Interviewed by Akvilė Žilionytė for bernardinai.lt in 2009.
Today is that winter day when artists can pull out their pictures painted during the summer when the sun was shining or the rain was falling to see the colours, which cannot be dreamt up today. Elena Balsiukaitė–Brazdžiūnienė is an artist who has been teaching art at Antanas Martinaitis Art School in Kaunas for over 20 years and who is also an active participant in different art exhibitions. Not so long time ago the artist was running the inter-active project About Them in Kaunas ir Klaipėda. This exhibition invites the grown ups to understand the acned and pierced young adults.
According to the artist, “it is not easy with them but it is not boring. It is them because they are our future, and I felt I could help them a little and they could help me. Because we share the same blood, I and they.” Many photos for this project were taken by the young adults; they filmed, edited materials, interviewed each other. To put it shortly, they themselves talk about their lives, experiences, explain their opinions and thoughts. Young adults on young adults. Bernardinai.lt has spoken to Elena Balsiukaitė-Brazdžiūnienė, the conception’s author, the teacher of young artists and the artist herself.
In the work of an art teacher it is equally important the competence of a teacher and the competence of an artist, but we often hear art teachers say that an art teacher is not an artist. How do you manage to combine it?
For an art teacher in his work both competences – that of an artist’s and that of a teacher’s – are important but in order to be an artist you do not have to be a teacher and the other way around. I know wonderful art teachers that I would hesitate to call artists.
For so many years you and the pupils are under the same roof. It seems that you get inspired by that – you draw small men using chalks, dabble ink spots. They are in your works. How do you exist in the pupils’ art?
I like working with children and young adults. Looking at their works I am often surprised and gain optimism time and again. Most of them are sensitive and sincere. I am going to be frank with you: I am often getting ideas from them. Children’s work refresh the soul, they make you both laugh and think. In their works there is no routine and weariness, no commercial pathos and emptiness covered up by fashionable forms. I always invite my pupils to my exhibitions; I am interested in hearing their opinions.
Last year I was awarded a stipend for the project called About Them about young adults. In this project we have worked together: my children (I have got two teenage sons who attend Kaunas Art High School), my pupils and their friends. The works have already been shown in Kaunas, at Gallery Meno parkas, and at the Exhibitions Hall in Klaipėda. It was very interesting, I have gained very interesting experience and I am dreaming about the chance to continue this project.
How have you befriended young people to get them to participate in this project?
The goal of the project About Them has been to involve young adults into creative co-operation and to get to know sub-cultures that no doubt contain a great creative potential better. It is no secret that homophobia and intolerance towards those who are different thrive in our society, whilst the same goal and activities towards its achievement can bring people together. Self-respect and tolerance can be stimulated via getting to know each other better, via creative activities. After all, we are most often afraid of that we do not know. They interest me because of their attitude towards the contemporary reality because it inevitably forces to re-examine the values and seemingly self-evident existential meanings. Most of them do not know yet how to juggle nice words, how to cajole, and they cover their sensitivities up by abrasiveness. They are no longer children but they are not adults yet. To be an adolescent always means to take risks, to fall down and to shake it off, to learn from your mistakes and make your way forward again. Without failing and without taking risks nobody has ever achieved anything in either love or work. The most important thing is to take wiser risks. And this is very similar to the state of an artist; that is a must for a normal creative process.
In the beginning it was imperative to gain their trust. It was schooling in strict discipline, first of all for me. To keep my word, to formulate the goals very concretely, to come up with an incentives programme and approach each of them with good will. Simply,I had to see potential possibilities for co-operation in each and every one of them. Not to criticize, not to enforce my opinions, to armour myself in humour and patience, not to moralize. In one of his novels Stephen King wrote: “… what’s if there are no adult people at all?” It frightens and inspires me… The outcome of the project is a collection of photo portraits, a series of painted portraits painted by me, a video film and audio interviews about different topics in life. I am hoping for this exhibition will come to Vilnius too in the nearest future.
What kind of young adults have you chosen for the project?
I did not need to look for collaborators far away. For more than 20 years I am working at a school. I have got two teenage sons, and they have got friend. It is impossible to go out on the street, find a place where young adults are hanging out and start talking to them. You will be simply misunderstood. The spaces in town where they gather belong to them. It is THEIR territories, and this is why it is them who have taken most photos – they themselves filmed, edited materials, were interviewing each other. I formulated questions, but if something looked irrelevant, uninteresting they replaced with other topics that they themselves came up with.
The title of the project itself – About Them – is showing the meeting between them and us. How can we understand them better? Become like them?
Most likely, there is no one ultimate formula how we could understand them, young adults, better. I think the most important thing is to remember yourself at that age, not to cover up your weaknesses, not to be a hypocrite, not to pretend to be friendly, not to lie, not to make promises you cannot keep, and to moralize at little as possible. Not to forget good will, tolerance, humour and not to try to become like them. In my opinion, it is not necessary at all.
