The main exhibition of the 11th Kaunas Biennial was opened on September 15th; in fact, one could say the biennial opened Kaunas. The feeling intensified through the weekend, while following the discussions held in Vytautas Magnus university and, later on Saturday, attending three exhibitions of the biennial opened at the Kaunas picture gallery. In fact, the biennial opened a new angle to look at history of Lithuania and the way it has been written. Will all of this be closed on November 30th? We highly doubt it.
This year, the title of the biennial and the main exhibition is HERE AND NOT HERE. One of the most important contemporary art events in the Baltics seeks to oppose the populist practice of removing/erecting and the conservative traditionalism prevalent in monument discourse in Lithuania, and to stimulate and legitimise radically new, contemporary, conceptual, relevant ideas and forms of commemoration, inviting us to look back at removed monuments, rethink existing monuments, and imagine new monuments. The curator of the biennial and two of its exhibitions is Paulina Pukytė, a Lithuanian writer sharing her time between here and UK. She did her best to attract a diverse crowd of international artists that all spent a significant time in Kaunas to create the site-specific works for the main exhibition.
While the three exhibitions at Kaunas picture gallery will perfectly fill a rainy afternoon, we advise you take your time and plan a thorough weekend-long walk (or drive, actually!) through the 24 works of the main exhibition. You can pick up the free map of it at the biennial’s HQ which are located at the picture gallery or check it online here. We also recommend joining a guided tour (check the times here) as most of the works are site-specific and some background knowledge of the history of Kaunas would be a big bonus. Here’s a handful of the works we’ve discovered so far. Can’t wait to see and contemplate them all!
The Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi is renowned for his exceptional public art projects in which he merges the boundaries between the public and the private. Paradoxically, he achieves this by constructing temporary living or hotel rooms around the monuments of the world’s great cities including a living room for the Christopher Columbus statue in New York and a hotel room for the monument of Queen Victoria in Liverpool. In Kaunas, too! In the context of the biennial, Nishi quite controversially constructed a Soviet kitchen around the Freedom monument built in 1922 ant rebuilt in 1990. You can visit the statue every day from 11AM to 7PM.
Konstantinas Bogdanas (Jr.) (b. 1961, Vilnius) is a conceptual artist. In his practice he combines different media such as objects, installations, performance and photographs. Most important to him however is language, both its text and its context. Bogdanas questions abstract notions such as art, identity and perception as well as self-concept. This is often achieved through the act of negation, through employing the absurdity of a situation and by a demand for self-determination. The contrast between minimalist expression and depth of content is what makes his works effective. The key words in Bogdanas’ work are (non)coincidence, (in)adequacy, (un)necessity, (non)fruition, (un)usefulness, (non)understanding, (in)capability. An element of humour is present, although it always gives way to existential doubt. (based on: Monika Krikštopaitytė, Nacionalinė Dailės Galerija Art Information Centre)
300,000 is a number. It is also the number of Lithuanians uprooted and deported to Siberia by the Soviet regime. Statistical numbers are difficult to comprehend. The larger the number the more removed it feels from a real person and what that person lived through. By counting from one to 300,000 Kostas Bogdanas stretches this number in time, turning statistics into a sum of individuals. It takes over 200 hours to count. Counting out loud as a meditative act here is also an act of remembrance and an invitation to grasp the scale of the crime. On the other hand, the computerised nature of the counting questions how honest and sincere we are today when commemorating events important to our nation.
Jonas Oškinis (b. 1973, Kaunas) studied sociology and history and works with projects related to the city’s cultural history. Raimundas Krukonis (b. 1975, Jankai) studied glass and sculpture.
“Where am I?”, in his poem "Konrad Wallenrod” asked the great Polish-Lithuanian (or Lithuanian-Polish?) romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), who lived in Kaunas for several years in a house that once stood on this spot. During the interwar period, Mickiewicz’s old cottage was still here, stuck at an angle on the increasingly rectilinear street grid in Kaunas’ city centre – a 19th century invasion into the 20th century modernist city. The problem was solved during Communist times – from then until now, a socialist dwelling house of improved design stands here. And only 100 m away from this spot is Daržų Street where Lithuanian Intelligence dug up the Polska Organizacja Wojskowa archive and thus Pilsudki’s plans for a federation in 1920’s came to an abrupt end.
"Our Mickiewicz has seen a large wooden model for a Mickiewicz monument in interwar Vilnius that was destroyed by the spring floods, he has seen a pensive Mickiewicz made of granite next to St. Anne’s Church, and a pile of the “Dziady” reliefs to be installed in the base of another Mickiewicz monument – in the same place where bronze Chernyakhovsky was later erected and now stands a monument to Kudirka. Our Mickiewicz has also been to the Neon Museum in Warsaw. Our Mickiewicz is a 20th century neon invasion into the 21st century Kaunas. Does he know where he is? You are here”, state the authors. By the way, another version of Mickiewicz, a street art installation, can be visited just a hundred meters away from the neon one, on the facade of Vingiu Dubingiu pub. More on it here.
