twitter facebook
Margarida Mendes, Jennifer Teets, Perrine Bailleux and Marcos Lutyens

Q&A with Virginija Januškevičiūtė, Curator of the XII Baltic Triennial 0

Photos: Photos: Andrej Vasilenko / CAC

- XII Baltic Triennial -
CAC, Vilnius
September 9 - October 18, 2015

What is an artwork today, can be something else entirely tomorrow – this sentence, picked out from an interview with the artist David Bernstein, is at the very heart of the XII Baltic Triennial. The idea is not new: how we perceive an artwork and what we expect of it changes over time. Things get forgotten, switched around, and we end up looking at the wrong end of a musical instrument or playing a painting back to front. Sometimes, however, that’s on purpose: a composition decomposes, a song becomes a mood, a sculpture – a model, and a drawing – a letter. Are we then to talk about uses of art, or rather about the art of uses? Or better to just skip art overall? Well, let’s find out.

This year’s Triennial focuses on the Baltic more than the previous editions – on the geographical region, its culture and the sea. It is a decidedly trans-disciplinary event that, in its own motto of sorts (“what is an artwork today...”), is mainly interested in the “something else”. The exhibition opens up a range of topics and their couplings, including influence, exchange, materiality, and impact. It’s primarily an exhibition at the CAC, but the programme of events – talks, launches, presentations, classes and performances – spanning six weeks, will expand behind the scenes.

Gizela Mickiewicz

The Baltic Triennial was founded as The Baltic Triennial of Young Contemporary Art in Lithuania in 1979, while the country was under the occupation of the Soviet Union. Despite the totalitarian regime’s particular expectations invested in its youth, the generation of young artists expressed a critical non-conformist spirit. After the restoration of an independent Lithuania in 1990, the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) became its organiser and host. Could you please give a brief overview of the Triennial's atmosphere at that time? What were the mechanics behind its organization?

CAC, the organising institution and key venue of the Baltic Triennial, was established in 1992, in the building that was formerly known as the Art Exhibition Palace. One could say that this palace was part of the socialist project of the 60s, providing public access to cultural achievements. It was also a huge achievement of the local art infrastructure, providing the means to build a cultural space and discourse, semi-autonomous from Moscow, but public enough to bring the art world outside of the walls of artists' studios. The question remains, of course, if each and every artist really wanted to take part in the official exhibitions of any kind and to thus affiliate with the institutions and the public bravado (and it remains an interesting question to keep in mind in regards also to today’s art scene). But so the triennial started as an exhibition called “Youth“, and supposedly was one of the very few occasions to publicly show more experimental practices that were not necessarily so much in line with the nomenclature. It was a result of expectation invested in the concept of youth after the end of the Stalinist period; but that generation of young artists also expressed a critical non-conformist spirit considered dangerous to the totalitarian regime. During the whole Soviet period and until the end of the eighties, the Triennial provoked passionate discussions in political, as well as artistic, discourse.

Kaspars Groshevs and Ieva Kraule

The main theme of this year's Triennial is: “What is an artwork today, can be something else entirely tomorrow.” Taking into account the Triennial's long history going back to the Soviet era, how has society changed their perception of artworks since then? Is the Triennial addressing this issue?

The perception of artworks and art is changing constantly, and this project is perhaps yet another manifesto against inertia, helping to stir the change. It is impossible to not notice how, for instance, the concept of (and expectations towards) the so-called visual arts have changed radically during the last couple of decades, or how the performance and performative aspect has come to be a part of those new expectations, but how little has changed in regards to the split between applied and visual arts. This is one of the nooks that the exhibition is addressing. Another is, perhaps, the notion of audience, or rather of multiple audiences: as Anders Kreuger observed in one of CAC’s exhibition catalogues about a year ago, there is really no such thing as a general audience, although the whole exhibition industry seems to be (or declares to be) directed at it.

Your Voice Does Not Need You. A workshop with Perrine Bailleux

This year's Triennial will focus on the Baltics more than previous editions did. What led you to make this decision?

There is a number of very interesting artists, as well as small, but vibrant, art scenes in the Baltics. There is no way that this can be represented adequately in one project – at least not this one – but it felt natural to draw from the area.

Another reason is the long term discussions that the team has been having with a number of people, artists and non-artists alike, regarding environmental issues and trans-disciplinary practices, which made the Baltic Sea, our relation to it and its own relation to the world (“The World In Which We Occur”, according to the title of a project by Jennifer Teets and Margarida Mendes), another subject that we just simply did not want to turn away from. It is interesting to think about identities, but not necessarily in terms of persons or nation-states.

Also, the more international the conversation in the arts, the more opportunities it provides for figuring out local specificities, differences – either in worldviews, cultural histories, strategies of making things (work), or the experiences of growing up and growing old. It’s not a project that digs into the past much, though.

Oceans Academy of Arts and Bianka Rolando

What sort of approach did you use in selecting the artists for the show?

