Žiūra's first mature body of work is also, incidentally, the only one represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Art. Pushing his painting practice into three-dimensionality and challenging the expectation of what an image should contain, the various works sharing the title Dead Water all incorporate surfaces poured over with paraffin (sometimes mixed with kerosene to soften it), frames (covered in paraffin, stearin and wax mixture) and glass plate. The first work in the series (1994, 120 × 120 × 12 cm) was an attempt to simultaneously create and negate 'the perfect image', stripped of all pictorial content and accessible only through the glassed frame. The second manifestation of this idea included a triptych subtitled God's Pine Grove (1995, each piece 160 × 160 × 16 cm, collection of the National Gallery of Art, Vilnius) that further accentuated the stasis of the image, while the third and final stage of the project was called Dead Water: Coffin (1996, 80 × 80 × 80 cm) and transposed the image into an object that responds to the visual convention of a fish tank with, or without the dead weight of water.
To date, Žiūra's only substantial continuation of the three-dimensionality in Dead Water: Coffin is the work Mould (1998, 15 × 7.5 × 3.75 cm; collection of Kiasma, Helsinki). In his own words, it is 'made out of coins collected from the fountain in the park outside the former palace of Count Tiškevičius in Palanga on 28 August 1997 and 31 August 1998. Small change, thrown into the fountain "for luck" by around 6,000 people of different ages, nationalities and social status.' These coins had accumulated during two summers in the popular Baltic Sea resort. The coins were of different provenience and made from different alloys, which is why the block of metal is 'pockmarked' by incompatibilities and impurities rising to the surface during the melting-together process.
Mould was first shown in Žiūra's solo exhibition Another Space at CAC Vilnius at the end of 1998. Curated by Raimundas Malašauskas, this decidedly 'environmental' project consisted of three parts, all presented in a space whose walls had been covered with a deep blue plastic film and accompanied by ambient sound. First, Mould was shown on a plinth, upholstered in blue velvet. The second visual element was a video projection of underwater plants moving in a cold-water current. Finally, there was a projection of six slides of a young woman, draped in white fabric and lying in a glass case gradually becoming opaque from the condensation produced by her breathing. Žiūra was constantly present in another room, observing all the goings-on in the exhibition hall on surveillance monitors and sometimes communicating with the visitors through a microphone and headphones placed in front of this projection. Two kinds of texts were also presented as part of the installation: a theoretical explanatory essays about the installation, and excerpts from Žiūra's virtual book Journey, an indirect continuation of the exhibited images. Another Space marked Žiūra's departure from the production and presentation of material three-dimensional art objects; thereafter he has worked almost exclusively with lens-based imagery.
Palanga (2000, DV, 90') is a montage from 40 hours of video material, shot during a summer spent at the Lithuanian seaside drawing portraits of holidaying passers-by. Like any such material, this long video becomes a time-capsule of something that was once the everyday: the off-duty behaviour of cash-strapped Lithuanians towards the end of the 'period of transition' that followed the recreation of their country's independence in 1990-1991. And the physical environment of Palanga has already deteriorated inexorably as a result of city development in the first boom years a decade ago. More than anything, Palanga shows us Žiūra's interest in portraiture and visualisation from a panoramic angle.
In 2001 Žiūra went back to the village of Gustoniai in northern Lithuania, where he spent much of his childhood. In a fit of inspired activity, he made 59 one-minute video portraits of its inhabitants. This first instalment of the series Gustoniai (2001, DV, 59') was premiered in the exhibition Self-Esteem: Lithuanian Art 2001 at CAC Vilnius, curated by Anders Kreuger. Žiūra committed himself to repeating this action every three years for at least 15 years, and so far another four versions have been released (2004, DV, 67'; 2007, HDV, 59'; 2010, HDV, 57'; 2013, HDV, 60'). Gustoniai should be considered in the context of other projects following the same group of people over a number of years, usually documentary films for cinema or television such as Die Kinder von Golzow (GDR, 1961-2006), the Up! series (UK, 1964-) or Barnen från Jordbro (Sweden, 1972-1994). Yet Žiūra's work steers clear of any language-based narrative and portrays the microcosm of the village (as an image of the macrocosm of society) exclusively by letting us meet the gaze of all these people looking into his video camera.
Gustoniai was also where Žiūra realised his first photographic project, in the winter of 2004. Together with a professional photographer he portrayed all its families (30 colour prints, each 40 × 40 cm) and they also took detailed aerial views, from a balloon, of the villagers' houses embedded in vast stretches of snow-covered fields and with a decommissioned narrow-gauge railway line in the background (3 colour prints, each 100 × 100 cm). These images were shown in his solo exhibition Other Voices, Other Rooms at the Magazzino d'Arte Moderna gallery in Rome in 2005, organised and funded by the gallery and curated by Cloe Piccoli. After this exhibition Žiūra continued to work experimentally with photography on his own.
