GUEST OF THE MAGAZINE. Peter Greenaway: ‘In the beginning was the word’ must be untrue. In the beginning was the image’


The readers of JŪRA MOPE SEA magazine have already seen the name of the famous British film director, writer and artist Peter GREENAWAY in the magazine before. His drawings illustrated our publications on Jack Kerouac’s Beat Painting exhibition. Mr Greenaway’s drawing was also featured on one of our last year’s magazine covers. This time the magazine cover features Peter Greenaway himself, together with the Lithuanian photo artist Antanas Sutkus.

At the end of June Peter Greenaway, accompanied by his wife, the multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke, visited Lithuania, meeting local art and culture figures. This artistic couple is expected to come to the 10 jours en Lituanie, the days of Lithuanian art and culture in Locarno.

Mr Greenaway, you are the most important figure at various cinema festivals, have been nominated as a film director, artist and writer, also received several dozens of film festival awards.
However, during Locarno Film Festival you choose to be at Leonardo da Vinci il Rivellino Gallery that you refer to as the centre of multimedia art, and the events, organised by your friend Arminio Sciolli. One of these events, according to the press, ‘exploded’ with your interactive multimedia movie 92 Atomic Bomb Explosions on the Planet Earth.

Will you also join the 10 jours en Lituanie project at il Rivellino Gallery this year? What artistic excitement awaits the festival guests?

I believe I have been invited to the il Rivellino Gallery this summer and am curious about the exhibit Ten Days in Lithuania. Let’s wait and see.

For almost two decades your fans, followers and critics have been analysing and contemplating your statement that cinema is dead. Despite the fact that you have produced excellent masterpieces of cinema and have been rather actively participating at numerous international film festivals, conducting master classes, you keep reminding your audiences of the sad truth that cinema is, in fact, dead.
Do not spill unnecessary tears over the demise of current cinema. I am not so certain that – as you say – that the death of cinema is necessarily so sad. What comes next could be vastly exciting and innovative. And surprising. It has been proven that each new art form has in many ways been superior and more sophisticated and reached further in the ability to express emotion and intellect than the last. It can be observed that of all the many technological aesthetics we have experienced in the western world over the last three hundred years that have serviced cultural experiments, cinema is one of the latest, but already has been overtaken by new developments. The advances in Holography for example. The reinvention of manipulated artificial worlds like Second Life. The multiple forms of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), the persuasions of Virtual Reality, the uses of the Touch Screen, along with the invention of such wonders as miniaturised drone technology – all these inventions, when understood and operated by inventive imaginations (and that necessarily will take time), are leaving the cinema that our grandfathers knew far behind – so far behind that can we anymore include them under the title of cinema? Maybe we need a new vocabulary for these developments.
Such is the fertility of human ingenuity to express itself, new technologies are inventing new languages almost every day. The friends, cousins and relations of Microsoft are forever pushing boundaries. In cinema itself, for example, the demise of the celluloid film in the 1980s has heralded new language possibilities such that can we really call contemporary cinema ‘cinema’ anymore? The versatility of miniaturised equipment, the mobility and excellence of digital reproduction, the invention of extremely lightweight cameras, heat cameras, information technology that can see in the dark, is computer driven, is moving towards artificial intelligence operations that needs no human operation, the use of deep underwater camera equipment and very sophisticated surveillance cameras that are virtually invisible to the unguarded eye – step by step – is taking us away from the limited cinema of our fathers and forefathers. And to good ends if it forever increases our ability to see further and deeper into our world. The curve of invention in painting associated, as always, with new technologies – new materials, plastic paints, aniline dyes, printing techniques, over the last five hundred years – dragging with it new ambitions, new philosophies, new media conceptions – has obviously created many things that would have amazed Raphael and Rembrandt.
It will always be like that. So weep no tears for the demise of cinema.

However, visiting Lithuania this year you said that cinema is not dead after all, because it has never been born and we’ve hardly seen it. Wow! How do we continue to live with this knowledge?

Do not be intimidated. Knowledge is always on the march. We have only had cinema for some 120 years. I have continually been frustrated that we have a cinema that is text-based – I do not think we ought to have a writer’s cinema – the need to tell a story in illustrated words is unnecessary. Audiences scarcely recall the story. The cinema experience is of a different order. We ought to have a painter’s cinema. The very best painting is non-narrative. Why should cinema be a slave to literature? Cinema is about the moving image. Let us endeavour to cut the umbilical cord between the mother bookshop and the child cinema. Let us try to invent a text-free cinema. Until the primacy of text, the literary, the smell of the bookshop, words, words, words, is undertaken – then cinema remains an embryo. Have you ever had a conversation with an embryo?

Does your cooperation with representatives of modern art signify the beginning of image-based cinema?

Not just ‘modern art’ – all visual culture – which at a conservative estimate is at least ten thousand years old in the western world. God sent Adam out into the world to name everything – how could he name anything unless there was first of all an image. ‘In the beginning was the word’ must be untrue. In the beginning was the image.

In Vilnius you’ve met Antanas Sutkus, who has provided the world with numerous brilliant photos of the writers and philosophers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir visiting Lithuania.
The fact that the world-known artist Peter Greenaway and his wife, the famous multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke, visit Lithuania to meet various people of art and culture is no surprise, but back in 1965, while Lithuania was living under totalitarian regime, the visit of Sartre and de Beauvoir was huge and unbelievable, sprouting in numerous written and visual pieces of art. In your opinion, what influence does art and the personalities’ creating it have on the modern society? Is art capable of having some influence overall?
What do you think? Does not our present conversation give you the answer to your question?

Hm... Let’s say so. If there’s anyone thinking otherwise, they’ll have to return to the beginning of this conversation.
Maestro, thank you for this scintillating and thought-provoking conversation.
Nevertheless, I do not find the perspective of the word giving way to the image very bright. Humanity has gone a long way to learn express their thoughts in words although they had images. Did God sent Adam into the world to name everything in vain?..

Maestro Peter Greenaway and maestro Antanas Sutkus were interviewed by
Zita Tallat-Kelpšaitė


The magazine SEA has been published since 1935
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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

ISSN 1392-7825

2017 ©