Step Into the Messy Studio of Artist Robertas Narkus as He Prepares to Represent Lithuania at the Venice Biennale

Each week leading up to the Venice Biennale in April, Artnet News brings you into the studio of an artist as they prepare for acclaimed exhibitions in and around the Giardini.

Artist Robertas Narkus in his studio. Courtesy of the artist.
Artist Robertas Narkus in his studio. Courtesy of the artist.

The main word Lithuanian artist Robertas Narkus uses to describe his studio is “messy,” which makes sense: his work is messy too.

You would expect it to be, given his intense interest in the knotty systems that govern our day-to-day lives: globalization, gentrification, microbiology, food production. He’s turned a museum gallery into a factory manned by invisible workers, founded an Institute of Pataphysics, and launched a “hypothetical startup.”

In short, the world is not neat, and neither is Narkus’s art. 

Fittingly, what the artist has planned for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale is almost impossible to imagine. A social sculpture called Gut Feeling, the project will be installed in a piazza in Venice’s Castello district and will encompass sculpture, photo collage, video, and the live manufacturing of a “mysterious product” made from an invasive species of algae. The piece, according to the Biennale’s description, will feature “distorted elements of laboratory, factory and shop, producing futuristic experiments made in situ with organic material and automated and programmed parts making repetitive gestures.”

Waiting for his many creations to arrive in Venice, Narkus spoke with Artnet News about Gut Feeling, his studio life, and the importance of walking.

Robertas Narkus in a favorite studio chair. Courtesy of the artist.

Robertas Narkus in a favorite studio chair. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you send us a snap of the most indispensable item(s) in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it?

Okay, I will admit my studio is messy. It’s an eternal battle between chaos and order and every little item might play a role. On the other hand, I’m not attached to things or items at all—easy come easy go. But I do have a special love for chairs.

An artwork in need of unpacking. Courtesy of the artist.

An artwork in need of unpacking. Courtesy of the artist.

When it comes to planning for your country’s pavilion, what is the studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?

Actually, I just landed in Venice and am waiting for the truck with all the installations to arrive. Aren’t unwrapping videos so pleasant to watch for [some] reason?

Narkus with collaborator David Zilber. Courtesy of the artist.

Narkus with collaborator David Zilber. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you send us a picture from your last site visit to Venice? What was the main to-do of that trip?

In this picture, me and one of my collaborators, David Zilber, are trying to catch some last drops of sunlight. We could be plotting something about dirt, directed evolution, microbiology, or invasive species, but are probably just figuring out where are we gonna grab a spritz.

Some people in Narkus's life [L to R]: Dovile Grigaliūnaitė, David Zilber, Nerijus Rimkus, and Neringa Bumbliene. Courtesy of the artist.

Some people in Narkus’s life [L to R]: Dovile Grigaliūnaitė, David Zilber, Nerijus Rimkus, and Neringa Bumbliene. Courtesy of the artist.

What has been the biggest challenge so far, as you prepare for the Venice Biennale?

People. People are the biggest challenge—they are everywhere! I’m also a human being with all the good and bad sides of that, yet I’m so blessed to be working with friends and amazing characters.

A work in progress. Courtesy of the artist.

A work in progress. Courtesy of the artist.

When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?

Walk. Walk and never come back the same way. Even if I know the neighborhood by heart, every stone of it, I try to find a corner that I’ve never noticed. It works, one hundred percent guaranteed. 

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I love works that are riskier. That can mean different things. 

What are you looking at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or computer—wherever you spend the most time.

Narkus's desk. Courtesy of the artist.

Narkus’s desk. Courtesy of the artist.

What is one film, piece of writing, or other artwork that inspired you most in preparing for Venice?

It must be the book What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry.

What’s your favorite hideaway to eat, drink, or to take a break in Venice?

Frankly, you can find me at Campo de le Gatte every morning or afternoon. That is the salizada where we hang out. Bar Al Canton or Trattoria da Jonny. Come! The pavilion is also on the same street.

A work in progress. Courtesy of the artist.

A work in progress. Courtesy of the artist.

What has been the biggest challenge so far, as you prepare for the Venice Biennale?

Dealing with myself.


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