In 2011, Lithuanian architect Tadao Cern decided to get out of regulations and guidelines in order to follow his path as an artist. Thus, he first picked up a camera before getting into a more conceptual form of artistic expression, including installations and paintings. He gets inspired by simple everyday life things that arouse his curiosity, and then transforms them into something creative and gives them different meanings and purposes. We spoke with him about his works and techniques to create a unique childlike sense of discovery.
Could you please introduce yourself? Tell us where are you from and about your background?
A decision to change from a career in architecture to photography in 2011 paved the way for my path as an artist. I began with an extreme series of windswept portraits called Blow Job, a new interpretation of Van Gogh's self-portrait, titled Revealing the Truth, and Comfort Zone, a documentary photo project of beach sunbathers, each of which gained considerable attention. The viral success of these projects led to exhibitions across the world, they've won numerous photo awards and opened opportunities for me to create campaigns for many high-end brands including Samsung, New Yorker, BMW, Chupa Chups, etc. After a five-year long fun-ride, in 2016, I decided to move to a more conceptual form of artistic expression with my newly created projects, Black Balloons, Chromatic Aberrations, Hanging Paintings, etc. I live and work in Vilnius (Lithuania) and continue to exhibit both photographic and art installation works globally.
You’ve completed a career as an architect, right? For how long have you been so? And why and how did you end up being photographer and installation artist?
It took me six years to get my master’s degree in architecture and three years of work to finally realise that architecture was not a perfect path for me, because I needed more creative freedom that wouldn’t be limited by any regulations or clients. So, a minute after I decided to quit, I started trying out many different things and one of them was picking up a camera.
What artists inspire you? What else constantly influences your work?
I can draw inspiration from everyone, and even a simple daily life activity can become something creative. There are no specific rules or guidelines; I am curious about everything and that curiosity usually evokes many questions that I try to answer using visual arts. But if I had to choose subjects that interest me the most, that would be contemporary art and science.
How would you describe your art?
I try not to take everything around me for granted – I question everything a lot, and all I create comes out of curiosity. I’m looking for things that can bring that unique childlike sense of discovery. That is the reason why it might seem that I am working on so many different themes and trying not to stick to one media. But actually, all that I’m trying to do is look for something ‘not obvious in the very obvious’; and how the same thing in a different environment or conditions gets a totally different meaning and purpose.
You’ve done an amazing work with Revealing the Truth by changing the artistic media form of these well-known paintings. Could you tell us about how was the process of recreation and about the truth revealed here?
I was really curious about what value does the medium itself give to the artwork. So I decided to take a painting and make an exact copy of it using photography. The first painting I decided to put my hands on was Van Gogh’s self-portrait. Ironically, the artist never had any photos taken of him, so it was interesting to see the end result of my experiment. I found a friend who has red hair and beard, hired a stylist and spent a day in a studio creating a foundation for something that later became viral all over the world. At the end, at least in my own opinion, the medium shouldn’t bring any extra value to the work, but it changes the viewer’s perception about it. And turning one of the most famous paintings into a photograph distorted the conception of reality for many, including myself.
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Your photo series entitled Comfort Zone is also revealing truth about people. Moreover, the people in this series did not suspect that they were being photographed. How did this shoot come up? Could you speak about the stories these photographs are revealing? And how did you manage your work not to be seen by these vacationers?
I started this series because I was surprised by how a certain place or surrounding can affect people's behaviour. During our everyday life, we attempt to hide our deficiencies, both physical and psychological. However, once we find ourselves on a beach we forget about everything and start acting in an absolutely different manner. Is that because everyone else around you is doing the same? We intend to make an average of ourselves compared to our surrounding, and that way we try not to stand out. People should care less about what others may think about them and be less judgmental themselves.
These photos are not about a specific person, and a recognizable face would make the viewer feel really uncomfortable. I wanted these images to look very type-logical, something you would expect to find in a biology book or encyclopaedia. They are about our culture, habits and behaviours at certain places and situations. That is why from the beginning of the project I knew that I was going to show photos of people who had their faces covered. This way, I created a comfort zone not only for the subject in my images, but also for the viewer.
When I published the project, I've got an email from a girl asking if those images were real. I said yes and she told me that she found her father in one of them. I gave her the print, which she gave as a Christmas present to her father – he really liked it and hung it in his bedroom. It's the one with a man who has his face covered with a captain's hat.
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In 2016, you tried something new once again when you decided to create a series of paintings you called Chromatic Aberrations. What type of painting did you use to achieve this result? Why and where did you find this interest in imperfections?
I was wondering whether it is possible to create an optical illusion (chromatic aberration is specific) using only traditional medium tools. I took colour pencils, drew something very simple on a piece of paper, took a photo of it and saw an amazing effect reveal on my phone screen. Out of that excitement I bought ten big canvases the same day, brought them to my studio and started experimenting. I spent a week only testing different painting mediums until I created my own, perfect for that specific purpose – make an even and perfectly executed imperfection. I believe that these things interest us because they bring the joy of finding something unexpected; and perfection works in the opposite way – there is no surprise in it – because it is a result that you hope to achieve.
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Let’s talk about Black Balloons now and how did this project come up to you. 
Everything I create comes out of curiosity. The same happened with this project. For an extensive amount of time I had an idea to connect two balloons. I found a moment of free time between other projects that were going on back then, bought two balloons, and got overwhelmed by the result. It was so unpretentious and so magical at the same time! That opposition created by two very simple and playful objects once again brought a unique childlike sense of discovery.
This experience uncovers a lot and the more one looks at it, the more it becomes true: simplicity is genius. For the first test, I only used two balloons and two different gases: helium and sulphur hexafluoride – the light and the heavy ones. Later on, I worked out how to make the balloons float in the middle of a glass tank without connecting them to anything. It's the never-ending story of an explorer. Furthermore, they interact with the spectator in so many ways – one can only imagine how a sculpture made out of four hundred balloons would react to a wind that one creates just by walking next to it.
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One of your latest installations, Hanging Paintings, is very beautiful because of the colours’ association but also because of these fine hallmarks. What was your inspiration when you realised this work? How and why did you choose this setting to spotlight the fabric? And why did you select wool?
The day when I created these ‘paintings’ I wanted to see something beautiful, intimate and purposeless in front of my eyes. It came to me as a vision and I believe that the main inspiration source for that was some sort of clothing combination. Maybe it was a result of my childhood memory of my mother’s coats hanging on the hanger. But every single piece that I did for these series felt like a revelation to me and I keep doing them over and over again. What I love the most about them is that they are absolutely good-for-nothing objects and that nobody ever wore them and nobody will.
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From architecture to photography, then from photography to painting, and also installations. You’ve been trying a lot of different ways to express your creative point of view. What makes you want to explore and try these different forms of art? Is it important to you to be able to step out of your comfort zone?
I’d say there are two answers to this question: first, what is it that makes others want to limit themselves with just one form of art? And second, I really do like challenging myself, and staying in my comfort zone for too long bores me. So for these reasons I’ve decided to try something more than just photography, and we live in a time where we have capabilities to do so really easily. I don’t think that we should distinguish someone by the medium they use to express himself or herself, and I don’t think that artists should think about themselves in that way too.
What can we expect from Tadao Cern’s next projects?
More testing, failing and eventually succeeding.
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