He is a true inspiration, a gold nugget of so-called Generation Y, a curious young man, some may even call him a genius of his work. Born and raised in the USA, he works & travels in Europe, and (for my personal fascination) is head-over-heels in love with Lithuania and knows an embarrassingly great deal about Baltic paganism, his name is Abraham Brody and I challenge you to not to admire him.
I’ll kick straight from the question that triggered the idea of this conversation. You recently have been invited to be resident in gallery Vartai, Vilnius in September. Could you tell us more about this adventure and how this opportunity came to you?
I have a long-standing relationship with Lithuania, so this invitation made me very happy. I wanted to have more time to spend developing and working on ideas based on Lithuanian culture and surrounded by the vibrant art scene of Vilnius. This will be a great opportunity for me to have the space and time to experiment with new ideas and develop new performances.
This visit to Vilnius this upcoming September is not going to be your first stay in Lithuania, you previously performed in Kristupo Festivalis Vilnius, in Anykščiai and šalčininkai with singer Ieva Narkutė and even appeared on Lithuanian National Television together with accordionist Martynas Levickis. Is there anything else apart from music that keeps you coming back to Lithuania?
Too many things! The natural beauty is incredible, delicious, I have wonderful friends there, and the artistic scene is unique. I am also in love with the way Lithuanians preserve their ancient customs: folk singing, crafts, even pagan religion.
One of my ways to express this love was invite the sutartinės ensemble Trys Keturiose to join me in my residency at the Barbican Centre in London this July.
I was fascinated to discover that you understand Lithuanian and have a desire to learn the language. Are there any reasons behind this sentiment?
Haha yes. One, I started learning it because of a relationship; two because I have Lithuanian ancestry and I want to feel more connected with it.
Is there anything else that inspires you talking about Lithuanian culture or Baltic countries per se?
I think Baltic countries have a special way of preserving their very unique traditions. I have also felt this in Baltic people I know–you have a real depth of character which is quite different from other countries. I think people are much more connected to nature, to themselves. This can sometimes come across as cold and unfriendly (Especially in Latvia, haha!) but I’ve realised that actually underneath is something very special and very strong. My Baltic friends are my strongest and most faithful!
© Aiga Ozolina
You were born and raised in USA, what brought you to Europe?
The search from my roots, my own traditions and culture. America is a country with many amazing things, but everything is new, everything is shiny, superficial. We don’t have traditions or culture as old as yours, and for me that is really boring. Having spent a lot of time in both Lithuania and USA, I would say that I wish Lithuania would develop some of the openness and freedom of America, while America would develop some of the cultural richness and depth that Lithuania has.
Your career involves traveling, you also live in a rather multicultural city, you had a chance to work with people of different nationalities, ages etc. Your performances focus on spirituality, you also tend to work with audience quite a lot. What did you find out so far about the human nature through perception of your acts? How important in your opinion is cultural background in personal development? Would you agree if I dare to say that Lithuanians to some extent are held back by the syndrome of small nation?
This is a very complicated question, and I have thought about this issue a lot actually. It seems to me that the bigger the society is, and the bigger the country is, the less connected they are to their roots and to their own soul or spirituality. One thing that frustrates me in America and UK is the fact that the society is so much based around buying and consuming, and very little about development of the soul or being connected to something greater than oneself. People seem to just take as much as they can and not want to give back to the society at all.
This doesn’t seem to be the case in Lithuania at all, however, I do agree that Lithuania is seriously held back by some people being extremely closed-minded about issues of race, sexuality and gender. Maybe it is not my right to comment on this, as I have not experienced the difficult past that your country has been through, but I think Lithuania would much more quickly develop into a strong European power if it was more open.
Coming back to music and opportunities to collaborate with variety of artists. Your resent project Soul Alchemy was inspired by Marina Abramović, who also was your mentor during the preparation for the performance. What is that you find truly inspirational about the artist? How did it feel to work with pioneer of performance art? Will there be any further collaborations? If so, please tell more.
Marina has a very strong presence which is unlike anyone I have ever met. She has the ability to capture the attention of everyone in the room, from the second she walks in before she even speaks. She carries this ability into her performances and creates such an electrical charge between herself and the public that it is just amazing.
To work with, she was very warm, very open, and generous.
Your performances, especially, collaborations with composer Rūta Vitkauskaite falls under classical music genre. What are your reflections on this genre and the status of it in the age of fast consumption?
This could go back to the question about why I left the states. I think the problem is that of exposure–classical music is a language. If you are not exposed to that language from a young age, you cannot speak or understand it. Our generation is developing without this language, therefore they can’t approach it. I find it really sad, because to me classical music has the ability to express every possible human emotion in the most deep and complex way. This is not possible with any other kind of music.
Pardon my expression, but you are a truly inspirational workaholic. Your time is crammed with projects up until autumn and I believe the list will fill up on the move. Do you have any leisure time? And if so, how does your free of work day look like?
Ha! I am a lot lazier than you think! Depends where I am when I have leisure time–my first choice would be in nature, in the Forest or by the sea, especially Kuršių Neriją! I love travelling, Reading. If I’m in London I will go out and explore; there is always something new to find here!
Is there anything you miss when abroad that you can only find in Lithuania?
Real good juoda duona, haha! The food, my friends of course, especially the nature. This I would say is the most inspiring and incredible thing about Lithuania. I hope you never lose those wide open fields and enormous forests filled with nothing but trees… this is the best place to go and recharge.