In May, 2019 a trio of Lithuanian female artists acclaimed Golden Lion in
La Biennale di Venezia for the Best National Participation. Ignas met Mario
there at the same time, they celebrated and talked in the bar of some hotel.


What part of your identity is being an art collector?

I spend most of my time in the art world today. I’m always looking around. I see the artwork, and I’m thinking, “How would that work in my collection?” Not only physically. Sometimes you can’t buy the work because it belongs to the museum.

I try to think in stories, “How would it help to extend the story or even tell a different story?” Thus, it’s not only collecting art, but it’s also collecting stories and thoughts. I have that genetic code of collecting.

I was a stamp collector, sitting every night until three o’clock.

What had happened to that collection?

I still own the most critical part of it — a letter. I sold some because I needed money. Also, hundreds of stamps come in a big format. I have a collection of these sheets. We call it sheets.

I still own both parts of the collection and some of the fascinating pieces. I met a German museum director, who is a post-war stamp collector and runs all the museums in Berlin. The war between East and West was made via stamps. For instance, they brought stamps made against the East German world 40 years, 50 years ago.

German postal officials refused to accept their stamps. They either crushed the stamp or made it black, or they even threw away the letters. They didn’t want to accept it. They wanted to live in freedom — not under communistic power. They said that the West is lying, and the truth is coming. This kind of fight happened between each other.

Reading is part of my work, and I find that more interesting than reading newspapers.

But does it change your attitude towards art? You mentioned that when you see a piece of art, you immediately think or visualize it in your collection. Did you observe a change in the perception?

Tolerance was the most important thing I learned in the eastern part of Germany. Somebody asked me if stamp collecting is trying to escape the socialistic world, leaving the dark world and just traveling away. No, not at all! The country is not important for a kid. More important is what happens at home. Your family and friends must treat you well. Everyone should share a pleasant family atmosphere.

I didn’t change. I’m just getting older and more responsible. I think art is a big part of making the world a better place.

We have a Museum of Communication in Frankfurt. It’s about communication history with all the developments in terms of how you transfer information, the internet et cetera.

They’re also doing an art show and asked me to support the show with videos from our collection, and I first thought, it’s not an art museum. I thought it does make a lot of sense because many more visitors come to that museum.

Every young kid is more in the cinema than in photos of anything. They want to see moving images. I thought more about an education project than an art project. And that’s where we are telling them the stories.

As a result, you made an exhibition.

We’re doing it now for half a year. It’s all about the development of video art. I choose works that build a personality, so people can better understand the world a bit better.

If you ask how this art has changed my personality, I’m more responsible than 50 years ago. That’s for sure.

Yeah.

It’s not only a piece of art. It’s probably more material.

Perhaps, you are not a naïve art user anymore.

Because at least for me, when I started making films myself, I noticed that I watch movies differently. Sometimes it interferes with enjoying the movie as a piece of art. The good movies still get me immersed, and I forget to think about the technicalities. What about you?

I see it the same. We bought the first peace without thinking or interpreting. We just bought it for the house. I wanted to have no white walls and no posters. I wanted to have some artworks.

We went to the Frankfurt Art School, the Städelschule, and met a young artist, which I still know. We just liked her paintings and asked for the price. She was still in school — her artworks are much more expensive now.

Thus, I didn’t think about the artwork. I had seen it as a product to put on my wall. As simple as that. But then, the collector comes in and says, “Well, we can have few pieces on the wall. Let’s have more because it’s fascinating to have these things and play with them.” Artwork talks about different stories depending on how you put them.

There are specific audience galleries, artists, and museums — you suddenly understand how this art world works. Sometimes I call it an industry. It’s a very, very tough business. And if you make it here to Venice, of course, the world changes for you sometimes.

On the other hand, quality is not the only issue to succeed, but having the right gallery. Sometimes it’s just one collector that loved the artist. That’s very subjective.

I also gave a prize to a French artist because the piece is just amazing. On the other hand, one can say, “yeah, but they’re like a thousand other good ones.” We also see the industry part of it. But still, in the end, it doesn’t matter. The artwork is excellent if it’s telling something. You have to take that industrial part away because it doesn’t make a difference.

It’s like a book. Content will stay the same even if the book is very cheap. The content is critical, and the rest is just fascinating to understand. Of course, if you’re sitting in Namibia and you’re doing artwork, your background is different from the middle of Manhattan in a substantial beautiful studio or having five galleries that make $10 million per year.

Is an art collection also a piece of art?

Very good question. Some people say so, but I resist. I see myself as a creative person. I’m more a private storyteller because that’s what a collection does. If you show pieces to the world, certain people will read your mind. I was a bit afraid of doing so. If you see a person’s collection, you can pretty much understand what’s behind. I thought, do I want it?

