The things of life: Vaiva Grainytė

21 November 2019 text Sevda Semer
She's a writer, but this word doesn't contain everything. Vaiva jumps between genres, for example with her book of diaries-essays; she writes poetry and is a playwright with a curiosity for the entire process.

This year, she was in the team that made another leap between the definitions: at the Venice Biennale for contemporary art, the pavilion of her native Lithuania showed an opera written by her. The beach with people singing about ice cream, vacations and the climate got a Golden Lion, but this is not the first time that Vaiva, along with director Rugile Barzdziukaite and composer Lina Lapelyte, have won awards. "Our neurons are married for almost 10 years," she explains, and the firstborn in this marriage is Have a good day! - an opera for 10 singing cashiers, supermarket sounds and piano. You're allowed to laugh - Vaiva thinks that humour is the healthiest way to look at things. She is now in Sofia for the Radar residency, and you may have seen her in Hour of the truth at Derida, or you may catch her lecture at Goethe-Institute on November 21 at 19:00. Before all that however, while she was in a small town in Sweden, we asked her over email why she looks at the everyday, when does she miss her desk the most and how you get from a DJ to a writer.

Diary from a distand land
Beijing Diaries is the book of essays I have written while living and studying in China. I made myself spent almost 1 year in totally distant culture. For me it was a duo of inner journey and private anthropological studies. Officially I was studying Chinese – the language I had neither clue nor motivation about. I was selected for some scholarship I spontaneously applied for as I was undergoing personal crisis after my MA studies of theatre history in Lithuania. I was publishing some diary bits in a Lithuanian cultural weekly and when I came back, I worked on new parts to make a book. It is a half poetic, half anthropological and humorous diary, full of comments and paradoxes with short intermissions – reviews about Chinese art house cinema. I have discovered that whenever you write a diary for the public it becomes fiction-ized. It is unavoidable that while you write, you employ your senses, make some links, play with language, intertexts, associations, exaggerate a bit on details…So it is never a raw or literal witness of reality. I do write a diary for myself, but not on a regular basis – I do it mostly for my archive of captured details. I like to know what happened when or to have a data bank of strange moments or insights I have experienced.

A desk - no way! A desk - yes, please!
I have mentioned the idea of a writer getting away from her desk and I guess I was referring to my interdisciplinary practice, that is to say – in collaborative works where I am working with other artists, most of the time I am part of the entire process from the very beginning till the end. I am participating in auditions, rehearsals, tours, share my critics and opinion. This probably is not what happens for writers/playwrights, who usually are treated as the right hand of central figure’s – director’s – vision. I care about all levels of the piece and how the text develops into a new form, and I like to work with people I am close with emotionally and mentally so we could participate in non-hierarchical creative polylogue. But after being in constant collaborative mode I miss my solo desk time and being a writer in that a bit romantic (which is just a façade as writer’s work is not romantic at all) and hermit-like sense: the author, who takes long walks to get rid of writer’s block, suffers procrastination, and is focused on her own mind. Last year I was working on my poetry book Gorilla’s archives and it was such a pleasure to dive into a pure text-based reality, and work alone. However, working by your own you would never get a chance to meet radiant people as when doing performances, which is always about teamwork. So to sum it all, I feel best when these two practices – collectiveness and solitary – are maintained in equilibrium.

Goodbye, sea
The last time I saw the Lithuanian pavillion at Venice I think I was about to have a migraine, and my head vessels were throbbing seeing the last 10 minutes of the performance – just too much emotions on that day. On the one hand, I felt happy this hectic and gigantomanic journey is done - it was a 6-month marathon of showing the performance twice per week for 8 hours non-stop, not to mention the intense year of preparation. On the other hand – saying goodbye with amazing people whom we became friends with, was very touching. I don’t find it dramatic nor tragic: all ends are the new beginnings, but all transitions require some mental capacity. However, it seems that the singing beach and its crew continues its journey in the new contexts across the globe – the next year’s touring schedule looks quite busy.

Poetry or essays? Both, but together
Coexistence of poetic and analytical thinking is natural for me. I would say it is part of my handwriting, it just happens. The root of it comes from the observation of a daily life and the ability to transform it into a slightly surrealistic and quirky piece. I love paradox as an aesthetic quality – it is somewhat of a distilled chimera, embodying contradictions.

Hey, Mrs DJ
In my teenage years, I was spending my lunch per diems not at the school’s canteen, but rather on buying CDs and exclusive tapes of underground music, getting music magazines, or hitchhiking to quirky concerts and festivals. I was a little meloman, and later on had a short period of being a DJ. Now, funnily enough, I don’t listen to any music – I expect what the BBC3 suggests or some other radios. Although sound, rhythm of language, the character’s voice is very important for me as I hear these things intuitively with my inner ear – probably that's the reason why I write pieces for radio theater, musical performances and operas.

Work or pleasure?
I love travelling, and the residencies I have done in my life were very productive and enriching as you connect with radiant people and get acquainted with new contexts. Not to mention that when I am in a foreign place, my senses get much more sensitive; plus I can feed my curiosity or hunt for new narratives. The thing is, those past 2 years I haven’t had such thing as a routine and I feel I need it badly. Now, when I am answering your questions, I am sitting somewhere in a small boring town in Sweden by the borderline with Norway: headed here (almost) directly from Venice. I must say I love this pace, and the mundane and hermit situation I am put in. Waking up at 7am, going to my office, then – lunch break and back to computer. A perfect place for writing, only I landed here with pockets full of deadlines, scheduled Skype calls, urgent to-do lists, etc. Even so, I am grateful for this sudden slowing down and opportunity to rest from the constant vivid experience, emotions, force majeure, people, art and attention.

Horror of horrors
I am afraid of living in fear. Of wasting my neurons and attention on meaningless things.

Header photo: Darius Jurevičius


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