INTERVIEW: Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte

Fòcas Programme Director Katherine Parhar interviews Fòcas Exhibitor Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, a photographer based in Glasgow about her project Away Home. 

© Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte

F: Away Home is a series of still life images about the food immigrants to Scotland traditionally make in their homelands and miss here. You share that experience, of missing and trying to evoke home, with the people you worked on Away Home with, don’t you?

K: I do indeed. This series was kickstarted by my own experience of moving to Scotland. Once my mum flew here to visit me and half of her hand luggage was taken up by pancakes made by grandma earlier that day. My own shopping during the holidays in Lithuania always ended up filling the suitcase with buckwheat, cheese, ham and Lithuanian chocolates. I frequented the Polish or Eastern European shops in Glasgow. These experiences made me think about cultural identity, belonging and home. Smell and taste can bring up memories we don’t know we have, making these senses very powerful when it comes to defining who we are.

When I asked people with migrant experiences to answer some questions about their memories of food, family and home, I realised this was a very emotional topic for most. Here flowed the stories of family breakfasts on Sundays, grandma’s special dishes, fruit picked up in local markets. The stories were not so much about national cuisines or nationalities, but more about individual family traditions, mixed heritage and nearly always, belonging.

F: It reminds me so much of Dutch still life painting, which rose to prominence as a genre when the Dutch began colonising and became a nation that traded and travelled globally; was this something you intended to reference?

K: Yes, the classic Dutch paintings were on my mind from the very beginning. Partly as a result of a simple snap I took of my groceries from the Polish deli with the intention to send it to my mum. I accidentally arranged them in this familiar composition, perhaps because I did a lot of painting and art history during my secondary school years, and this immediately gave me an idea. I still had to find the best way to light, arrangement, source props and fabric to make it work, and it took some time.

I was also interested in the familiarity of this imagery, and the message that vanitas paintings conveyed reminding the viewer of their mortality. Away Home twists the message slightly, reminding of one’s own identity and home as a thing to not forget. Again, through showing foods that reference certain cultures, but also very mixed influences, I was hoping to speak of individuals rather than nations. I wanted each picture to not be simplified to a “German” or a “Japanese” still life, but reflect people, who shared their memories with me.

Dutch colonial history must have seeped in as well, even though at the time of making this work it wasn’t the main theme. However I do see migration as a result of complex histories and various factors including political and economical, that then translates into personal experience of each migrant and the families they left behind.

© Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte

F: You’ve gone on to work more personally with your feelings of place, with your new project In Silver, which takes up your family archives as creative material, doesn’t it?

K: In Silver responds to the rediscovered photographic archive from my father’s youth. A big box of films and photographic slides was recently given to me and whilst scanning it I discovered photographs that no one remembers seeing. They were not selected for printing and just stayed rolled up in a dusty cupboard for years. Pictures revealed parties, travels, political protests, my childhood and our home, all in the context of the last decade of USSR. I knew I had to do something with them, and started photographing my response using expired film as old as the one my father had used. The idea that the silver particles in these films are the same age, some even made in the same country (I managed to get some Soviet Svema film) was making me think of materiality, the value we give to memory, time and change.

Both sets of images: my father’s and my own are intended as a record of time, meant for the family album. By combining them, and allowing the visual qualities to merge through faded colours, scratches and dust, In Silver weaves a new narrative spanning over two geographical points, two eras and two political regimes

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte (born 1986, Vilnius, Lithuania) lives and works in Glasgow. She studied at the Glasgow School of Art gaining the 1st class BA in Visual Communication in 2008 and a Masters in Fine Art with distinction in 2015.

Recent exhibitions include Tabula Rasa ll, Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow (2017), Amber Room, galerie LAME, La Photographie Marseille, France (2016), Jill Todd photographic award, Stills, Edinburgh (2016), Other 8, Klaipeda Cultural Communication Centre, Lithuania (2016), Peripheral Histories, Lighthouse and Platform, Glasgow (2016) and Tabula Rasa, Kaunas Gallery, Kaunas, Lithuania (2015). Recent awards include Lithuanian Culture Council grant, Glasgow Visual Artist award and Eaton Fund Grant.

She has worked with moving image commissions, in the field of archive digitisation and guest lectured at the Glasgow School of Art. She currently holds a role of assistant curator at Kaunas Photo festival, Lithuania.

Instagram: @kotrynaula

Twitter: @kotrynaula