Arturas Raila

CAC Vilnius

“Roll Over Museum” was a series of exhibitions by Lithuanian artist Arturas Raila in the three Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Tallinn, and Riga, organized after he was awarded the Hansabank art award, the largest of its kind in the region. While the other two exhibitions featured most of his video works to date, the presentation at CAC Vilnius offered a live interaction between segments of society that seem to be completely detached from one another. Raila has often directed his gaze at subcultures far from the contemporary-art establishment. In 1998 the artist invited members of the tiniest, least influential—but most controversial—extreme-rightwing party in Lithuania to explain their position. He wanted to give them exposure in a context that would completely change the meaning of their message by introducing something of the tantalizing self-reflection that is usually part of the framework for “cultural presentation.” The CAC, however, canceled the project. The year before, he had invited a gang of Vilnius bikers to drive right through the CAC premises, opening up one of the glass doors onto the street and thereby stretching both the physical and conceptual framework of the institution.

There is something quite subversive in Raila’s urge to expand museum structures and introduce previously unframed interest groups into an institution like the CAC Vilnius, but this time, with “Roll Over Museum/Live,” he chose a seemingly less disturbing group, the community of racing-car enthusiasts. Raila exhibited four customized cars together with photographs of them and their builder-owners in their workshops. He also displayed a video in which these men explain the sophisticated alterations they have made to their vehicles. Raila’s project became a meeting ground for the custom rider scene. Its exposure in an institution for cultural production changed one’s view of the framing context as well as its contents. The opening was crowded with automobile enthusiasts who were able to read every detail of the display and appreciate every exquisite intervention. The art crowd suddenly seemed like outsiders and could only attempt to translate these unfamiliar phenomena into art jargon. Interestingly, however, the car people and the art crowd turned out to have some similar tools of engagement. To name a couple: a focus on professional knowledge and an urge for constructing something new out of the existing. Both milieus work by recycling a variety of elements to make very specialized products that represent the subjectivity of the group they target and are part of.

By exploring very specific, local situations, Raila suggests new ways of looking at what is considered to be the mainstream and what marginal. For such investigations it is important to avoid exoticizing one’s subjects. Gestures of nonexclusion are crucial. Raila works in a participatory mode rather than adopting an observational stance toward his collaborators. This also helps him elude the manipulative approach that can often be sensed in work produced under the umbrella of “social participation.” Raila makes us associate with his subjects rather than with a contingent of invisible and fully knowledgeable onlookers.

Liutauras Psibilskis