“I am always a bit scared to call myself an artist because this is not for me to judge, but OK, there is no real other fitting description,” says Serge Ecker, a Luxembourger who’s about to leave a creative footprint in Kaunas, Lithuania. Among Serge’s previous works are fascinating ideas, including an aluminium intervention at the Luxembourg Police headquarters; a site-specific installation involving wood and projections for the Luxembourg Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale; an infrared-heated sculpture; a concrete paper plane; a sailing installation–raft in Bulgaria and many more. Both with his personal projects and for group exhibitions, the artist has travelled to Austria, Greece, the US – Lithuania, too. And there’s more about Serge’s relationship with the latter.

Both Esch-sur-Alzette, where our interviewee was born, and Kaunas, the second city in Lithuania, will become Europen Capitals of Culture in 2022. Serge and Lithuanian sculptor Algimantas Šlapikas have been remotely working on a future project in Karmėlava, Kaunas district, for some time now. A few weeks ago, they won an idea competition with their proposal called “Flying Cepelinai”, which aims to embrace the importance of cepelinas, traditional Lithuanian food made from meat and potatoes resembling a flying object – the zeppelin. Time to hear more about the gastronomical installation and Serge’s artistic journey before it.

How did your artistic path start? What was the art climate in Luxembourg like back then, and has it changed a lot since?
I started working on art-related projects by coincidence and mainly out of curiosity about what I could do with my skills and tools back in 2010 when I did primarily architectural visualizations and had my own small company. The art climate in Luxembourg changed positively during the last years. My generation of artists realized that they need to work together and support each other to create a critical mass and be relevant in society. For the moment, we also have a well functioning Ministry of Culture, which (not only) but especially now does what it can to make the current Covid-19 situation somehow bearable and less threatening from an existential point of view.

How do you choose the best media for your ideas? Do you tend to search for new tools for expression, or do you trust those you know well?
As I said before, many things happen by coincidence or curiosity when I ask myself if something could work. Since I work a lot with digital tools – 3D software, digital photography, planning, sketching, 3D scanning – I love to see what happens if these “tools” screw up, and produce glitches or what happens, for example, if I transform or reduce the number of polygons … Experiments like these, or reconstructions of reality, “scanning” a place, an object, by translating it into the digital world are interesting. Still, the real challenge and where I enjoy my work is to see how to get this information back into the real world, be it by 3D printing or through collaboration with other artists and craftsmen and their processes. In general, the process is the most interesting in each work that I am working on.

You and your work do not stay in Lux but travel quite a bit; do you see it as a way to promote your work or to gather inspiration for new projects?
Travelling is important to me and for developing new ideas, thinking about processes, seeing different realities than the one I come from, to see that there are so many places, countries, landscapes, people, methods, stories, ways, foods… It is fascinating, and this shows how little one actually knows and that contradictions are subjective. Exhibiting my work abroad or working in different places is a way to get to places, but I am not a “salesperson”, so I am not really good at “promoting” art. I prefer to work on projects and use possibilities to go places.

How did you find the residency in Nida in 2016? What made you apply for it?
Nida is a place to which I went a few times with friends from LT, but in 2016 during the work on the Luxembourg Pavilion for the architecture biennale in Venice, I felt that I needed to get out and away from the real world for a moment, so I sent my application for the Nida Art Colony and somehow I got accepted… Nida is a very special place; the stay there helped me calm down after the crazy Venice period and focus on new research and experimenting with new tools. Also, meeting people from the Vilnius Academy of Arts made it possible to give 3D scanning workshops in 2016 and 2017.

How did you get involved with the Capitals of Culture? 
I am a friend and fan of Lithuania for quite a while now due to the friends and people from there that I have met here in Lux and LT during my visits. When I saw that Kaunas would be an ECOC and, by coincidence, Esch, where I was born and went to school, with the Minett region around it, would be as well, I kind of felt obliged to contribute and engage myself in this process. For Esch 2022, I started some and applied for the projects I am involved in, but for Kaunas 2022, I was very surprised to get picked and asked if I would like to develop a sculpture/installation for Karmėlava in collaboration with Algimantas Šlapikas by the organizers, which I am quite grateful for.

Can you tell us more about the projects for Esch 2022?

“Anthroposcape” is a project for the commune of Kayl about an open pit mining which changed the landscape of the town I grew up in. We do it in collaboration with the last remaining iron foundry. “DKollage” is a process with our artist collective DKollektiv, where we are making a participatory renovation of an industrial hall in Dudelange which will become a common creative space, workshop and photolab. We’ll achieve that with the support of the commune of Dudelange the Oeuvre Nationale de Secours G.-D. Charlotte. Also there’s “Konkasser”, a project to construct a stone grinder in the commune of Sanem with two other members of the DKollektiv, Misch Feinen and Eric Marx. Besides, I was part of a jury to select photos for an exhibition of the Lithuanian society here in Luxembourg.

So, cepelinai. What do you think about this culinary object? When did you realize it can be more than just food?
I was introduced to cepelinai on my first trip to LT and love them ever since… Especially the fried ones. When working on the project and talking with Algimantas, we thought about shapes. Of course, the cepelinas has quite an iconic shape, also in relation to its flying counterpart.

What was the base for the idea in Karmėlava? How much was/is the local community involved?
The idea’s base was the briefing which defined a particular framework in relation to Karmėlava, including the airport, war, and local folklore like the Cepelinai. Algimantas and I thought we should also add a little humour to spice up the recipe. I could not come to Kaunas, so, unfortunately, we couldn’t meet or interact with the local community due to the Covid situation; otherwise, we could have imagined a cepelinai contest to find the most suitable and most iconic cepelinas to 3D scan. Maybe once the work is in place, we can inaugurate it with a cepelinai festival.

Cepelinas is often seen as a somewhat cheesy stereotype of Karmėlava. How will your installation influence that?
Honestly, playing with stereotypes can be quite funny sometimes, but I can’t predict reactions or influences. My only hope is that people chuckle when they see the final work and make up their own ideas and meanings and be proud of their cepelinai.

How do you get along with Algimantas Šlapikas? Do you work remotely these days, or how does it go?
Algimantas is an interesting character and artist with a good sense of humour which I find very important to get along with a person. He is a much more experienced artist than me with a long career and his “tools, he knows how to work shapes and volumes, materials with his hands, and I admire this approach since I am working with plans and 3D models. It is always interesting to mix these worlds, which seem and are opposite, but this I see as a benefit and a true collaboration, where both artists use their tools for the project. Unfortunately, this all has to happen online through writing and sending sketches and photographs since I wasn’t able to come to LT yet due to the situation. As soon as I can, I will use the opportunity to come and meet Algimantas in person.