Grete Tvarkunaite

University: University of Huddersfield

Graduation: 2016

Genre: Artistic Documentary

Website: www.mantasandgrete.wix.com/artistai

Artist Statement: My beloved and I hitchhiked through both Europe's huge urban cities and remote mountain regions, without any fixed destination or route in mind. We were escaping our regular lives into newly alluring but precarious modes of existence, always and ever in search of the persistent though elusive idea of freedom.  Along the way we met several individuals who had willingly abandoned their previous hectic modern lives in exchange for the retreat into the deep wilderness. Once students, professional workers, artists, these people sacrificed modern comforts for greater autonomy and freedom. They have turned their backs on modern civilisation and its emphasis on consumerism and productivity, choosing instead the slower, if inconvenient, life that paces itself with nature. For my beloved and I, by abandoning the monotonous security and urban life these people became like unpolished jewels whose horizon is endlessly changing with a new and different sun.

From the series myth of utopia

From the series myth of utopia

What are some standout moments from your time at university? The most important part during my studies at university was meeting some wise academics and having deep discussions with them that led to an incredible growth in sophistication and quality as a photographer and as a thinker. Consequently, during my final year, I was awarded Dean's Award for Contemporary Practice and was also selected to be one of three recipients in the UK of a major bursary by the Association for Photography in Higher Education (APHE) that provided me with developmental opportunities towards my project - photobook myth of utopia.  

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I experiment with a variety of genres including both commercial and artistic photography, however, mostly I find myself working within fine art, portraiture and documentary fields. Talking exclusively about this project, myth of utopia, I would call it an artistic documentary.

What themes do you find yourself exploring? I often express myself in an artistic and poetic manner while exploring philosophical, political and cultural contexts. Therefore, the main subject that interests me and occupies my work is a study of people: their relationship to the physical environment, and to the economic, political and intellectual conditions that determine them.

From the series myth of utopia

From the series myth of utopia

How important was your final degree show to you? What's the most vital thing you learnt? My final degree show to me was a celebration, a graduation mark and an opportunity for my work to reach the biggest audience possible at that time. However, I have also previously presented my work in group exhibitions at Creative Arts Hub, Mirfield (2015), Byram Arcade, Huddersfield (2015; 2016) and The Hepworth Wakefield gallery (2016) where I gave a talk about my project myth of utopia. Therefore, my final degree show was not a new experience for me to learn vital things, though definitely pleasant and memorable. 

How did you choose which cities you would visit to make myth of utopia? My beloved and I went for traveling without any fixed destination or route in mind. It was spontaneous, dictated only by our hearts, people we met and the sun and the moon. And the rain which we tried to avoid...

What was your choice of camera equipment, and why? I mostly worked with Nikon DF and 50mm lens - my favourite tools. However, I also had a 24-120mm lens which is quite big and heavy, and this was usually resting deep in my backpack. I doubt I will take it with me for my next adventure. When you are backpacking, the less you have - the easier life is.

Images from the series myth of utopia

Images from the series myth of utopia

Tell us about the bursary you received from the Association for Photography in Higher Education (APHE). What did this opportunity provide you with? The bursary that I received covered the price of The OFFSPRING Photo Meet, a two day event in London, providing me with an opportunity to present my photobook myth of utopia and speak to a fantastic array of well-known photographers, picture editors, publishers, and curators. They gave me some insightful critique, advice and became important contacts in my photographic network. It was an unforgettable and very useful experience, and therefore I want to thank APHE for supporting students' work. 

Are there any standout photographers who always influence you when making new work? Inspiration, and also influences, come to me from everywhere rather than other photographers. It is fields, sky, sea, noise, silence but especially people in general. Things we think, speak of and do as a human race always fascinates and also terrifies me. That makes me question everything, absolutely everything, and the question lays the basis for my ideas while photography allows me to explore it by becoming a bridge between myself and the world out there. However, I am still, of course, interested in how other photographers do that and thus there is some whose work I deeply admire; Taryn Simon's American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Alec Soth, Frank Herfort, and Antoine Bruy, as well as many more.

Your series is very personal to you and, of course, will always remind you of this trip, but what do you hope for your viewer to gain from your images? The idea of leaving our basic modern comfort and secure place - smartphones, television, the ability to go to a store and pay for whatever we need (or don't really), 9 to 5 work, insurance, etc. terrifies many and that deeply interests me. So while the majority of the population wouldn't be willing to let go of modern conveniences, there are some in this world that gladly gave up these comforts for an independent, self-sustaining life off-grid. These people turn their backs on civilisation and its emphasis on consumerism and productivity, choosing instead the slower life that paces itself with nature. Interestingly, through the political and economical perspective, by doing so they become 'not functional and useless members of our modern society', and therefore face state persecutions including evictions, arrests, imprisonments or police attacks that sometimes evolve into violence. Bearing this in mind, the utopian society seems very mythical and the idea of freedom more than elusive. At the same time, my aim was to show the viewer how that kind of life might not be only possible but also fulfilling and perhaps even more profound for some. Thus, in my book I have juxtaposed two very different ways of living - urban and natural - not to state which one is right or wrong, but rather to suggest the viewer that many things in this world are possible, however, in most cases, we as a human race are creating our own barriers to prevent them from happening. I hope, that myth of utopia, by consisting a wide range of photographs, poetry and personal, political and philosophical text, will act as a catalyst for such debate in social and political realms.

From the series myth of utopia

From the series myth of utopia

What was your reason for using a DSLR on this trip? What are your thoughts on using film? The project was deliberately carried on hitchhiking and backpacking during long periods of time, which means that there is a very limited space in my backpack but loads of moments that I want to be recorded. Because of this reason, I decided to use DSLR camera, however, I do admire film photography and will be using this medium for my upcoming project. 

Have you got any tips you can share to new graduates for getting your work seen? Firstly, it is very important to get feedback from other artists and/or thinkers to take a project to a higher level. Reasonable critique or even a fresh eye looking at your work is a great moment for development, but, of course, not every opinion should be taken seriously. Personally, I aim to keep a group of like-minded people with similar interests and knowledge to input when it's needed. Secondly, getting the work seen out there is a time and effort consuming activity. It is those little things we need to do like constantly writing to publishers, magazines, online art platforms, participating in competitions and attending exhibitions/events, building a photographic network. I am myself not very good with all this publicity, but whether you like it or not, it is vital for the work itself in order to be alive. 

From the series myth of utopia

From the series myth of utopia

Where are you planning to go on your next adventure? I am still living in England, currently engaging with Master degree studies, but the project idea that I want to implement during this time at university is going to take me back to my homeland - Lithuania. However, traveling is a big part of my life and I believe that my dreams about a van with a little art studio inside will come true at some point.