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Encounters with chthonian spirits—who leave their subterranean dwellings only when the beasts wake them—are rare. Talking to Monika Bielskyte, the Lithuanian-born creative director, consultant, strategist and self-proclaimed “techno nomad”, is like conversing with a good friend you might have only known from a prior life. You feel in good hands with her. When we spoke, she had just returned to Los Angeles from Cape Canaveral, Florida, where she witnessed the SpaceX rocket launch. She shared the view on Instagram: a grisly orb of light that ascends into black sky, as if guided by a string tied to poles of fire and gravity. “The rocket footage is nothing like what you can see in reality because we don’t have the adequate capturing technology,” she regrets. “It’s a big historical moment because it’s the first time they’ve vertically landed a rocket.” In one of her clips, two incandescent specks appear to hover in deep space before closing in on the distance between them. The rocket, delicate and yellow as a firefly, consorts daffily with the moon. “It’s the first rocket I’ve seen take off,” she says. “The last time they attempted such a feat it exploded.”

Bielskyte was born in Šiauliai, Northern Lithuania, in 1986. The city never buoyed its own cultural scene after the two world wars—the first of which decimated over 80 per cent of its buildings—but is famous, instead, as a stop along the way to the nearby Hill of Crosses: a spectral mass of crucifixes that, in 1993, Pope John Paul II unofficially declared to be a holy site. “I don’t come from some kind of privileged background, nor do I come from one of those metropolises like New York or Paris, where you can grow up with culture,” she pines. “My family, although regular people, were intellectuals. However, the environment I grew up in wasn’t particularly diverse.” Children in allegorical cultural slums eventually find their own ways to lift off and imagine alternate worlds. At 10, Bielskyte began to draw and paint and sculpt. The characters in books become her friends and confidantes. She developed her own films and produced prints in a mini lab in her bathroom. In 2006, at the mere 20 years of age, Bielskyte published Times Immemorial to showcase a collection of photographs taken in Nepal, India and Bhutan. In 2008 she exhibited a selection of her photography at FOAM Photography Museum in a show titled A Place to Wash the Heart.

Before Bielskyte began chasing astral lights, she danced with terrestrial ones. She first launched a magazine called Some/Things. “When I started I really had no clue about press,” Bielskyte admits. “The magazine was born of a desire to collaborate. I wanted a magazine that resembled a book, with interviews that read like dialogue from a great novel, and imagery that evoked the cinematography of film.” American photographer Roger Ballen and Chinese-American artist Zhang Huan were early fans of the magazine. However, it was Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy—partners in work and life—who conspired with Bielskyte to make the darkly perfumed imagery she siphoned into the magazine.

“There are few design creatives who reach the same level as Rick,” Bielskyte remarks, in strands of speech that slither into awe. “He and Michèle build worlds and fill them with characters. It’s beautiful and grotesque because people try to imitate him, in attempt to belong.” Owens and Lamy feature in five consecutive issues of Some/Things. The torrent of snapshots move from the pairs Paris atelier to their Palais Bourbon home. Other scenes are intimate depictions of Owens’ alabaster and plywood furniture: proud, phallic wooden membranes atop short, worried legs. When Bielskyte discovered that Lamy used to sing “before she was so publicly prolific”, she upholstered Lamy in front of a camera, turned up the music, and started shooting. In a 2010 series of photographs of Rick Owens, Bielskyte depicted the designer in three solemn phases. He looks like the moon through the wrong end of a telescope: joyous and remote, swamped in brittle shadow.

Bielskyte’s practice slowly skated from fashion to prototyping futures, undulating between architecture and design. In 2012, she collaborated with famed architect Claude Parent on Imaginary City. “I called him my spiritual grandpa,” she muses. “He was truly one of the youngest people I knew. He was so open and his eyes literally shone with curiosity and wonder.” Together, they created a scale city that at the right squint, resembled Brutalist honeycombs. Indeed, Parent’s future cities concept was the source of inspiration for many architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog and de Meuron, and film makers such as Gattaca’s Andrew Niccol. Bielskyte was later invited by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill to visit La Fábrica, which he began reconstructing in 1973 from the derelict face but superb bone structure of a cement factory. It is celebrated by experts as a lordly marriage of spatial cunning and surrealist delight—staircases that lead to nowhere, giant silos that contain nothing, vines that swing in the elegiac and exhausted air. To Bielskyte, though, it is a foretaste of the future. “It may be the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen,” she joys. “An industrial complex that was recycled into a house and a studio, where futuristic design meets local Catalan architecture. It’s the integration of history, culture, nature and everything high tech.”

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