International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
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Luisa Lambri’s Images of Vilnius


Anders Kreuger

To read Luisa Lambri's images of Vilnius, how much contextual evidence do you need? Do you have to know about the bureaucratic web that entangles each and every attempt at registering the play of pale October daylight inside those walls erected "by the people for the people"? Can you do without notes recording the names of institutions and officials, street names, points of reference? If you are familiar with the city (and most of its inhabitants describe themselves as too familiar with it), such knowledge may produce ignorance. The images may become invisible. The too-well-known is the little-known, and the too-often-seen is the never-seen. For strangers to the city, however, there are circumstances that should not go unmentioned. Luisa Lambri's pictures may appear effortless, general, even global, but in fact they are not. They are not postcards from nowhere. They are, rather, an attempt at picturing a "self" in "space" and "time".

Looking out, from the inside
This, of course, describes how the photographer uses her camera. Luisa Lambri inserts the architecture of the camera into the architecture of built interiors, enhancing the workings of light by prolonging its route and deferring the reflections of "outer" membranes on "inner" screens. The interplay of "self" and "other" is not in the shadow, nor in the light, nor in nuance, hue or detail. It is in the set-up, and in the act of "taking" the picture.
Outside the National Gallery, built as the Museum of the Revolution, there is a whole scenography of dolomite canyons, footbridges and flights of stairs. The flow of humans was once elaborately regulated here: down and up, over and under, in and out. Now the stage is depopulated, deserted by Man, under siege from an ever advancing northern birch-tree savannah. It is unkept, unseen, unloved.
Inside the Gallery, rigidity lives on. It is unheated, unvisited. This is no place for disinterested looking. Purpose and necessity are built into the sculptural internal elements. Straight-angled light surveys their cracks and creases.
Looking out of the window
It could be anywhere, but never is. Luisa Lambri travels far to find the right window, or corridor, or wall, but never leaves herself behind. Her images are charged, but not only with her "self". She does not represent. She does not comment. Outside margins ("peripheries") are inside (even in the "centre" of) her pictures. Her light will never smooth a texture, never bridge a gap and never scare a demon out of her pictorial space. She does not exorcise her own fear.
The National Gallery again. The beholder is caught up in the fittings left behind. The square table was ceremonial only. The planted fir tree, in these parts, used to signify the power of officildom. Now they are caught up in a gaze which wants light only, through plate glass if possible, and does not hesitate to delete such traces of purpose and necessity.
The Sports Palace offers more light, muted by plate glass of irregular hues. There is suspended activity, with handles in mid-air. Events are fired off and then peter out. Recently, this building hosted the world championship of Latin American ballroom dancing. What you need to do is fix your stare. Look at the scenery. It is behind the doors.

Looking out of time
Luisa Lambri unmarks the marks of time. In her pictures there is no moment, no present, no history: just light cast on the dry skin of things past. She plays the even workings of light against the sequenced workings of memory.
No key is given to the interrupted staircase pattern, which takes us back into the lower lobby of the Sports Palace: The mirroring of movement, the imaginary mounting or descending, the absent body who performs the walking up and down and who is the condition for these optic reflections.
The Lithuanian Telecom Privatisation Room in the Central Telegraph Office was semi-open and semi-closed. It could be viewed through glass doors, but it took great diplomacy and patience to get inside and take pictures. The window becomes a screen. The desks become another screen. You can read the passing of time on everything that surrounds and supports these screens.
In Vilnius, even the recent past comes in manifold layers. The past, distant or recent, is amazingly durable, amazingly perishable. Its sequencing remains unknown. No infusion of computable temporality will clarify the issue of duration in Vilnius, or in Luisa Lambri's images from the city. She visited and revisited certain buildings, spending hours in semi-closed lobbies and stairwells. The moment in which they were built seemed, at the time, endlessly protracted, neither linear nor cyclic. In essence, this moment is still ongoing, punctuated only by the commas and dots of the city's recent and uneven immersion into "the world". Luisa Lambri's pictures remind us that time and space are unresolved issues in Vilnius.
She avoids big gestures. In her images of Vilnius, she by-passes the baroque images (both Catholic and Communist) that usually signify this city. Still, her approach is deductive rather than reducitve. The expressive pretense of the environments she selected for visual analysis does not evaporate in the process of (de)framing and (de)sequencing. It is reenacted as texture and detail, as the uneven fit of slate on a marble floor, as the slight dissonance of a rustic lime-stone office wall. The statics of modernist rooms is charged with the dynamics of the contemporary moving image. Some of these pictures could be film stills, or even "architecture" for computer video games.
In Vilnius, there seems to be an age-old and ingrained belief that when you "take" a picture of something (the inside of a public building, for instance) you also "steal" part of its soul. Perhaps Luisa Lambri has stolen a sizeable, and priceless, chunk of 1970s and early 1980s identity (national? local? institutional? spatial? visual? personal?) from its under-stimulated guardians, shivering in the cold that inaugurates the annual heating season. Or perhaps she was just a spy for an alien force, mapping out all these sites as a preparation for blowing them up from within with great technical precision?

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