The artist tries to reach as many people as he can with his artworks. It’s more important to show these pieces to the public. In the end, it took over. It is fascinating because you’re coming to discussions with people. We think about your attitude towards art or some of the ideas.

You don’t mind anymore, do you?

No, it’s over anyway. After the show, we opened a webpage. It made it easier to show works to other collectors.

Sometimes buyers would not call themselves collectors but art buyers because they’re just buying a few pieces.

It’s easier to buy it if other collectors have your artworks already. We call it proof of concept. The webpage can promote the artist. Curators and museums can watch the webpage, and they will also see younger artists next to established ones. It helps the younger ones to be recognized.

Have you got one art collection?

Yes.

Are there any pieces of art outside of it?

It’s all one. We have pieces on the webpage that represent our collection the best. There are few artworks, especially from the beginning, which we still have and want to keep.

I wouldn’t put some artwork in the show because they don’t work so much anymore. Maybe the question or answer is not so relevant, or the execution is not well done.

Sometimes you don’t know if the artwork is great because of the lack of experience. You don’t know that the topic has been handled by tons of other artists already—and they did it much better. It’s a learning experience. At the moment, we try to find very young artists who are using contemporary topics because these topics have not been there.

If art collecting is telling a story, is that story continuing the story of yours?

Of course.

Is it similar to telling a story by writing a book?

You see, I’m hesitating to say, “I’m an artist.”

No, no, no, no.

A writer for me who writes a book is also an artist in a way.

There are different books. Some of them are more artistic than others…

I agree with you. Some books are just a description. That’s a good comparison.

It depends on what you want to achieve with your book. A novel will tell a fictional story about love, death, friendship, or whatever. What if you’re going to play politics or value messages?

The latter is what we want to do. Most of our artworks have individual beauty. Education is such a big word. For me, it’s more having people think about specific values. This artwork is talking about some situations which are not that nice or understood yet.

And if you connect this to other artworks or just put five very tough artworks on the wall, people may be shocked and just run away. You do not reach them.

Sometimes I find this very tiring—you have to get the people in museums. If the people react negatively, an artist may say, “I just wanted a reaction.” Yeah, fine, but if they turn away quickly, it’s not worth anything. It’s just a shocking piece.

Especially for museums.

Sometimes, people love horror pictures and movies.

Yeah, we say the most natural thing is to make a horror movie because the only goal is to scare.

Yes.

If it’s scary, it’s nice [Laughs].

If that is the only reason, then the guy has done a great job.

Yeah.

Art shows should be enjoyable. It shouldn’t be so strict. It shouldn’t say, “This artwork is enough to understand everything. And if you don’t — oh, you need to learn about it.” Take it easy. It either touches you, or it doesn’t. If you don’t understand it, sometimes it may be fair enough just to walk away.

I don’t see the cultural aspects strictly. Art has to touch you somehow. And if it does, it may change the thinking a bit, and you will remember them.

Let’s explore the comparison of storytelling by writing. There are two methods of telling a good story in a book. Hemingway described it that way. One approach is when you know beforehand the full plot. You know exactly where it starts and how it ends. And then you just sit and do a physical job.

And the other method is when a writer starts writing, he doesn’t know what’s going to be next and how it will end.

Some critics say that the best pieces are written in this way — when the author doesn’t know the next stage in a plot. The reader would not know, and it’s impossible to predict.

Do you know where you are going with your collection?

It’s like the second version of writing a book. I have an idea where the collection is heading. The collection has a red line that attracts people. And by this, we tell stories about conflicts and sociological issues.

The artwork is not only opening. You don’t need art with a pointed finger on something negative to say it’s negative. It is just a simple job to do. It is like a description in a newspaper saying, “Oh, there was a bad accident.” Of course, everybody will understand that.

You can make particular different perspectives in art, and I love that a lot. The teacher asks the pupils to take a different perspective in the movie “Dead Poets Society.” That was a perfect, straightforward, and very intense picture for just turning around and seeing the world with different eyes.

If you really want to see the world, don’t look into the direction of the sun, but turn around and look where the sun is shining, because then you see it much better. This happens to me and the collection.

The overall aspect of the collection will say that I’m very much interested in how society is developing and handling and solving conflicts. As new topics are coming up, the real artworks come, which I don’t see yet because they will take up new issues.

One of my artists is working with Romanian hackers on digitalization topics. He says, “This is ultra-secret, and you don’t want to know what these guys can achieve. If they want to like to do something, there’s no way that you can stop them.”

