The Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung gallery in Berlin showcases the work of the Lithuanian photographer Kazimiras Mizgiris who has spent decades photographing the changing moods of a dune-covered landscape on the Baltic coast. Because the negatives are now lost, most of the photographs are unique and seem as fragile and ephemeral as the landscapes they portray.
The Curonian Spit is a sixty-mile-long bar of sand darting like a lizard’s tongue from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad toward the Lithuanian coast. According to local mythology it was sculpted by a sea goddess, the giantess Neringa. A quick look at Kazimiras Mizgiris’s photographs suffices to realize that the divine play-making is endless and ongoing. It isn’t hard to imagine enormous hands shaping wet sand into fantastic sculptures or smoothing the dunes and leaving sinuous traces of fingertips running across the landscape.
At home in exile
The Lithuanian photographer Kazimiras Mizgiris arrived in the village of Nida in 1974 as an intellectual exile: it was common in those days for the Communist authorities to banish into sparsely populated provinces “elements” they considered “dangerous” or “corrupted”. This little fishing village and a former German artists colony, with its salty air, sand that gets into everything, including one’s soup bowl, and its morphing landscapes, quickly got under Mizgiris’s skin, and he never thought of leaving.
In addition to his photographic practice, he is an amber collector and dealer and founder of the local amber museum. One day he received a visit from a German gallery curator interested in the town's past, and specifically in finding traces of the German Bauhaus photographer Alfred Ehrhardt. It took ten years before Christiane Stahl was able to follow up on her discovery and invite the Lithuanian photographer to exhibit his work at the Alfred Ehrhardt Gallery in Berlin.
“Poetically man dwells on this earth…”
Mizgiris’s work seems to embody what Hölderlin had in mind when he invoked the idea of poetically inhabiting the earth. Poetry is an act of making, and for Mizgiris this means being attentive to the creativity of natural elements: the wind driving coarse grains of sand along the slope of a dune like a fine mist or transporting minute particles through the air in sudden bursts; kneading sand mixed with rain into curious shapes only to erode them into impossible pillars; or bending the spine of a crescent dune as if some giant were tossing in his sleep…
The photographer’s work often consists, somewhat paradoxically, in inactivity: “You need patience to wait for the moment when the miracle of the formation of sea, wind, sun, and clouds in the sand happens,” Mizgiris explains. “You have to wait until a cloud forms over the dunes and for the shadow to move where you need it.” The photographer skillfully combines contemplative slowness attuned to the rhythms of nature with a palette of chance elements.
Abstraction and imagination
Mizgiris’s work dialogs with a selection of images by Alfred Ehrhardt (1901–1984). The German photographer was fascinated by the emergence of abstract forms in nature. Like Mizgiris, he spent years photographing ephemeral dunes and tidal flats, documenting birds’ footprints cutting a right angle against the arc of a dune, micro-sinkholes and ridges, ripples and dimples in the sand… Whereas Ehrhardt was always looking for patterns, Mizgiris’s relationship to the landscape is essentially that of a poet: dunes are once again a playground of gods, a primal site of world creation, where all geological forms are invented and erased, as if a child deity were learning her trade.
By Ela Kotkowska
100 Years of Bauhaus, Part IV: The Curonian Spit: Kazimiras Mizgris & Alfred Ehrhardt
September 21 - December 22, 2019
Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung, Auguststr. 75, D - 10117 Berlin