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PEOPLE WHO HAVE RESTORED THE PAST. The Magic of Mindaugas Meškauskas' Ferrotypes

8 March–12 May 2019
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

An Exhibition Dedicated to the 10th Anniversary of the Establishment of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and 30 Years of Consistent Scientific Research of the Territory

The exhibition People Who Have Restored the Past. The Magic of Mindaugas Meškauskas' Ferrotypes is an anniversary project conceived by the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which was propelled into reality by the Lithuanian Council of Culture. It is being organised to mark two important anniversaries: the first decade of the existence of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and thirty years of systemic and consistent scientific research of the territory.

An initiative group of thirty-five people assembled on June 3, 1988 to establish the Sąjūdis Lithuanian Reform Movement. On June 7 that same year, these eminent Lithuanian citizens organised a meeting in the cellars of the Palace of the Grand Dukes, where the Talka Club had been meeting at the time. Perhaps this was the beginning of an unconscious association between the early Lithuanian state and the one just being reborn. This wave of national revival initiatives coincided with the start of consistent scientific research of the Palace of the Grand Dukes territory. This research aroused the interest of both scientists and society at large. On account of the enthusiastic public support it received, the research and restoration of the Palace of the Grand Dukes was incorporated into the activity program of the Culture Foundation, while the Presidium of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences passed a resolution in 1988 that obliged the Lithuanian Institute of History to coordinate scientific research and the collection of historic material. It also confirmed the broad scientific research program that foresaw the course of research of objects in the Lower Castle territory. At the initiative of the Institute's director, Prof. habil. Dr Vytautas Merkys, the Castle Research Group was formed and led by the archaeologist habil. Dr Vytautas Urbanavičius, in which habil. Dr Adolfas Tautavičius (R.I.P.), as well as Dr Kazys Napaleonas Kitkauskas, Dr Albinas Kuncevičius and other scientists were involved. This was the official beginning of the systemic and consistent research of the Palace of the Grand Dukes territory. To mark thirty years since these activities began, a project was initiated in 2018 to see this anniversary exhibition come into fruition. The initiative for this exhibition coincided with another significant anniversary – ten years since the establishment of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (2009–2018).

These important anniversaries dictated the idea behind the project – to present the people who are often left out beyond the museum exposition's display cases, yet without whose major contribution there would be no exhibits to speak of, nor expositions, or a museum, or the Palace of the Grand Dukes reconstruction project itself. A rare and unique 19th-century photographic invention, revived now in Lithuania, has been used for this purpose, the so-called wet-plate collodion process, which gives the finest reflection of the main idea behind the exhibition – to show the public those people who have restored the past for future generations.

The photographic artistry technique known as the wet-plate collodion process involves the use of chemical materials to create an image on a glass (ambrotype), metal (ferrotype) plate. This reaction requires a great deal of preparation, but its magic is revealed within ten seconds when the reacting pure silver creates a three-dimensional effect on the 18 x 24 cm plates. The image that is produced is the only one, unique and unrepeatable, as it is impossible to create two identical ambrotypes or ferrotypes. Unlike other types of photography, it is highly resistant to the passage of time.

As part of the realisation of the exhibition project, the aim was to create and present the portraits of not all but just thirty Palace of the Grand Dukes researchers – exactly the number of years that have passed since the start of consistent research of the Palace of the Grand Dukes territory. The first to be chosen were those people who have touched the artefacts discovered here and who have given them a voice (archaeologists, architects, restorers, etc.), and who also agreed to devote a great deal of their precious time and expose their souls. While it may not pose much of a problem to expose the body in photography these days, the true reflection of the person's soul captured during the wet-plate collodion process is a kind of intimacy not everyone can handle. Yet it is clear that this exhibition is but the first small step towards a much larger scale publishing project, during which all of the people who have contributed to the research and restoration of the Palace of the Grand Dukes and the installation of the museum shall be presented.

Other objects supplement the portraits displayed at the exhibition People Who Have Restored the Past. The Magic of Mindaugas Meškauskas' Ferrotypes. The display cases show exhibits and various tools that have become part of the subjects of the ferrotypes. A large section of the exhibition is dedicated to images of how the Palace of the Grand Dukes and the surrounding territory changed in the period 1987–2018, which were recorded over the course of many years by photographers Kazimieras Vainoras, Aloyzas Bertašius, Vytautas Abramauskas and Mindaugas Kaminskas. They help us get a grasp of the time over which the thirty heroes of the exhibition have restored the past for future generations.

About the ferrotype creator
Mindaugas MEŠKAUSKAS  is an award-winning, widely-known Lithuanian television director and screenplay-writer with over twenty years of experience on the main television channels in the country, creating programs such as the Lithuanian version of The X Factor, Lietuvos talentai (Lithuanian Talents) and the M.A.M.A. Annual Music Awards, not to mention various cultural documentaries, reality shows and other projects.

Taking an interest in photography when he was a teenager, Meškauskas studied various historic and alternative methods of the art of photography including this complex method – the wet-plate collodion process, which is the complete antithesis of short-lived television image photography. He has enjoyed telling the stories behind the people he took photographs of using this method. Over the last five years, Meškauskas has organised eight solo exhibitions and has participated in various other projects.

Organiser
National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania

Project leaders
Dr Jolanta KARPAVIČIENĖ
Ramunė VAIČIULYTĖ

Exhibition organisation group
Dovilė ČYPAITĖ
Iveta JAUGAITĖ
Kęstas KARLA
Eduardas KAUKLYS
Aistė KAZIMIERAITYTĖ
Tomas KUBILIŪNAS
Laima KUNICKYTĖ
Rita LELEKAUSKAITĖ
Mindaugas PUIDOKAS
Medeina STEPONAVIČIŪTĖ
Ėrika STRIŠKIENĖ
Ramunė VAIČIULYTĖ
Vydmantas VALANTAVIČIUS
Sigita VENCKŪNIENĖ

 

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