For two months now Kaunas has been planted with the works of Kaunas Biennial. The main exhibition of this year’s biennial called There and not There is all around town, while three supporting exhibitions, also questioning the concept of a monument and touching most of the important periods of Lithuanian history, can be visited at the Kaunas Picture Gallery.
The main pieces of the exhibitions, including Freedom by Tatzu Nishi which has been tagged over on November 15th (the police investigation is now on its way), have shaken up the cultural atmosphere of Kaunas and raised a lot of discussions, both online and offline - this only proves the main questions of the biennial have been asked at a very right time. Those visiting the biennial often have their own questions, too. Some even remain unanswered – and more questions arise, too. What should a modern monument look like? Does a monument equal a sacred object that cannot be touched, changed or interfered in any other way? Why do some events and persons are not memorialised in any way? Is a monument the same as a statue?
You still have time to explore one of the most important events of the year (two years, actually) until November 30th. This is the first part of our rough guide to the biennial; here are some more works you shouldn’t miss. For maps, questions, answers, workshops, guided tours (much recommended!) etc. visit the biennial office at the Kaunas Picture Gallery.
To purchase a monument, visit Vilijampolė, the interwar suburb of Kaunas, also the location of the Kaunas Ghetto from 1941 until its complete destruction in 1944.
The Aibė shop stands on the site known during the ghetto period as Demokratų Square. Here, on 28 October 1941, a mass selection took place that resulted in the largest single mass extermination of Jews (9,200 men, women and children) during the war in Lithuania. It became known as The Big Action. There is no memorial or any sign here to mark this event.
The English artist Jenny Kagan created a memorial in Demokratų Square to that fateful day and to every person whose very existence hung on just two words: left or right (one part went home, the other one went to the mass murder site). Instead of a rigid construction of a traditional monument the artist makes an intervention into an everyday ritual of the people who live around the square today. You’re invited to go to the Aibė shop (Vytenio g. 22) and make a purchase there. It will be put into a bag ordered by Jenny Kagan. The store is open 7:30AM-10PM on weekdays and 8AM-10PM on weekends.
Another piece by Kagan called A Murmuration can be viewed at the former Hasidic synagogue on Gimnazijos g. 6 every night from dusk till dawn.
To hear a monument, go to the Christ’s Resurrection Church, Žemaičių g. 31A at 3PM-3:15PM and climb on the terrace (weekdays 12PM-6PM –18.00, weekends 11AM-6PM).
Allard van Hoorn (the Netherlands) is a sound, installation, and performance artist creating choreographies for architecture, urban structures as musical scores, scenographies for the built environment, and scripts for investigating our relationships to (public) spaces and nature. His main body of work consists of Urban Songlines, a utopian/dystopian series of collaborative translations of buildings, urban structures, and public spaces into music through site-specific sound-generation.
Christ’s Resurrection Church in Kaunas, an impressive specimen of modernist architecture, was conceived in the 1920s as a monument to the resurrection of the Lithuanian nation and the regained independence of the Lithuanian state. The idea attracted criticism on the grounds that a monument to Independence should be for all, without emphasis on one religion, language or political views. The construction was not finished before Soviet Russia occupied Lithuania, and only reached completion after the Independence of 1990. During the Soviet occupation the building was turned into a radio factory. At the same time the Soviets installed 26 jamming masts in Kaunas alone to disrupt incoming radio-signals from the West and to stop the stations like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasting to the occupied people of Eastern Europe.
The Resurrection Church building itself looks like an Art Deco radio, a stern, boxy grid of modernist lines. For the duration of the 11th Kaunas Biennial, Allard van Hoorn turns the Church into half radio, half jamming tower, disrupting its monumental purity with his sound intervention of “no signal” static, jammed signal, and other idiosyncratic radio phenomena, as a reminder of the fragility of freedom – freedom of speech in particular.
Another Urban Songline by Allard van Hoorn was performed at the opening of the biennial on Vienybės square, near the pantheon of Lithuanian National heroes, and can now be downloaded as an mp3. The sound file has been created from the sound of 26 paving tiles separating the pantheon that celebrates Lithuania as an independent state of the interwar world and the Vienybės square, a vast space that Lenin once stood in.
Other monuments you can hear are on J. Gruodžio g. 31 and M. Daukšos g. 6. The sound installation by Philip Miller can be heard 11AM-7PM.
There were around 34,000 Jews in Kaunas before the Holocaust. The language of Yiddish, spoken by the Jewish people of Europe was then a vibrant part of the sound world in Lithuania. Reflecting on disappearance of this sound and the meaning it carried, Philip Miller, South African sound artist, created sound interventions in the specific Kaunas sites where Jews once lived. He has recorded an old ghetto song A Jewish Child – A Yiddish Kind, sung by the Lithuanian-born actress Bella Shirin and the Israeli singer Maya Pennington, and transformed it with spoken interjections of Yiddish aphorisms. These colloquial phrases speak about remembering and forgetting, talking and being silent. The disembodied, ghostly voices that make up these sound works emphasize the impossibility of restoring the original “life” of a language.
To play with a miniature monument, go to restaurant Višta Puode (Daukanto st. 23). The game was created by a Slovenian artist Manca Bajec, who says has no end and no beginning, it is always in motion, a constantly changing “system of tragedy”. Players can choose to execute the game by taking on the role of the different personalities. One can play all the personalities or can choose to play with others. Each personality has specific powers of control.
To imagine a monument (or a memorial), go to Laisvės al. 29, stand in front of a bookstore and look for a sign on the pavement with the number 42. This is a piece called '29 = 42. Refusal of the Afterimage. 2017’ by Paulina Pukytė.
This is the house where the Dutch consulate operated in the wake of WW2, the office of Jan Zwartendijk, a Dutch businessman and diplomate who saved the lives of thousands of Jews and inspired Chiune Sugihara to do the same. In 2003 the owner of the building rejected the Kaunas Municipality’s request to place a commemorative plaque to Zwartendijk, therefore the plaque had to be placed on Laisvės al. 42, where a Dutch consulate was much earlier, instead. So, if you look to the number 42 for long enough (42 seconds, to be precise), and then quickly look to the wall of Laisvės al. 29, you might see 42. But the wall is not plain enough, so you can’t.
To actually visit a monument in the most literal sense, you have to find an ad in a newspaper and be guided to a small apartment on Laisvės alėja. Here, Tatzu Nishi installed a... Lenin. Doesn’t fit here at all, does he?