(1944 – 1991) – Former NKVD – MVD – MGB – KGB Buildings
Curated by Malin Barth
We all live now in a world dominated by surveillance in which grey zones fusing state and corporate surveillance, including those essential to social media platforms, have infused our everyday life. Surveillance of all aspects of society and massive data gathering has become the norm rather than the exception normally associated with totalitarian states and regimes no longer in existence. Free software packaged as “liberating” seemingly offers opportunities to connect with others and share information. We pay by willingly giving away information about ourselves. The culture of domination has become depoliticized, with administrations of experts making this all possible. Even democracies operate outside of their direct democratic mandates. With Edward Snowden bringing this to the world’s attention eight years ago, allies are still spying on allies, as this month’s reports about Denmark’s military intelligence agency helping facilitate US spying activities confirms; the phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet has never been more true: “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark”. European politicians, including German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, as well as leading politicians in Norway, have expressed concern and demanded for an explanation.
The exhibition (1944-1991) – Former NKVD – MVD – MGB – KGB Buildings by Indre Šerpytytė portray aspects of institutionalized surveillance and the means for obtaining valuable information on individuals to effect individualized governmental control and restrictions. According to Soviet laws KGB and other agencies were free to interpret and determine any one as “suspect” of antistate activity. They could detain, interrogate, imprison and torture them in the name of “crime against the state”. Domestic dwellings throughout villages and towns were utilized for this exertion.
Šerpytytė started out by investigating which houses were used for surveillance by the Soviet regime, before then photographing them in situ. She does not access the houses of surveillance and interrogation—she portrays them with a critical and questioning gaze. The exhibition comprises nine notebooks with the pictures of the actual houses used by various divisions of Soviet military intelligence, secret police, and internal affairs, in addition to over 300 model houses carved in wood based on those pictures and 24 black-and-white photographic images of the sculptural objects.
The visual circle is completed by the monochrome still-life portraits of each wooden model house; the objects hold the central part of the project and are featured in the middle of the exhibition space, but, invoking the model of the Matryoshka (‘Russian dolls’), each element of the installation is both a ‘content’ and ‘container’ at the same time. Because each element acts on the other, engaging in an interpretation of the work requires a mode of reading the elements together.
The fragmentary and mixed nature of the archive is a part of Indre´s artistic research - to de- and re-archive. Photographical representation and model building provide us with information from which we can start to imagine.
The web of people affiliated with these buildings in Lithuania, be they the interrogated or the group of people organized by “the system” such as soldiers, agents, and secret police officers, the archivist maintaining the files, the new tenants living or working in the buildings after the end of Soviet rule, the craftsman who carved every single one of the model houses, and the artist´s father, Albinas Šerpytis, a former head of government security who died under suspicious circumstances in 2001. Their responsiveness, complicity, awareness, and knowledge (or lack thereof) regarding their individual and collective involvement in the Soviet repression behind the Iron Curtain lingers in this project.
Historically, photographic and sculptural representation has in many instances replaced our personal ability to gain knowledge about the world. The work holds a persistent presence in its depiction and presentation of objects. The notebooks, model houses and black-and-white images reinforce each other and map an important story. The installation has a strong visual systematization due to all of the vertical and horizontal lines created by the number of shelves. This encourages closer examination: a language of repetition on one hand, and the different details on the other, opening the work up to differing experiences.
In Bergen the Gestapo museum recently opened it´s doors. It is not large, but important history is found in the small rooms that has not been altered and changed much since 1945. Resistance fighters and ordinary people from Bergen were detained, interrogated and tortured there. Through history, we can learn how past societies, systems, ideologies, governments, cultures and technologies were built, how they operated, and how they have changed. The history of the world helps us to paint a detailed picture of where we stand today as well as helps us determine how to approach the future.
Indrė Šerpytytė (born 1983) is a Lithuanian artist living and working in London. Šerpytytė is concerned with the impact of war on history and perception, and works with photography, sculpture, installation and painting.
Her work is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, David Roberts’s Collection and Derwent London and have been exhibited at Tate Modern, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Photographers’ Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków and Museum Folkwang, The Collection of Jay Jopling and other public as well as private collec-tions among others.
Indrė Šerpytytė is an active participant in both group and solo exhibitions internationaly: at Vilnius Photography Gallery, Vilnius, Lithuania, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum UK, 58th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, Frieze New York, NY, USA, Riga International Biennial Of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA), Riga, Latvia, Triumph Gallery, Moscow, Russia, Daegu Photo Biennale, Daegu, South Korea and many other.
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