Preview: Jonas Mekas at Dox
Exhibition looks at six decades of film - and even screens a few
Posted: March 13, 2013
"... As I Am Moving Ahead ... Glimpses of the Past Linger ..." is a rather unusual name for an art exhibition. However, the artist who proposed it as the title for a number of his works is rather unusual himself. That man is Jonas Mekas.
The Lithuania-born filmmaker is often called the godfather of American avant-garde cinema, a title he despises. "I hate that term, because the pioneers of the avant-garde were in the 1920s," Mekas once said in an interview for AnOther Magazine. "I came to New York at the right moment. The excitement was already brewing, coming from all the dark corners of America."
If Mekas, who turned 90 on Christmas Eve, entered the history of cinema from that point, that's what an exhibition launched in January at the Dox Center for Contemporary Art is honoring. Throughout the course of the exhibition, several films that Mekas created much earlier in his career - and aren't on display in the main show, which focuses on his more recent work - will also be screened at DOX, including Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, Wednesday, March 13, at 6 p.m., just two days after the director's homeland celebrates its independence.
"When I think of a Lithuanian soul, I'm thinking Jonas Mekas," said Asta Chaladauskiené, deputy head of mission of the Lithuanian Embassy in Prague, which helped to organize the exhibition and the accompanying screenings.
When: Through April 22, with screenings March 13 and 25, April 8 and 17
Where: Dox Center for Contemporary Art (screening April 8 at Světozor)
Tickets: 60 Kč for screening/40 Kč concession
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania was shot back in 1972 in the filmmaker's signature style. Short clips of footage were taken with 16 mm film and edited together almost at random to a voiceover or a soundtrack chosen by the author. First comes the black-and-white footage taken in New York mostly in 1950-53. The second part was filmed in August 1971, in Semeniškiai, the village where Mekas was born. The main characters appearing in the documentary are the artist's family and the locals. The footage for the last part of the film was made in Elmshorn, Germany, where the artist spent a year as a prisoner in a forced labor camp during World War II. The last scenes of the film were shot in Vienna.
The peculiarity of the filmmaker's art is his attention to the smallest details in the world around him and his ability to see and catch the beauty in everything. "He chooses to capture everything that makes him happy," Chaladauskiené said. "He notices the subtle things. It's is a little bit like a Japanese haiku: It's very poetic."
One might call the finished product meticulously edited chaos. "I had to break up the footage for structural purposes, so I did it with titles ..." Mekas said during a discussion of his art work back in 2005. "I am obsessed with straight, anthropological and ethnographic images, situations, events."
The director's appreciation of life in all its manifestations and a specific organizational system are a couple of the things that still haven't changed in his many decades of filmmaking. Along with developing new creative ideas, Mekas has updated his equipment and acquainted himself with the Internet; sometime in the 1990s, he switched from his 16 mm Bolex to a video camera.
"He didn't get stuck in the 1960s and '70s, when he became famous," Chaladauskiené said. "He is a type of artist who always evolves. He didn't get stuck with the same ideas and the ways of conveying them."
In 1996, Mekas wrote the Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto, in which he explained his art legacy in a very simple statement: "God created independent avant-garde filmmakers and said, 'Here is the camera. Take it and go into the world and sing the beauty of all creation and have fun with it. But you will have a difficult time doing it and you will never make any money with this instrument.'"
Seventeen years later, one hopes he had a lot of fun because he has shown us so much beauty.
Anna Shamanska can be reached at