situations in the two post-Socialist countries. In Documenta 11, Transaction developed into Voice Archive, featuring the voices of Lithuanian women in a set of samples ranging from speech and narrative to chanting and songs.

In addition to Documenta 11, the artists have exhibited at the San Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Lyon and Gwangju Biennales – and at Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt/Main – among numerous other international shows, including a solo show at the Venice Biennale and MACBA in Barcelona. They have been awarded a number of high level grants and residency awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize for achievements in the arts and culture (2007); a fellowship at the Montalvo Arts Center in California (2008/09); a Prize for the Best International Artist at the Gwangju Biennale (2006); and Honourable Mention for the best pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).