Anton Lukoszevieze (b. 1965, UK) is a British musician and artist of Lithuanian descent. His practice moves between disciplines, through performance, composition, graphic work, photography, film and video. He is known for his performances and music encapsulating avant-garde and experimental work. He is also the founder and director of the award-winning group Apartment House. He has been researching and performing experimental compositions by a range of composers and artists, such as John Cage, Philip Corner, Christian Wolf, Louise Bourgeois, and George Maciunas. His particular interest in Maciunas culminated in 2014 with a release of the first ever Maciunas CD, performed by Apartment House.
This installation is a homage to the Kaunas-born Lithuanian-American artist and the co-founder of the Fluxus movement, George Maciunas (1931-1978). His Music for Everyman (1961) consists of a musical score as a catalogue of possible sounds and actions. The choice of sounds, their duration and frequency, as well as the implements and body parts used to perform them, are up to the performer.
A number of seats in the Kaunas Social Insurance Office waiting area have been installed with pressure sensitive pads. When a visitor sits on the seat, a pre-recorded sound is activated. Thus Lukoszevieze causes the general public to unintentionally perform Music For Everyman. The location of the Social Insurance Office for this “monument” is not accidental: everyone comes here, and it is due to the perpetual stream of visitors that this monument to Maciunas exists – always, but only when there is someone there to create and perceive it at the same time.
There's a Maciunas square in Kaunas, too, and it's absolutely brilliant. More on it here.
Horst Hoheisel (b. 1944, Poznan, Poland) & Andreas Knitz (b. 1963, Ravensburg, Germany) have worked together since 1994 on many memorial projects known as counter-monuments or negative monuments. They are searching for new contemporary forms of commemoration of the victims of mass murder and dictatorships, mainly in Germany, but also in South America, Armenia, Cambodia and elsewhere. Instead of repairing the irreparable, their goal is to make the absence of murdered people visible and felt. The most notable of their projects is the memorial in Buchenwald – a steel plate on the ground of the former concentration camp that always retains the temperature of a human body, day and night, in summer and in winter. Hoheisel also made the most radical proposal to the 1995 competition for the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Rather than suggesting another edifice to fill a void and allow everyone to forget it, he proposed instead, to create a void – to destroy a monument to German power, the Brandenburg Gate.
Sąjungos (Union) Square lies next to Vilijampolė – the old Jewish quarter of Kaunas that was turned into the Kaunas Ghetto between 1941 and 1944 during the Nazi Germany occupation. Almost 30,000 inhabitants of the Ghetto were murdered in that period, their houses destroyed and burned. In 1979, during the Soviet occupation, a monument to young communists who fought for the installation of the Soviet government was built on this site. In 1991, after Independence, the bronze reliefs of the monument were removed. Since then, only the dilapidated architecture of the former monument remains. In Vilijampolė there is no sign commemorating its murdered inhabitants. Hoheisel made the most radical proposal to the 1995 competition for the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Rather than suggesting another edifice to fill a void and allow everyone to forget it, he proposed instead, to create a void – to destroy a monument to German power, the Brandenburg Gate. Twenty-two years after this unrealisable proposal and a suggestion that perhaps only perpetual irresolution of commemoration can keep the memory alive, Hoheisel and Knitz now ask in Kaunas: has the removal of a monument here made us remember or forget? Has it changed our thinking? Does it mean destruction cannot happen here again?
Karolina Freino (b. 1978, Poznań, Poland) studied Sculpture and Public Art & New Artistic Strategies. Freino’s artistic practice is based on working with a specific site, its physical, political, social and mental emanations, as well as its memory. She uses these local contexts to make a broader commentary on contemporary socio-political issues. Freino works at the junction of different media, predominantly in the public sphere. While her projects often resemble conceptual riddles, they are also visually appealing, as she aims to compel viewers to participate in constructing the meaning of the work, to make them think.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940) – the iconic figure of the fight for women’s rights and social justice, as well as of the anarchist movement – was born in Kaunas, in a Jewish family. It is said that her farther hoped desperately for a son; for him a daughter would be a sign of failure. She spent the first seven years of her life in Lithuania and emigrated to the United States in 1885, where she became a political activist and writer, devoting her life to the fight for freedom in its different aspects.
Freino located her Monument to Emma Goldman at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers in Kaunas – the site relates to the power of unity and solidarity that was one of the key aspects of Goldman’s ideas. It is in the form of a buoy with a beacon that continuously flashes out Living My Life – the autobiography by Goldman, translated into Morse code. The live process of the translation, letter by letter, is visible online at www.goldman.bienale.lt. The monument’s ephemeral, somehow distanced appearance relates to Goldman’s meagre presence in contemporary Lithuanian public sphere, although its form – relating to a navigating function – indicates a potential for discovering some guidance in her thoughts.
Descriptions of works and biographies of artists taken from www.bienale.lt