He’s doing video work, which would be a TV reportage with artistic parts and an artificial atmosphere to educate viewers and put them into the context of art. I like that a lot. The collection will change over the years as the topics will vary.

Amazing!

All the topics will be connected with the conflict.

Listening to this is impressive. It’s such a good feeling, because you are collecting future art. That’s your intention. [Laughs]

One of my most favorite friends is an artist called Robert Irwin. He said, “the best art is happening” in ’76 already. The best art is happening where you don’t go with your mind and predetermined situations. Open your mind, and the art will happen.

The best part of art is where the present touches the future a bit. An excellent writer tells you about the future, whether he can see it now.

One could find a piece of art produced ages ago, which still reflects on the future from now.

Oh yes.

But that’s a different thing.

If you look at these paintings, some of these people were not people. They look like extraterrestrials, like people from outer space. Others look like modern robot persons. How can it be that an artist had such a fantasy 300, 400, 500 years ago?

This kind of artwork is still so unbelievably contemporary. It’s just an enterprise, so I can’t “steal” it. Very, very good art, thus it has the power to survive the decades or centuries. There are many novels but a few that will withstand a generation.

And this is the beauty of video. Certain films in a collection will also work in 50 years from now. I have no idea about 500 years. If people don’t understand it anymore, then probably the work has changed for the better. Few works talk about humanity, how we live together, and how we can become better.

Maybe it will sound naïve, but art is a global culture. All the significant literature can be read in any language. And for artists, it’s even more accessible. You don’t need to translate it. Of course, you need subtitles for transcription, but not necessary. You just watch it, and you realize what it feels to you. I love them the most.

Are you afraid that your collections might be copied?

I would love that. The good thing about video art is that it can be copied all over the place. Wonderful. If an artist is reaching trillions of people, copying the video and watching it on the internet, that’s wonderful. That’s the beauty of video. It’s democratizing.

The only difference between you and me watching a video would be watching it on YouTube, but I own the certificate. Therefore, you are not allowed to show it officially publicly in a space like a museum.

Yes.

The only massive difference is the money I pay for the video. It allows me to show it in an exhibition.

Is there a demand for such videos in exhibitions if they are on YouTube and have a million viewers?

Yeah, there’s always a quality question, but let’s take the proper average.

Yes.

People always take their mobiles and start to record pieces of video art. You will find tons of small pieces of it on the internet. They will put it on YouTube or Vimeo quite often. However, they’re using a standard resolution, which works on a PC, but doesn’t work on five times more massive, 8, 10 meters projection. That’s wonderful.

Simple, but clever.

Imagine the painting that can be copied. You can send any painting to China for $200; they will make you the same. It looks perfect. They even use old colors sometimes.

But then it’s a forgery. If they make a replica and sell as an original, then it’s a forgery.

Of course. That is something different.

Yeah. If we say it’s a replica, then somebody keeps original. Digital media is a different sort of matter.

Yes, because the quality of a copy stays the same. That’s the beautiful part of it. When a painting is sold, the director from the museum will coordinate the sale to send all the artworks. And what I did was I sent him 50 gigabytes of data and instruction manuals.

The artist will give installation instructions to build the installation in a museum — everybody’s view is different. We call it a site-specific installation.

You will have to handle the projection to accept certain conditions, but you’re also a bit flexible. It doesn’t matter if it is four and a half or five-meter wide — it’s okay. And that’s why I sent everything over. The museum received it in perfect quality.

And it’s lovely because it’s economy-wise. If you’re sending a few artworks to Korea, the cost of transportation is enormous. It’s also good because it’s supporting the industry. You’d rather spend the money on installing artworks than on transferring them with a ship or a plane to Korea.

Beautiful.

I’m relaxed with a copy. I love it.

Great. You mentioned that art helps you to think. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Usually, all the things that happen around you are just normal. They don’t touch you in detail because you’re used to it. You’re used to going up in the morning, having lunch somewhere, and just being a usual way. The brain starts to run on quality artwork. Then you begin to think about what you see, what it means to you, and what ideas are in there.

Other people read to get ideas or think about what could be changed in the world. Some people watch TV just to spend time. For me, it’s a mixture of every sense. I enjoy it a lot. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t do it. It’s a right way of spending time. I hate that I’m losing time, but I know it’s part of the game. However, I can’t change it.

But if I see some unique artwork, it’s just such a sincere pleasure that this pleasure is not coming from pure beauty. That’s not enough for me. Something needs to happen there. And then the brain starts to run.

But if you start an exhibition, of course you know the topic of it. You have an idea of what you want to do. Then you begin to do the hanging of the artwork. Even the screens you have to hang. And that’s horrible. It doesn’t work in the beginning because you have no idea how to do this. Artists do it all the time. You’re there for hours, and then after a while, it just goes within a few sets.

