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July 2006 – Disappearance of a Tribe

I’m watching the video by Deimantas Narkevičius that I’ve just bought in a Paris Gallery. ‘Disappearance of a Tribe’ consists of photographs taken during the forties, fifties, and sixties of members of the artist’s Lithuanian family. I’ve already seen the film twice, but I can’t get enough of it. Images without text, without explanation and with no other sound than soft music allow me to drift off, as I often do in my day-to-day existence. Except reality usually breaks in and whistles me back. But with this film I can fantasize to my heart’s content. No one is going to rap my knuckles.


In one of the photos there are nurses standing in front of a grey building, which is undoubtedly the hospital where they work. One of them has climbed into a bare tree. That must be the artist’s mother. Another photo shows the faces of four young men, factory workers or sailors, three close to the camera and one in the background. They’re not looking into the lens, but I can tell by their eyes that they are very conscious of being photographed. They resemble each other: the father and uncles of Deimantas.


In another photo six women and one man pose on a hill. The women are wearing flowered dresses with short sleeves. I recognize the nurses from the earlier photo. And the man in swimming trunks on the dune is one of the factory workers who looked away from the lens. This must have been how the artist’s parents met, during an excursion with friends from work. This is where he comes from.


A following image shows a procession of people dressed in heavy coats walking behind a car heading towards a church. Is this a funeral? Has one of the members of the tribe disappeared? Or does Deimantas Narkevičius mean by ‘Disappearance of a Tribe’ a way of life, under a communist regime, that no longer exists?


For a moment the vanished time has been restored. Maybe that’s why this work so appeals to me: it’s about things that have passed, but because you can keep looking at the film again and again, you have the idea that this past is still very close. What no longer exists is made palpable by the editing and rhythm of the film.


I leave the gallery and walk into the Paris summer. Along the broad boulevard people sit at sidewalk cafés enjoying the sun while the disappeared tribe still lives on in my mind.

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