Spaces of the Memory of Soviet Years: Art and Memoirs

Erika Grigoravičienė (PDF)

Following the re-establishment of independence, the Soviet period that officially acquired the status of an illegitimate past was deservedly condemned to silence and oblivion. Among the first ones to take an interest in the Soviet past in the 1990s was a new generation of artists, Deimantas Narkevičius, Gintaras Makarevičius, Audrius Novickas, Algis Lankelis, Eglė Pukytė and others. They used various strategies of the art of memory, such as metonymy (finds, relics and traces), site-specific projects, socialist-realist monuments and specimens of art forming the basis and the theme of an artwork, archives and their media as the material and form of an artwork, bodily memories and oral history. Memoirs and autobiographies of people in the field of art appeared only after 2000; these traditionally are devoted to the needs of the author’s legitimisation, representation and identity. Some authors, e.g., Lionginas Šepetys, Minister of Culture of the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania and Konstantinas Bogdanas, Member of the Board of the Artists’ Union of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic in the form of a conversation with themselves across the distance of time, attach a heroic meaning to their deeds, while others, the artist Valentinas Antanavičius, attempt turning traumas into symbols. Based on the dialectical distinction between storage memory and functional memory drawn by the literary theorist Aleida Assmann, the memoirs under discussion could be classified as belonging to the realm of functional memory, as they concern the individual who is trying to link the past with the present and future, to sort out what to remember and what to forget and to convey values that determine the identity and behavioural norms. Artists are primarily concerned with the storage of memory, such as recording traces, verbal recollections, etc., that acquires a functional dimension, delegitimisation, due to the destruction, remaking or aesthetisation of relics.

Keywords: Soviet era, contemporary art, memoir, collective memory, cultural memory, history, functional and storage memory, identity, metonymy, remains, memorial places, media, archives, bodily memory, audiovisual history, historical sources.