It was, first of all, a selection based on the intuition that certain artists’ practices resonate, more than others, to the basic premise of the exhibition – the idea that an artwork that can also be something else, or have a function, or an artwork that is not lost when it’s not in an exhibition. Or an artwork that creates something else, even if it dissolves in the process – like music, right? It’s the kind of practices that may circumvent the art market as we know it, but this does not mean that they are not participating in other kinds of economies or introducing their own.

But the selection was not aiming at creating a uni-vocal exhibition: in fact, the short text by photographer Algirdas Šeškus that opens the exhibition guidebook (published also separately as Šeškus’ smallest book to date) introduces yet another way of looking at art, one that completely ignores any kind of institutional boundaries, but in a different way than is suggested by the curator’s own words. Šeškus’ point of view is based on the idea that an artwork is a container for art, but it is not art in itself. So, he was the first person to contradict and say that an artwork will always be an artwork – as long as there is some art in it.

Beta Version of The Baltic Pavilion

Could you name one artist from each of the three Baltic countries whose participation in the festival is especially anticipated?

Just one – it’s difficult! Working with Māris Bišofs from Riga is a great honour, although his involvement is not exactly in the exhibition – he is, first of all, an illustrator. It is his drawing, used in most of the publicity campaign, that became an image of the exhibition that the CAC is now trying to sort of reverse-engineer. This will also be one of the first occasions to show the pattern collection by Estonian artist Erki Kasamets, STRUCTOR-5, his long-term project built as, perhaps, a database for future analysis for which we do not yet have the necessary tools. The most awaited project from Finland is a new publication by the l’esprit de l’escalier publishing team – a certain axe, ‘published’ in a small edition, which should start circulating within the next several months. And from Poland, the most awaited contribution was a concert by the Warsaw-based singer Bianca Glazebrook – and we will keep waiting for it because it is not happening, not yet. But there are plenty of other projects that will take place.

Nick Bastis Darius Miksys and Marcos Lutyens

What are the main design guidelines that the architect of the exhibition, Andreas Angelidakis, followed?

Andreas Angelidakis is someone very interesting to think along with, and someone very attentive to both the ideology of exhibition spaces in general, and to the specificities of each particular venue or exhibition. It was agreed from the start that his contribution will be no less an artwork in the exhibition than any other.

The curator and the architect started by looking at the building and its role in the city (both historical and current), its material culture and the aspirations it reflects, and at the decisions that have already been taken in the making of the building and the institution. It was fascinating to figure out what this institution is ready to do: most of the architecture is constructed from materials that were already there, in storage.

It was also clear from the start that the exhibition itself is, in some ways, one piece. As one of the contributors, the artist Darius Mikšys once wrote in an email: “I think smoke is a must-have here (...). Smoke, as a big part that is comprised of smaller particles, and once again, becomes a particle of some even bigger part. I wish other elements of the show could engage in a similar way. What do you think?“

Jay Tan and Antanas Gerlikas

The Triennial's main feature may be the exhibition at CAC, but the entire programme of events – talks, launches, presentations, classes and performances – spans a whole six weeks and goes behind the scenes. What are some of the highlights of this parallel program?

Indeed, it made sense to make it an eventful exhibition, where the event programme draws people to the exhibition (and perhaps opens up some new perspectives on it), and the exhibition serves as an instrument and a place for education and for learning something; and the other way round – in which education helps one in examining the exhibition, which then leads to occasions for meeting up with people, etc.

The pilot programme of the Triennial was, in large part, about trying things out: trying a seminar format, trying to have artists invest into thinking about some tasks usually considered very pragmatic (like a kitchen), trying to understand human senses (as Piotr Bosacki‘s film Dracula in the Triennial’s pilot exhibition “Propotypes”), or trying various formats for a project that will then lead to a full-scale version, like in the case of The World In Which We Occur. A similar intention is also present in this current exhibition, but it makes sense to invite not only the participants, but to invite the audience to try something, too.

Perrine Bailleux, who will give a lecture-concert about Kazimir Malevich the night of the opening, will stay for several weeks to give singing classes to everybody who wants “to discover how one’s voice works, and what it actually sounds like when one forgets about it”. The series of classes is called “Your Voice Does Not Need You”. Jay Tan, whose contribution to the exhibition includes a spit fountain activated by the audience, will return with a workshop for teenagers and pre-teens – she says she will probably have to call it a dance workshop or otherwise nobody will sign up, but it is much more than that. And the project by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Psychotropic House: Zooetics Pavilion of Ballardian Technologies, is part of their long-term collaboration with Kaunas Technical University; the exhibition provides an opportunity for them to test a model way of producing a new kind of material, right there within the pavilion.

The very end of September and early October is a good time to visit if you haven’t yet had a chance by then: Post Brother will open the series of events, Nothing but Waves, that will focus on underwater-ness as both an economic and political metaphor; Adam Kleinman will talk about the future of war and lead a propaganda workshop; and October will open with keynote events at the Zooetics Pavilion.

Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas

How would you describe the Triennial's relevance in an international context?

It is a rather powerful instrument for experimenting, for drawing works, people and ideas together, and for making statements and leaving traces. And each and every year here at CAC, we increasingly use more English and find ourselves using more varied means of communication and exchange. But describing the relevance of something is a whole other project! But maybe someone out there could do it in just a couple of words...?