Often it can be noticed aghast older people looking at punkish young people, all those hair-dos, earrings, behavior are incomprehensible and unacceptable. Then they are saying that things were different in their times. And it is a classical story. How can a dialogue be fostered in such situations?
Already Socrates wrote about the youth that liked luxury too much, that did not follow the rules, scorned authorities, disrespected the elders. He wrote that children were tyrants because they did not stand up when the elder people walked into the room, contradicted their parents, chatted in the company of the adults, devoured their food and ridiculed teachers. It is obvious that the generational conflict in inescapable but we ought to want to have a dialogue firstly instead of standing in a safe place and therefrom resent, criticize and deny them. The problem is, however, that parents no longer have time to spend with their children, teachers have it neither because they have got to teach them something.
How to explain to a contemporary young person who/what is an authority? The first thought that comes to mind is that it is obvious. Is it not so? Why should one stand up? Why are there rules? It is very difficult to explain the rules of social interactions and games, diplomacy, tactics and strategies, it is all confusing and complicated. It takes times and patience, and time is something we are short of, therefore they learn themselves in the ways they can do it… It might be because of that they learn about the law too late. It might be because of that they are angry, armoured in sarcasm, indifference or simply silence.
Often I inquire why they are not posing us questions, why they are not trying to learn from us, the experienced and wise ones, and they reply that it is meaningless because everyone is shouting at them. It is no secret that the adults tend to idealize their own past and it is therefore not so easy to remember your teen years that was not a romantic time. I do not know who and how could stimulate a dialogue with a 16-year old who is neither useful or necessary to us, has got green hair and fifteen earrings in the forehead (I am being ironic). It could be good if they walk wearing slippers woven from bast and carrying Baltic psalters… Or would adorn themselves in amber necklaces like Balys Sruoga… But why are we enraged when we see those who look differently or odd?
What is the better way of understanding a young adult? Is all that rebellion, brash outfits, language and behaviour about the lack of attention, a wish to show off or the necessary way of expressing yourself, your truth at that age?
For them, it is primarily self-expression, for us it is information. On the street from the external signs we can also decide, which person in the crowd belongs to which social group of the society. It is a question of tolerance. The crowd is not that colourful in Lithuania but many, after spending some time abroad, become more tolerant.
Rebellion during the adolescent years is normal. People at that age are especially sensitive and categorical in their evaluations of the World. It is cruel but, unfortunately, the personality is revealed and shaped in extreme situations. When you have to choose during a conflict: to enter an unequal fight and defend your friend or run for your life, to tell a teacher that she is lying or keep silent? Who knows how you and I will behave in such situations today.
Where do you think can the elders’ incomprehension, unwillingness to understand, their peremptory attitude bring us?
We would simply lose a contact with one particular group in the society. Self-annihilation, nihilism, loss of memory and self-identity, emigration would be the result and they are, after all, our future.
I admit that there are different programmes run by state institutions but they are very often are limited to the projects-leaflets. Scientific research, statistics (drug abuse, crime, suicides, and psychological problems) exist but theory and practice do not meet easily. This is why a particular person spending most of his pastime on the street is left alone with his needs and problems. Parents trying to adjust to conditions of market economy, trying to change their lives or having failed in Lithuania are migrating to foreign countries, families are falling apart… And then they write the sagas in concrete, often standing on the edge of the abyss.
Why did you want to show this kind of young people? They are not all like that.
They interest me, they are attractive and creative. It is them because it is not easy with them but it is not boring. It is them because they are our future, and I fell I can help them a little and they can help me. Because we share the same blood, I and they.
You have got more than 20 years of experience working with young adults. Are computers, the Internet and TV influencing their art and thinking or is the spirit of rebellion still alive among them? Are young adults critical towards the TV production, not giving in to the often debilitating stream of information?
In fact, they are very critical and hold some ironic filters towards Her Highness Television. For many the Internet is the means to communicate, to express oneself. I think that the thinking and creativity of the young adults are affected by computers, the Internet and TV as much as they are affecting the entire humanity. In order to evaluate it, the distance is needed.
I am in the direct contact with children and young adults, and it is obvious that they still need a live conversation, a blossoming tree outside the window and that the sky is reflected in a puddle. Children’s ability to hear colour, just like to hear music sound, is certainly unchanged. Those who are more prone to more an emotional expression feel colour better and handle it in a braver manner. Those who are prone to a more graphical and tonal-linear basis are drawing more. And, of course, it is most interesting when the two intertwine.
Have you not tried in the course of this project to become like them?
Consciously no, but this project has been a challenge of sorts for me. I have felt some kind of drive inside of me because I was focused on issues that I had been wanting to express for a long time, as if I tried to come close to the danger zone. And I always liked to use green shoe laces in the combat boots.
Good luck tying the green shoe laces!
Published on January 7, 2009 in the portal bernardinai.lt