By Silvija Daniūnaitė
Your everyday mess might well be someone else’s idea of artistic beauty.
Monika Balu is a 23-year-old Lithuanian artist currently based in Groningen, the Netherlands. She has recently caught the public’s eye through her unusual photography series on food leftovers and dirty dance floors.
Growing up in a small village in Lithuania, Monika has always been a child of nature, drawing inspiration from untouched wilderness, and its unpredictable beauty. As a child, she began observing the deepest corners of Lithuanian forests, documenting all the small details and patterns that caught the attention of her curious blue eyes.
“I enjoyed nature and the best way to make the impression last is to make photographs,” Monika said when explaining where her passion for photography came from.
Studying Fine Arts at the Minerva Academy in Groningen and getting introduced to contemporary art opened up many more horizons for Monika to discover as a photographer. The themes she chose to explore in her photography series are somewhat unusual for most who stumble upon her work for the very first time.
In her series, Monika draws attention to the neglected or the mundane, aiming to catch what is often missed by people caught up in the rush of everyday life.
For example, tracing people’s daily activities, rituals and routines, Monika often turns her lens to the mess of everyday life.
“I believe that my role as an artist is to reveal the relation between people and objects, and to tweak this relationship in order to uplift the negligible details of mundane life,” she told The Scoop.
“It’s the colours, the combinations, the randomness. I perceive it as a beautiful abstraction with information on human behaviour,” she adds.
One of her recent, more abstract projects focuses on photographing plates of guests’ leftovers at restaurants.
Asked about where such original ideas for her projects come from, Monika once again stresses the importance of her surroundings.
“I draw inspiration from surroundings. While washing dishes in a restaurant in Groningen, I found some plates so beautiful that I didn’t want to wash them.”
While shooting the project, the young artist realised that “photographing certain aspects of activities can reveal a lot about human habits.”
She devoted herself to learning as much as possible about the patterns and differences in human behaviour and our preferences when it comes to eating food.
“I noticed that people in general are afraid of unfamiliar things, [sometimes] leaving 70% of a meal unfinished. Also, people tend to reorganise food while eating to one side of the plate.”
Her simple observations of these leftovers even helped the restaurant improve the ways in which their meals are served and prepared, allowing chefs to work on ingredient selection and portion size.
Being a student herself, Monika knows that in addition to food, nightlife is an inseparable part of every student’s life. Wanting to explore the nightlife Groningen had to offer from an artistic perspective, she decided to photograph dance floors after the parties have ended and the club doors have long been shut in the earliest hours of the morning.
“When I started cleaning a bar every Sunday morning, this incredible mess of shattered glass and dirt fascinated me.”
Pursuing such a project, however, posed many challenges that Monika had to overcome.
“Approximately between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m. I could go and take pictures of the dance floors, so it was tough to get up very early or simply stay awake until there was a suitable time for shooting,” she told The Scoop.
Monika remembers the tough negotiations with disgruntled owners in order to get access to closed bars and clubs. As an artist, she felt the responsibility of making them understand what the project was about and why it was so important to her.
Monika was pleasantly surprised that her projects received such positive feedback from the public. Up until this day, she receives photographs from a variety of people, who have spotted interesting patterns either on their plates or the dance floors.
“People got my idea. It’s all about perspective. Aesthetics can be found anywhere, you just have to look around.”