(Fragment) Eglė Ulčickaitė. Jagger. 2012

Context of Contexts. XV Vilnius Painting Triennale 0

Sergei Timofeev

15th Vilnius Painting Triennial: “Painting and Its Contexts”
Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), Vilnius
June 13 - August 18, 2013 

The young Lithuanian artist Egle Ulcickaite (1989) describes her approach to painting as follows: “Materials for paintings I select from my environment where I see how closely the present and the past are related. These are artefacts from the past, objects that have lost their functionality and meaning and have been built into the constantly changing landscape around us. The past, which I did not experience myself, may become a part of my experience through things that happen to be on my path. When I look at images and objects form the past, I get a feeling of déjà-vu, a sensation of something very familiar. Yet that is just intuition. Even though I can simply touch these things from times past, they remain unknowable to me. My attempts to bring the past to life, the past in which there was no me, are like the perception of the surrounding world by the blind: it happens with the help of some other feelings. Although, from the other hand, the world always remains in part concealed from us.”

This text, from the catalogue of the XV Vilnius Triennale of Painting, which opened on 14 June at the centre of contemporary art CAC, could become the leitmotif of the project. The old, multilayered reality that’s slipping away and the almost unimaginable past, which we always conjure in our own way even if we try to be as objective as possible.  All of this is presented to us in a nonlinear, multifaceted manner by sixty contemporary artists from Lithuania and neighbouring countries. This year, the triennale includes not only works created over the last 3-4 years. The exhibition includes works by Lithuanian modernists that were active before the Second World War as well as those of luminaries of the 1970s. All of this together creates the special “context of contexts” that the curator of the triennale, Nijole Nevcesauskiene talks about while we are standing among the paintings hung all over the spacious central hall of CAC:

Nijole Nevcesauskiene in front of work by Jonas Gasiunas 

«The history of the Vilnius Triennale of Painting started in 1969. It started out as a biennale and included paintings of the three Baltic republics of the then USSR. Yet it was not just some officious innovation. Many new discoveries of painting were presented there; artists prepared it for years like for some celebration – an important exposition of their and their colleagues’ works. The history itself of the triennale prompted me to put together, in one exhibition hall, both its traditions and the contemporary period.

Algimantas Švėgžda. Chair. 1977

At the previous triennale, the emphasis was on the works of foreign artists – there were just 5 or 6 Lithuanians. This time, there are 42 artists from Lithuania and 14 guests. Lithuanian painting is presented in several contexts: first, it’s the artists between the two world wars, the Kaunas school of painting; the other context is the history of the triennale, with a special emphasis on the exhibition of 1975 when our “little Dutch” were represented there, i.e., authors who changed the perceptions regarding the possibilities of painting. At that time, hyperrealism and abstraction were also exhibited here – these were trends that were impossible to show at such important centralized exhibitions. From today’s works, on the other hand, it is possible to see where painting and its traditions are “migrating”.

Kostas Dereškevičius. The Woman I Met (Olga Sleta). 1978

In the contemporary part of the exhibit, there are rather many abstract works, however, it could also be figurative painting in its monochrome aspect. Here we should mention Latvian artist Eriks Apalais and his linguistic and historical meditations on the structure and meaning of painting. From the guests, I would also like to mention Maarit Murka from Estonia who works in an hyperrealist manner, creating an illusion of space. In ther video Taste she paints her self-portrait with her tongue as if contrasting open physiology and attachment to the civilized tradition of painting. I am also very fond of the approach of Kirsa Andreasen with her figures amidst melancholy landscapes, which she quotes from the paintings of the 17th century artist Jacob van Ruisdael. A similar “quoting” approach is also taken by our Lithuanian artist Linas Landsbergis.

Krista Andreasen. En el Boulevard de los Sueños Rotos. 2012

All kinds of different media – cinema, photography and television – have their impact on painting. You can see that looking at the portrait of Mick Jagger by Egle Ulcickaite or the monumental work by Petr Jozefovic from Poland who collects and interprets photographs of his family-name namesakes from different countries. These are pictures from the past, but these people from different countries and different decades have been brought together and are forming a common monument to time. These pieces of reality are what seem to have been somewhat lost from Lithuanian art, but they may return once more. Women’s discourse, which is so actively being discussed in the media, also appears in the paintings of Monika Furmanaviciute who is trying to represent on the canvas what we most likely know from articles on psychology and sociology. There is also the impact of other worlds like in the works of Latvian painter Mikelis Fisers whose fantastic images and psychedelic thinking opens new meanings and new approaches to us. Works of the “guests” enrich our Lithuanian world of painting that we are used to – even if we talk about such components as colour. Take, for instance, the paintings of Karl Christian Nagel, a very young and interesting artist from Estonia – Lithuanian artists vary rarely use such bold, day-glow colours.  

Karl Kristian Nagel. Tiiu Rebane IV. 2012

The presented works of the masters of the 1930s and 1970s allow one to perceive the context for understanding the new works by such Lithuanian artists as Jonas Gasiunas who works with candle smoke and the powerful, large-scale abstract canvases of Henrikas Cerpas.”

The triennale was organized by the Lithuanian Association of Artists, which to this day retains substantial administrative potential. Nijole Nevcesauskiene was helped in her work with a whole selection committee, which is an emphatically traditionalist approach hardly usual for our times. This year, this concept was victorious, whereas the previous triennale was organized by a CAC team. Well selected “guests” help to avoid too much localization and that, without a doubt, is to the curator’s credit who has extensive experience working with contemporary painting at the Lithuanian National Gallery.

Jolanta Kyzikaitė. Swimming with a Rose Circle. 2013

“Perhaps it is just a slightly more intimate and personal view of surrounding everyday life,” – this is how Nijole Nevcesauskiene characterizes the national peculiarities of the present exhibition and adds that she almost never has the need to talk about the national schools in the way they were understood in the past. Contemporary painters are worlds of their own who have built their relationship to the surrounding space and its inhabitants in an emphatically individual way. One example is another young Lithuanian artist Jolanta Kizikaite (1980), who says this in the catalogue of the triennale: “For mny works, I often choose a playful format. It is like a protective wall behind which it is possible to hide when you want to talk about serious things. On first glance, my pictures look like a comic book illustrations. But it is only the form, which is used to mask sad themes and the real tragedy of our time – the global cultural tragedy which is camouflaged behind a shiny surface and bright ornaments.  In the closed space of the medium, the game becomes senseless, and, the more sense it loses, the more imagination it obtains. The possibility to engage imagination gives the feeling of inner accomplishment. In this manner, I am looking for a way to disseminate imaginary things on everyday life and the possibility of blending reality and fantasy.

Ramūnas Grikevičius. Rose. 2012 

The world that surrounds us is wide and without borders; it continues to expand and to offer us ever new possibilities. But more often than not instruments that are chosen by us for our existence turn out to be incredibly trivial, like the swim-ring that is not meant for swimming but just for an imitation of the process. The same applies to pink and light blue colours, which turn into clichés when pink is associated with little girls and light blue with little boys. Assuming a similar triviality of our chances, I want to show the hopelessness of the situation both on the personal and on a more universal level.”

Painting, which seemed to have been pushed in the background by installations and new media in the second half of the 1990s and the aughts, is returning enriched by the experience of all these new forms. Its multilayered and ambiguous essence is increasingly needed in a world where reality is constructed according to the same rules. The Vilnius Triennale is a good venue to find out for oneself that the brushes have not dried out and the paints have not been all used up but become more monochromatic, controlled and assured.