The first version of the Gustoniai video was also screened at Manifesta 5 in San Sebastian, Spain, in 2004. Around this time Žiūra also worked on other lens-based projects, notably Collection (2003, DV, 8'33"). The title is straightforward but also provocative; the work consists of 100 video clips, each five seconds long, of enamelled photographic portraits on tombstones in Lithuanian cemeteries, mostly in Vilnius. Žiūra makes his viewers browse through this collection of attractive girls and women, many of whom died too young, and wonder what might have happened to them. The shifting light only heighten the sense of guilty pleasure at the core of Collection, which was also the title of Žiūra's first solo exhibition at Gallery Antje Wachs in Berlin in 2007.
In his second solo exhibition at CAC Vilnius in 2006 Žiūra showed the project Portraits (2005, 22 colour prints, each 60 × 60 cm; compilation of one-minute video clips, DV, 60'). He travelled extensively in Lithuania for a whole year, photographing and filming a large number of pre-pubescent girls - no longer children, not yet women. Throughout the series we also see the seasons changing - from early spring to the beginning of winter - which emphasises the models' relation to the landscape they inhabit. The photographs are full-figure, while the video clips show only their faces. Portraits is at least as voyeuristic as Collection. Yet it is also, like Gustoniai, a visual social analysis of contemporary Lithuanian society with its remaining differences between rural and urban populations.
The next step for Žiūra, after focusing explicitly on portraiture for a few years, was to explore other, but no less intimate, aspects of contemporary visuality by paying close attention to his physical surroundings. In 2006 and 2007 he laid the foundations for a distinctly pictorial approach to the photographic image, using good analogue and digital equipment. He chose to give these new photographs the overarching title Visuals.
A first series of 25 thoroughly composed and deliberately static images are concentrated fragments or extracts of what Žiūra saw as he moved through the world in those years: the morgue and a tree growing out the asphalt near his home in Vilnius, his flat before it was renovated, the pillow in his studio, an underwater view of the swimming pool at Lazdynai, also in Vilnius, a cup of tea in the IASPIS residency in Stockholm, flowers on the island of Sylt, the Baltic Sea at Jūrmala in Latvia…
The first work illustrated here (2006, C-print mounted on glass, 24 × 24 cm) shows the moonlit interior of the Catholic church of Joniškėlis, shot at night with 8 hours' exposure. This 18th century architecture, poised between baroque and neo-classicism in the way of the final years of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth before its demise in 1795, was Žiūra's own first experience of art. Revisiting it as a mature artist meant finding ways to look beyond its comparative smallness and provinciality, and the dramatic lighting effect is one response to this dilemma.
The second illustration is taken from the series Visuals/Udmurtia (2007, 12 C-prints mounted on aluminium, each 74.5 × 74.5 cm), which was created for the group exhibition The Continental Unconscious: Contemporary Art and the Finno-Ugrian World at KUMU in Tallinn in 2008, curated by Anders Kreuger. Selected images from this series were also shown in Manifesta 7 in Bolzano the same year. Žiūra spent a few weeks in November 2007 driving through the towns and villages of Udmurtia, an autonomous republic in north-eastern European Russia, and photographing the material traces of its inhabitants. 1941-1945 are, of course, the dates of the Great Patriotic War, which is how the Second World War is still referred to in Russia.
The third illustration exemplifies the content of the series Visuals/Borderland (2007, 9 C-prints mounted on aluminium, each 60 × 60 cm), shot in abandoned buildings on both sides of the Lithuanian-Latvian border. This may not seem to be a very remote or extremely deprived area, but in each country the borderlands are, relatively speaking, far from the capital and have therefore been much affected by the neglect and emigration to western Europe that gained momentum after the Baltic States joined the European Union in 2004.
In his second solo exhibition at Gallery Antje Wachs in 2010 Žiūra showed works from the series Selected Takes (2010, 5 colour prints (of faces) mounted in light boxes, each 30.6 × 30.6 cm; 5 colour prints (of figures) mounted in light boxes, each 40 × 30.6 cm; Faces, HD video rear projection, 23', Selected Takes, HD video rear projection 20'). These are images of young women who sell access to their bodies in the area of the railway station in Vilnius. Žiūra paid the girls, many of whom have Slavic names, for the time it took to photograph them, thus breaking the unwritten laws of both sex trade and art production.