Suddenly it makes sense. It comes all together. It’s like a puzzle where you’re trying to remember a thousand pieces, and then you’re just putting them all together.

It is all the thinking process. But it’s not a hard job to do. Thinking for people sometimes sounds like a very tough, hard job. It’s an enjoyable thing to do. I love it.

Many people don’t. [Laughs]

Yes, many people. It also sounds like some people like to search on mathematical formulas to discover the world, atomic whatever. It is different for me. I see it as a muscle. You enjoy that this thing is up and that it still runs. Sometimes you come into a great idea, and sometimes it’s just pure private pleasure.

Some say they prefer feelings over thinking. Perhaps that part is also present in your perception.

It is. Sometimes I see the artwork, and immediately I need it. We call it a stomach decision — it comes out of your stomach. And then people say, “art cannot be that easy,” so you’re out of your stomach and say, “I love that.”

Everything you learned in the past, from watching art, reading books, being together with other people, puts together a picture of the experience. As we say in Germany, “that gives you a stomach feeling.” I have the stomach feeling that particular artwork might be something I would love to have for the collection.

Two different parts of thinking. The one is having pleasure in the ideas or the creativity in the artwork. And the other part is making decisions.

I have one artwork of Joseph Beuys that is very cheap. Just a wooden box with nothing inside, but two lines. The name of the artwork is “Intuition.” One line is rational thinking with a start and end. And the other one is intuition as a general. It has no end. That describes us quite perfectly — you can not produce creativity with reasoning. Over time, it just comes out of all your experience. I think this is the same.

It’s not like calculating how much is two times two times two times two times. It’s more like bringing you to a different angle of places which you have not seen yet. It is an enjoyable part of the experience.

The example you gave is about discovering the idea of an artist. You feel like you understand the concept. But the idea is produced by the artist.

Once I saw an artwork, and immediately thought about different angles of interpretation because it was telling me quite a lot. I could jump from one area to the next. And then, the artist came and asked how I like the artwork. I said, “this is wonderful artwork. It gives me so many levels of directions and interpretations.”

He was going into a unique political direction. And I was asking about all the other dimensions of the artwork, and he didn’t understand that. I was shocked. Genius. The artist did that by coincidence. He had no thinking process behind, which gives all the dimensions. It was just a one-dimensional thought.

And then the whole process in my mind started. Maybe he thinks one dimensional. On the other hand, he brought that up. Perhaps the artist sees different dimensions, which he cannot tell. He wants to do the artwork and doesn’t want to talk about it. He just needs to talk about it if he stays in the gallery and has collectors there. His job is not talking; his job is doing the artwork.

I excused the artist. I saw many things, and it was not easy. I’m not blaming him for that. An art collection is many mirrors of your own life. You’re putting your own words into this collection, and if you’re telling stories, it’s very much autobiographical probably. People talk so little about it.

I have a fascinating artwork, “Liquidity,” about Lehman Brothers. It’s about different dimensions of liquidity — and how people developed and adjusted themselves to the new circumstances and changing environments over the millions of years. The water was first. Therefore, a video graphic novel is an excellent collection.

I couldn’t imagine someone collecting entirely away from his personality and life.

I’ve read an interview with an artwork collector who sees it differently. I would describe it as a more scientific project. As soon as it’s complete, he’s not interested. Then he jumps to another project.

Yeah, it’s a bit like stamps. For example, you can collect Lithuanian stamps. You start and stop with the last one. And you’re done. You have these books where you stick stamps inside. You’re done when every page is full. I started with that, too.

It wasn’t interesting because some stamps were too expensive, so I didn’t finish some pages. Later, I was looking for the unusual parts — how was the stamp used on a letter? I read the war mailing of people and how they write about it. They were writing differently.

It’s much more fascinating because it shows you not only that the money has deflected or inflated. The money inflated billions of times. It means that your private life probably has not improved also. You have more money, but it’s worthless. Questions like these are interesting. It’s a perfect mirror of the situation.

I have also met tons of stamps or modern art collectors. One is collecting nudes. Another — butterflies. They’re fascinated by this very special topic. Yeah, I’m just different. My collection is just different.

Fantastic.

I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other. It’s just a different energy. One likes another.

Perfect. Let me stop here with the interview. I enjoyed it. Thank you for telling me about your approach and your story so far.

Thanks. It’s precious. I hope it’s clear.

It’s clear. Oh, believe me.

Probably 8 out of 10 collect butterflies somewhat instead of this open world. Most people want to know where to go and where to finish. Just some of us are cool enough not to know where to finish in the end.