Exhibition Archive


Marija Nemcenko
Organized in partnership with the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists' Association

11.11 – 16.12.23

Friday 10th November, 6 – 9pm
Live performance by Sholto Dobie and Shakeeb Abu Hamdan at 8pm

Thursday – Saturday, 12 – 5pm

Commissioned Writing
A written response to the exhibition by Caitlin Merrett King can be found below.

SWANBACK is a new hybrid film by Marija Nemcenko that blends fictional and documentary narratives exploring how within both British and Russian imperialisms the symbol of the swan – associated with truth, purity and aristocracy – has been used to strengthen the structures of oppression on people’s lives and upon their bodies.

The film portrays a fictional character, played by former classical ballet dancer Oliver Connew, partially based on interviews with members of the Lithuanian community, who illegally migrated to work in the UK before Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004. The film also responds to an infamous article printed in The Sun newspaper in 2003 about Eastern European migrants entitled, ‘Swan Bake: Asylum seekers steal the Queen’s birds for barbecues’. SWANBACK’s diaristic narrative retells homo-sovieticus’ – to paraphrase writer Svetlana Alexievich’s pejorative term for an average conformist person in the Soviet Union – journey as an illegal economic migrant to the UK where he gets accused of killing and eating the royal swans. 

The camera follows Connew in the dance studio as he attempts to learn from the 1963 video recording of ‘Prince’s solo. Act I’ from Swan Lake (1875-76) by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the highly acclaimed dancer Rudolph Nureyev as Prince Siegfried. A production of Swan Lake was shown on TV on repeat during the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev during the fall of the Soviet Union, forever connecting the ballet to political upheaval. Last year, being forced to shut down by Russian officials due to its opposition to the war in Ukraine, Russia’s last remaining independent broadcaster Dozhd TV recalled the historical event by screening the same production of Swan Lake on a loop during its final broadcasting hours. 

In SWANBACK the tale of the illegal immigrant merges with Connew’s own journey from ballet to semantic dance while overcoming the violence of the imperially constructed art of ballet instilled within his body. Instead of choosing to respond to the violence of ballet altering his body with the violence of amnesia altering his memory, he chooses to accept the scars that ballet left upon him.

Director: Marija Nemcenko

Producer: Ruta Kiaupaite, Baltic Productions

Featuring: Oliver Connew

Cinematographer: Nojus Drasutis

Composers: Shakeeb Abu Hamdan and Sholto Dobie

Sound Designer: Kipras Cesna

Colourist: Justinas Vencius

Editor: Jonas Juškaitis

First Assistant Camera: Ignas Stankus

Gaffer: Rapolas Gorodeckis

Grip: Justinas Lipnickas

Production Designer: Marija Nemcenko

Production Assistant: Gintare Šarmaviciuts

Sound Recordist: Kazimieras Cejauskas

Titles design: Monika Januleviciute

The artist would like to thank: Catalina Barroso Luque, Caitlin Merrett King, Gleb Osatinski, Kristina and Marius Užpelkiai, Martynas Mickenas, Ruta Adele Jekentaite, Ula Tornau and Vytautas Katkus. 


Marija Nemcenko is a multidisciplinary artist with a research-based practice in archival material, film, installation, creative and critical writing, and projects connecting socially engaged art to civic life. Her multilayered practice aims to activate the interlinks between migration, nature, and nation-state, while critically attending to the construct of a ‘periphery’. In a world driven by narratives from and about the ‘centre’, she asks what knowledge could arise from the ‘peripheral points’? What could an elderly lady in the street market teach us, what’s behind the national symbols’ facade and what wisdom could come from migrating weeds? The work that occurs is marked by high contrasts and humour driven by these clashes, as well as the bright, eclectic aesthetics of every day. Here, disparate narratives, languages, and imagery are montaged across contrasting mediums and ideas, reflecting the richness and chaos of a peripheral thought.

Marija Nemcenko is a Ph.D. candidate at Vilnius Art Academy, a member of the Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists‘ Association (LIAA) and Scottish Artists Union, and ½ of BRUT Collective, working across art, architecture, and socially engaged practice fields. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including Orlando Museum of Art, Florida, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Gallerie delle Prigioni, Treviso, Glasgow International Biennial, Swallow gallery, Vilnius, and A.M. Qattan Foundation, Ramallah, Palestine.


SWANBACK has been organised in partnership with Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association (LIAA). LIAA activities are supported by the Lithuanian Council for Culture. SWANBACK was made possible with funding from Creative Scotland , Hope Scott Trust, LIAA, Lithuanian Council of Culture and Lithuanian Cultural Institute. 

This exhibition is part of an ongoing series of organisational exchanges organised by David Dale Gallery since 2015. Previous exchanges have taken place in partnership with P////AKT (Amsterdam), Rupert (Vilnius), The Workbench (Milan), Swimming Pool (Sofia), and Salts (Birsfelden).

In 2024, David Dale Gallery will present a solo exhibition by a Glasgow-based artist at Atletika gallery at SODAS2123, a culture centre run by the LIAA in Vilnius.