ROBERTAS ANTINIS: TO ME, BOHEMIANISM IS COMMUNICATION WITH PEOPLE
Robertas Antinis Jr. is a painter, sculptor. In 1970, he completed design studies in the Latvian Academy of Art. Since 1990, he is a member of Postars group. The painter creates decorative sculptures, small-scale plastics, monuments and installations. He has been participating in exhibitions since 1969. He lives in Kaunas.
In your opinion, what is bohemian lifestyle? How much have you encountered this phenomenon?
It is a very fuzz term. People do a lot of things but not name them. To me, bohemianism is communicating with people. But it is also important with whom you communicate, where and about what. Therefore, communication is the key.
My first encounters with bohemians, even though I am not sure they were such, was in childhood. Since my early childhood, we called our parent a tulip man, because he liked sitting in Tulpė. We lived on the other side of Laisvės Alėja, in front of Tulpė so, we, children, were brought there in the evenings as well. Back then, it was allowed to bring children to cafés in evenings. He used to buy us cakes, drink coffee himself and communicate with people. In his studio, my father used to work alone, so in the evening, after work, he wanted to communicate with people. And not with any random person. Truikys used to come to Tulpė [scenographer Liudas Truikys] and other people as well, but my father was impressed by beautiful and smart women. He liked talking to them to improve his mood after hard work. Is it bohemianism? I don't know. But I am used to café culture since my early days...
So, did you spend a lot of times in cafés as well?
On the contrary, I spent so little time here, just drank some coffee. Of course, if I meet an interesting person, then I stay longer.
I remember the time of political breakthrough in 1980s, painters used to come in great numbers and discuss things in cafés, even though they knew that there were intelligence spies infiltrated among them. Now people have nothing to fear, but there are many people-parasites. I meet them quite often. You know what they are going to talk about before even you start a conversation. No use. So now, when going to a café, you don't know who you are going to meet. And I don't want to spend my time pointlessly, so I usually need to find a way to get out of it.
In your opinion, what is a perfect place for bohemians to meet? What is it like? Is there something similar in Kaunas?
I remember that there were two cafés in Berlin specifically for painters. In a big city, cafés are divided in accordance to their character. Kaunas is too little for such a special place to appear. But there was this café in Laisvės Alėja, next to Siena [and Miesto Sodas]. Various people used to gather here, who found it interesting listening to one another. It was called Taškas A... There used to come not only painters and other artists, but people from outside, who at least with their listening and observing would enter the bohemian context of Taškas A.
Could you tell us about your relationship with Laisvės Alėja: you grew up here and did your creative work. How this place is special for you?
I have lived in Laisvės Alėja since my childhood and I walk there every day. To me, Laisvės Alėja is first of all a historic place. I always remember various adventures and recognise signs that speak about one or other case in it. There are several very memorable things. First of all, self-immolation of Romas Kalanta and Sąjūdis that followed. I remember how I was walking in Laisvės Alėja during that unrest, and there, at the place of [self-immolation of R. Kalanta], there is a live chain of communists and intelligence agents, so people would not pass. There I saw my professor. I think that both for me and for him it has been an unpleasant moment. I think I haven't even said hello back then, just walked by. Another interesting moment that my father was supposed to build a monument for Kalanta, but eventually I got to do it.
I remember well that when I was little, Laisvės Alėja was not a pedestrian street. It sounds unbelievable, but I remember beer being brought to local bars in horse-drawn wagons. During the post-war years, Laisvės Alėja was completely different. Buses running through them are very bright in my memories. I remember running from home with my father to a bus in order not to be late... I remember spending time in Tulpė and later going outside and hailing a taxi. The taxi-driver was asking: "Where to?" and we told them: "Drive here, around Laisvės Alėja". And all this time, the driver would drive back and forth in Laisvės Alėja from Soboras to Gertrūdos Street. These were shenanigans of drunk people, because during the Soviet times, taxis where not expensive but they were hard to find. If people hailed one, they would have had fun with it.
I also remember girl-hunting in Laisvės Alėja: approaching and talking to them.
My parents told me that before the war, there were a lot of Jews in Kaunas, and they would all sit on the benches and talk in their language. This would create a unique atmosphere in the street.
Which places of gathering were popular during the Soviet times?
I have told about Tulpė quite a lot. There was also Orbita: a superb club! It was special in the general context. It was like a stripclub... Erotic videos were shown there.
What can I say about cafés in Laisvės Alėja... The fact is that in the evenings, it was hard to get there, the queues were long, but there were people who could skip them and get inside. They were ushered in by porters, there was a certain system of agreement signs. Blinking, nodding, waving, etc. It would be weird, if there were queues to get into a café, but then porters were very powerful. If they did not like you, you would not get inside.
Interview by Laura Spranaitytė