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Colleagues remember Remigijus Pačėsa as the seer. He had an ear for light. Simple things and usual places were glimpses of infinity for him, regardless of technique: he moved from analogical to digital photography with ease.
Pačėsa was born in Marijampolė where his father had founded a photographers’ club. He began playing jazz as a teenager. In 1973, Remigijus went to Klaipėda to study at the Lithuanian Conservatoire. But he was disappointed and dropped out. Only then he became interested in photography, which he studied at the Vilnius Technological School in 1976–1979. After that he photographed buildings – exteriors and interiors – for the Institute of Urban Construction Design until 1989. Yet he truly lived in the Old Town cafés of Vilnius, wandered around the outskirts and took photos.
In the context of Soviet photography, Pačėsa was ‘a rebel,’ thus he did not have many opportunities to show his works. Instead of capturing gestures and faces, he examined the geometry of periphery. Shadows showed him light. Irony rescued him from despair, and absurdity would sneak past the guard of rationality to reveal the scope of the unknown.
Ever since Lithuania restored independence in 1990, Pačėsa was only a ‘free artist’ – free from institutions, posts, commitments and money. He simply created: photographs, monotypes, watercolours and collages. He was not interested in the trends of art and the wide world. The walls of his room, the streets of Vilnius and Marijampolė, the Rivers Neris and Šešupė were enough for the flight of his imagination.
The first works by Pačėsa were still-lives, revealing weirdness in things. From the Czech photographer Josef Sudek, he learned to explore the mysterious twilight, but moulded into the poor Soviet interior: aristocratic elegance degraded into the futurism of a meat-chopper and was covered with naive wallpaper. Pačėsa was also fascinated with pattypan squashes painted by Algimantas Švėgžda, which he replaced by table lamps and clocks in his photographs.
He would examine his object for a long time – to see how light travelled along its surface. And he pressed the shutter only when the thing would start moving and behaving like a live creature: plants would show their private lives, unused photographic paper sheets would start dying slowly and a jacket dropped on the sofa would stretch its gaunt sleeve like a tired macho. The titles also helped the photographer to start a conversation – brief phrases turn the extracts of reality into poetry.
Among his senior colleagues, Pačėsa liked Jonas Kalvelis who captured time written by light on the dunes. Pačėsa squeezed such lyrics into the coarse frame of civilization, which was closer to his heart. When he cropped off the signs of identification, the place would remain anonymous. The space divided by pillars, fences and concrete blocks became an abstraction – a text found nowhere and everywhere.
Pačėsa’s minimalism could be compared to the ‘deliberate impoverishment’ discussed by Algirdas Julius Greimas: the possibility to create aesthetic experience from ‘almost nothing,’ without resorting to drama. In Pačėsa’s cityscapes, we could hear the beats of darkness and a frequent rhythm of steps, the hooting smoothness of asphalt and
the rustle of barren grass.
But as soon as you fall deep into meditation, garbage containers jangle. They stand as monuments everywhere. Their odours remind us that everything turns into nothing and beauty can be found where it sucks. This principle – the dreariness bursting into harsh laughter – will remain a constant feature in Pačėsa’s works despite the changing means.
When the Soviet system started dismantling, Pačėsa was dismissed from the Institute of Urban Construction Design and lived ‘in debt to life’ for two years. He collaborated with the Lithuanian Architects’ Union for a while and photographed portraits (Guus Janssen, Sainkho Namtchilak, Stuart Jones, etc.) for the new music magazine Tango in 1990–1993.
Art was crazy with experiments then: everything became ‘conceptual;’ performance festivals and installations soiled the white cube. Photographers created collages of old photographs (Saulius Paukštys), demonstrated processes (Gintaras Zinkevičius, Gintautas Trimakas), or blurred reality with colours and mist (Alfonsas Budvytis, Remigijus Treigys). ‘In this global mess, this fair of relaxation, an unhurried man looks like a stranger,’ wrote the art critic Gražina Kliaugienė. ‘He seeks neither fame nor effect, nor a wallet bulging with dollars. Of course, there are such people, there always are. In such a society, however, their existence becomes difficult and suspicious; their inner life becomes covert; their truth, unintelligible for the majority of people.’
Pačėsa also started experimenting: he glued things on photographs, made ‘sandwiches’ or coloured some details. The yellow ‘sunflowers’ (not quite) blooming in the grey river hinted at van Gogh’s story and lured him like a promise of hope. Of course, it would not be fulfilled, but anyway.
When he became friends with the artist Vega Vaičiūnaitė, Pačėsa learned to print monotypes. They remind of Jackson Pollock’s gesture painting – the calligraphy of the unconscious. He also painted watercolours, which were best when he restricted himself to a monotonous rhythm – akin to Paul Klee and minimalist music.
When the writer Herkus Kunčius looked at these artworks, Three Visions visited him. One was caused by Pačėsa’s Autobiography written by using a mirror. It is hard to read it, and the photographer admits at the end: ‘This autobiography is scattered, designed only to fill the space for a collage or something else. And that’s all.’ Struggling with the text, Kunčius ‘fell’ into its ‘other side,’ where he envisioned the biography of Isadora Duncan. When he re-emerged, he admitted:
‘I would like to go on reading the Autobiography of Remigijus Pačėsa, but there is only one page of it. It breaks off. It remains undisclosed. It’s a pity. The biography of Duncan is interesting… I put it aside hoping that, sometime in the future, I’ll be lucky and get hold of other pages of this biography. The pages of an unwritten biography. Its other, the reverse side.’