Vyautas Landsbergis

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Article

Vytautas Landsbergis – President in flux

The former Lithuanian president and hero of the ‘singing revolution’ as a Fluxus artist? According to a well-meant contribution to the German Wikipedia, ‘Professor Landsbergis is known all round the world not only for his political activities but also for his being one of the world´s greatest Fluxus artists.’ Anyone even vaguely familiar with him can well imagine him chortling and chuckling about his role in cultural history; but Landsbergis, a musicologist and a politician, was indeed linked with Fluxus, an art movement which began in the 1960s and 1970s in the USA and Western Europe and bore the stamp of the Lithuanian emigrant Jurgis Mačiūnas (George Maciunas). From the 1960s to 80s Landsbergis spread Fluxus’ ideas and works throughout Lithuania, where he was the first and - for most of the period – the only person to do so.
As classmates in Kaunas, Lithaunia, in 1939, Landsbergis and Jurgis Mačiūnas had become friends, but then they had drifted apart till 1962, when Mačiūnas’ friend and business partner Almus Salcius travelled to Vilnius. Salcius, who had built up the Fluxus network, turned to Landsbergis for help in making a film; and they found out during a chat that they had a mutual friend in the form of Mačiūnas. Landsbergis and Mačiūnas – whom the founder of video art, Nam June Paik, dubbed ‘mini-giants’ – then wrote to one another on and off for many years.

According to their letters, Mačiūnas wished to import not only Fluxus but also pre-fabricated buildings of his own design into the Soviet Republic of Lithuania, and Landsbergis was eager to get Mačiūnas to kick the Fluxus habit of wrecking pianos. But despite their opposite views on art, Landsbergis took a musicological interest in Fluxus ideas and got together with students in 1966 to hold a Fluxus concert at the Pedagogic Institute in Vilnius. Though more like a cabaret, it occasioned a Landsbergis manifesto:

‘Anti-art is the one real ethnic and social manifestation of human aesthetic sensibility … Away with dodecaphony, polyphony, harmony and cacophony! We must learn to marvel at truth. We shall again have aesthetic pleasure in such simple acts as drinking water, spitting into a well or blowing our noses. The way will be long and many will fail to follow. But the future belongs to progress, and the first step in this direction is overdue.´

The manifesto’s radical and Fluxus-like style is then toned down in the selfsame text: ‘Today there is to be a performance of some experimental works of non-art, to which we ascribe a purely instructive significance.’ The numerous materials and tapes sent by Mačiūnas were used by Landsbergis in his lectures about New Music. Finally he himself became a Fluxus spearhead insofar as he sent ideas and scores for Fluxus events to Mačiūnas, though somewhat tongue –in-cheek. Thus he wrote in 1963:

´What about a “Yellow Piece” for piano? The pianist lies on his tummy and plays only the pedals. The dampers produce various droning sounds and can tap out pizzicati; a nail can be scraped on the pedals’ metal; and on having rolled over onto his back, the pianist can kick the black beast in the belly with both feet. The impact might occasion a thin jet of yellowish beer to spurt out and refresh listeners in the stalls, who then in a drunken stupor would see the performer sinking into a pool with a halo of mist. You can use it for a festival. The “Black Piece” is elementary. The pianist comes and sits down at the piano whose lid is shut. He lolls on the shut lid, then the lids of his eyes shut and his mouth opens, snoring with a dimming of lights perhaps. On opening his eyelids later, he opens the piano lid and trolls off ...This is no jest. These are such will-o’-the-wisps as teem through a mind in flux.’

Seeing his name on materials printed by Fluxus, Landsbergis got worried picturing them falling into the hands of Soviet officials. Nonetheless he kept in touch with Mačiūnas and Fluxus, taking part for instance in Mieko Shiomi´s ‘Spatial Poems’ and corresponding with artists like Ken Friedman. He met no further Fluxus artists until the 1990s, by which time his former schoolmate Mačiūnas had long been dead.
Author: Petra Stegmann

Bio

Vytautas Landsbergis studied music at the State Conservatory in Vilnius from 1950 to 1955. From 1952 to 1990 he was mainly a teacher in Vilnius, where he taught the piano at the Pedagogic Institute, at the State Conservatory and at the Čiurlionis School of Music. In 1968 he gained a doctorate for his dissertation about Čiurlionis, the short-lived hero of Lithuanian art and music who as a painter and composer crossed the borders of genres and reached the haven of international acclaim and death.

Vytautas Landsbergis is one of the founding members of the Sajudi independence movement and, as the chairman of the provisional parliament (Seimas) in 1990, he became the first Lithuanian head of state after the regaining of independence. Later he was the president of parliament and is now, as a delegate of the Lithuanian European Peoples´ Party - European Democrats, a member of the European Parliament.

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Europe Now | Europe Next

(01 August 06 - 31 July 07)