History in Reverse – Re-erecting Monuments. Part 2 

Post by Elisa Adami

Many socialist monuments were removed at the end of the last century, either by spontaneous popular action or by the state. This iconoclastic reaction was intended as a radical measure of historical correction, an attempt to erase and deny the events of the recent past.

Deimantas Narkevičius’s work Once in the XXth Century (2004) is an ironic commentary on the dangers of such historical oblitarations and on the recurring scenes of ideological manifestations in various political epochs. The video shows the installation of a Lenin statue with an applauding audience at a public square in Vilnius. The film is actually made using the video documentation of the dismantling of the Lenin monument in the 1990s. The artist acquired footage from the Lithuanian National TV archive and from a freelance video reporter in order to have a two-camera perspective on the event. Yet, those images of Lenin hanging above the crowd and waving his hand which have become famous internationally as a symbol of the disintegration of Soviet Union and the failure of the communist utopia, have been completely reversed in Narkevičius’s work.

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The same materials have been re-edited in such a way that they seem to document the erection of the sculpure, rather than its removal. By operating this “reversal of images”, the artist rewinds the tape of history and brings the past back into the present. Spectres of Lenin reappear as fleeting and dematerialized cinematic traces asking for a confrontation with an unresolved and repressed past; whilst the recurrence of the same event ironically points to the tragic repetitiveness of history.


Originally trained as a sculptor, Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius (b. 1964) mainly works in film and video to explore history with a contemporary, subjective point of view. In the politically and culturally turbulent situation of Eastern European states since the 1990s, Narkevičius sees a vacuum in which ideological self-awareness is characterized neither by a reflection of one’s own history, nor by any kind of vision for the future. The artist constructs (past and future) history out of active relations with individual biographies. In this way, the protagonists of his films reconstruct and interweave their memories with a linear concept of history generated from above. Narkevičius explores the medium of film using a documentary approach, in which interviews heard as voices-off comment on photographs or drawings, and diverse film techniques and narrative styles are used simultaneously.

Find more info about the artist here.

Read the interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Deimantas Narkevičius (2002) here.

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