Land of longing

2013, November 20

Author: Artūras Valiauga

A landscape that is close to the sight and far in the memories, concealing the burial mounds of Nadruvians and Skalvians, emerged on the bones of Prussians, Lithuanians, Frenchmen, Germans, and Russians, defying any harmoniously balanced composition. The landscape of a place that is still fenced in, a Stalker zone that fills you with restlessness, by nature recognizable in treetop sunset, bright spring greenery, midsummer scents, sticky autumnal dirt in the road, and winter’s white silence. A land that has preserved the legend of Lithuania Minor and the memory of Kristijonas Donelaitis in the time cycle of The Seasons. The Land of Longing where the past is more persistent than the present.

Truth in these photographs is not what you can see, but what you can feel as you look.

Eglė Deltuvaitė, Arturas Valiauga


The photographic project The Land of Longing attempts to view Donelaitis’ Lithuania Minor in the context of today. The Königsberg area (Kaliningrad Oblast) localities recorded in the photographs have to do with the life experience of classical author and may, hopefully, have been the landscape of the social environment of his poem.

The Seasons by Kristijonas Donelaitis, this core masterpiece, fundamental for Lithuanian literature, and Arturas Valiauga’s The Land of Longing testify together to the subtlety of our history and our complicated identity. The archaic language used almost three centuries ago is quite far removed from today’s mundanity and, were it not for school curriculi, would probably only serve as the object of literature and history’s interest. Paradoxically, photography, one of the younger and most universal art forms, begins a complex dialogue about our perception of identity and of historical events and our collective memory, as it interprets one of the most complicated works of Lithuanian literature. This combination may at first sight look like an unfortunate misunderstanding, but in fact it brings together 17th century thinking and 21st century experiences, questioning the existence and establishing commonly human values and mistakes.

The four languages used purposely in the book draw parallels between history and the flow of time inseparable from it, forming the context for the photography project. But that’s not all. A book within the book touches on the meaning of the so-called Lithuania Minor region for the history of Lithuania itself and its culture. There is probably no other land outside the mapped territory of our country so alive and permanent in our minds. This may be why being in that land and reflecting on historical facts, legends, and stories evokes a sense of restlessness. This is not a fear of loss, but of recognition, which becomes nostalgia once fully perceived. It is nostalgia for foreign and familiar landscapes, faces, language, architecture, and memory without experience. Valiauga’s photographs let us experience through images, creating a photodocumentary justification of nostalgia.

The photographs are about a Russian region where the third generation after the wars grows without searching for their roots in the “broad fatherland”. They forge their own social identity, linking it with the reviving consumer vision of Prussian culture that encourages economic, political, and cultural change in the region.

These subjective photographic documents, touching history ever so slightly and following in the steps of Donelaitis’ biography, become a chronicle of modern Königsberg area, a visual, non-verbal Seasons. A book within the book. It is about longing.