Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte
University: Glasgow School of Art
Genre: Fine Art
Artist Statement: My series In Silver combines archival pictures taken by my father in the last decade of the Soviet Union and pictures made by me 30 years later. I am using expired photographic film as old as the one my father had used to initiate a dialogue over two different eras, two geographical points and two political regimes. Weaving two timelines into one I treat this family album as a cell in the organism of European history that speaks of migration, struggle, hope and act of remembering. In Silver is a photographic conversation in between past, present and future written in genes and silver particles.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I split my undergraduate in between Vilnius Fine Art Academy and the Glasgow School of Art. I graduated from the latter in 2008 with a BA in Visual Communication. Then 7 years later I decided to do Masters in Fine Art (Photography and Moving Image) at the Glasgow School of Art and graduated in 2015.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I really loved the encouragement and support I received during my masters which led to me exploring new ways of working: incorporating sound, video and installation into my photographic practice. Thinking about the photograph as an object was a very refreshing challenge, which led to experimentation with ways of printing and displaying work.
Sharing unfinished work during open studios as well as work in progress shows made me more confident. Discussions and critiques were the best way to make me think. Sharing the course with people working in sculpture, painting and printmaking provided a broad context: I grew so much over the course of one year.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? Nearly everything in my work comes from my life whether it’s personal experiences, or things I read and think about. Migration, identity and change is a big one. Stemming from my own experience and my family history (my grandma was Polish and her father came from what is modern day Belarus), politics and historical debate around the region of former Soviet Union it also covers the current events. I am interested in ways memory works, exploring personal and collective nostalgia, voluntary amnesia and longing.
In my current work I am looking at notions of utopia, future and change. Human ability to keep going and dream has always fascinated me, so often even when making work about difficult moments in history I try and make the hope shine through.
I work with archival material: photographs, video, sound. This allows me to explore the notions of historical truths, limitations of documentary practices and objectivity. I think about photography as a medium a lot, it’s relationship to beauty and truth became part of my works.
What encouraged you to study in Scotland? It was the Glasgow School of Art rather than Scotland that attracted me first. A friend from Lithuania studied design at the GSA and the way she was talking about her work and the studio based learning attracted me to come for a visit. After having an informal meeting with tutors and being shown around the studios I knew immediately that I wanted to study here. The freedom and support I got was priceless and allowed me to grow both during my undergrad and masters. After living here for 10 years now I can also say that Glasgow is a great place to study; it’s affordable, bustling with art events, gigs and international community.
Your work has been featured in online magazines, you've been interviewed, worked on commissions, and exhibited in a wide variety of places. Have you got any advice for getting your work seen or exhibited? My career gained some speed once I figured out my own voice. This might sound like a cliche, but once you stop caring if your tutors, colleagues, curators and other important people like your work, you will truly make something distinct. It’s good to follow what is happening in art and photography, but if you see something trending in magazines right now this should be an indication of what not to make rather than what to make.
Also, maintain your website: this is your face, your voice and your business card. Update it regularly, don’t over clutter, show small but diverse selection of what you do. Social media can be helpful too, whatever your choice is. I go through phases of sharing loads on Instagram and taking a break to focus.
Relationships are important. I am not the one to cold call important industry people and invite them for coffee, so I built up my relationships over the years. A lot have become my friends now, which shows that being genuine is a more sustainable way than raw PR. Go to your local galleries, join discussion groups, collaborate and support your fellow artists. I found that sharing takes you further than competing in a long run. And it feels better!
How did the idea for this series come around for you? It all started with the box of the old rolled up negatives and three boxes of colour slides my parents found in 2014 when they were moving house. They casually asked if they should throw them away or keep them, to which I, horrified responded with ‘post them to me, today’. It took some months to scan them all. Most of the pictures were previously unseen to us. My father must have decided to only print the best ones, and the rest remained as negatives for over 30 years. I found familiar themes: travels, political gatherings, family and wondered how it reflected my life now. It only seemed obvious to explore the connections and differences through my own photographs.
I had worked with expired films before because someone gifted me a whole bag of random films, including 4 x 5 Kodak colour film from 1978. That gave me an idea to search for films that would be from the period my father’s pictures were made. Surprisingly I found some on ebay quite easily, a few rolls were even the same Soviet make my father had used. I purchased a lot and started shooting my photographic response.
Did your Fathers photographs influence what you’ve photographed 30 years later? How have you responded to his images? They did indeed. My father’s photographs are made to serve as a record of various events: travels, celebrations, protests, gatherings. They were meant for a family album, or a shoebox of prints. I decided to mimic the fast way of making pictures, therefore most of my pictures are shot with a little point and shoot camera I carried everywhere. There are elements of a visual diary, embracing the imperfections, the wrong exposures and odd compositions. When editing his pictures I found so many that were incredibly poetic and had a sense of humour in them, which naturally appeared in the ones I made too.
I didn’t want to go down the obvious route of recreating situations that appear in my Father’s pictures. I had someone suggest to me at a portfolio review that I go and make pictures of queues at the opening of new Lidl stores in Lithuania, to mirror political protests of the 80's. This obvious comparison is exactly what I didn’t want to do though. In Silver is made with compassion for people who had been through massive change, people like my Father, like me, like many. I wanted to understand what happens to our projections of the future once future is upon us, rather than ridicule a society that’s been through difficult experiences.
Can you explain the title of this series? When editing hundreds of pictures I started to think of the work as a visual dialogue over two different eras, two geographical points and two political regimes. I could see the obvious differences as well as similarities. By combining the pictures made so far apart I was creating a new non linear narrative, made up of hope, protest, memory, humour and anticipation. I realised that my Father from 30 years ago and me now are having a conversation that could have not been possible otherwise. And this conversation is not written in letters or words, it is written in silver particles in photographic emulsion, or, perhaps, in genes.
You mentioned that you’ve shown some unfinished work and works in progress at open studios. What are your opinions on letting others see your ideas before completion? I believe it is as important as showing finished work. I regularly show work in progress to a few trusted colleagues. This leads to informal feedback sessions, idea generating and growing friendships. It’s important to get feedback from people who work in different ways than myself, or even in different mediums. It’s frequently a friend working with sculpture or installation or a writer that makes the best remarks.
There might be people who unintentionally or intentionally take quite literal inspiration from your work, but I believe it’s always pretty obvious when work has depth, honesty and hours of research put in and when it doesn’t. Therefore I have no fear in showing unfinished series, as long as it’s formed enough for me to be able to introduce it, even if vaguely.
Have you got any creative future plans that you can tell us about? I am currently editing my In Silver series to be made into a publication. I’m still dwelling on the scale of it, but most likely it will be a small special edition with handmade elements sitting somewhere in between dummy edition and artist book.
New work titled Impossible Colonies is also well underway, featuring photographs, objects and moving image. I am very excited about this one- it is a new direction for me. I had an invitation to show it, but can not disclose the details yet.
In Silver is also travelling to Northern Ireland soon, it will be shown in Nerve Visual gallery Derry as part of Jill Todd photographic Award March - May 2017. A small excerpt from In Silver will also show at Glasgow Women’s library in March 2017 together with other Scottish based women artists and photographers.
There is one more very exciting plan coming later this year, but that, as well as a few others are not officially confirmed yet so I’m afraid I can’t tell you yet.