XII Baltic Triennial
Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania
One of the characters in Valentinas Klimašauskas’s How to Clone a Mammoth (2015) is an artificial intelligence that asks a human for tips on curating an exhibition. ‘Make it less human!’ the human answers. Klimašauskas read the text as part of a performance on the terrace of a tennis club in Vilnius on a rainy afternoon, marking the beginning of the XII Baltic Triennial, curated by Virginija Januškevic˘iu¯te˙ at the CAC. His character’s suggestion seemed to have been taken seriously in the show, which programmatically lacked a title or statement, other than a loose set of keywords (among them: ‘MURMUR’, ‘SHIPWRECK’ and ‘NOW’). The exhibition was instead framed by a text by Annick Kleizen on forests as a symbol for nonlinear thinking. Trees, apparently independent entities, are all invisibly connected, underground, as a single organism.
This resistance to explicit interpretation – taking the form of mockery or outright rejection – was at stake in the exhibition’s most resonant works. Perrine Baillieux’s performance Be As It May (2014/15) was a lecture on a retro-dated painting by Kazimir Malevich, delivered in song. Baillieux created a compelling analysis of the reasons that might have led Malevich to tackle a figurative subject after decades of abstraction, and then to lie about its date; but she did so while singing over a soft electro baseline. I had the impression that she was making a solid argument, while raising scepticism on whether arguments in general should be taken seriously.
A similar ambiguity was at play in Gerda Paliušytė’s The Road Movie (2015), a partially scripted documentary that follows the members of rap duo ONYX on a day trip through Vilnius. Their 1993 hit Slam was among the first American rap songs to reach the country after its independence, and it became deeply rooted in local culture. The two African-American rappers walk around a city for which they are symbols of both pop stardom and social transformation – swaggering, amused and dramatically at odds with their surroundings. Paliušytė’s film could be seen as a slapstick take on cultural history – both its reliance on stereotypes and its arbitrary nature. It could also be a melancholy portrait of a city 20 years after a unique moment in its past, asking which promises have been fulfilled and which have not. The streets panned by the camera are cleaner now, with shopping malls and lights, while the once-successful duo fights over €200.
In her review of the Lithuania/Cyprus Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Claire Bishop asked whether it was enough for curators to create ‘moods rather than arguments’. That show was curated by the Lithuanian curator Raimundas Malašauskas, whose influence was apparent in this triennial’s idyiosyncratic, cerebral and darkly humorous tone. Here, too, a captivating atmosphere permeated the show. Here, too, it could be difficult for viewers to understand what exactly they were captivated by.
Nick Bastis and Darius Mikšys’s Augmented Sound (2015) is a Kickstarter project for a mobile app, which they presented in a temporary structure on the terrace of the CAC’s main hall. The campaign hadn’t reached its funding goal, so they chose to represent it as a thick cloud of urine-smelling mist. Robertas Narkus’s display included a vat of heated Fanta and a performance by a belly dancer in the dark, with a single spotlight revealing her belly as a floating white sliver of flesh. To some, such works might seem to converge in a distinctive streak of anti-intellectual conceptual art – metaphors wickedly designed to resist any unpacking. Or hazy jokes.
Januškevičiūtė’s attentive yet playful curatorial approach encourages the former reading: Bastis and Mikšys’s fog leads to The Baltic Pavilion, a project for the next Venice Architecture Biennale that reflects on the geological and architectural commonalities of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia – the haze both faded into and was dispelled by the hard data of orographic charts. The XII Baltic Triennial shows recent Baltic art as having developed – around institutions such as the CAC – a specific language and set of concerns, which are subtle and powerfully expressive. Too fertile to be a mannerism, too diverse to be a school, perhaps this common ground could indeed be characterized as a ‘mood’; however, showing and outlining its specificities is definitely an argument.
Vincenzo Latronico is a writer and translator based in Milan. His latest novel La cospirazione delle colombe (The Conspiracy of Doves) was published in Italy by Bompiani in 2011. He is currently working on a new Italian translation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (1934).
First published in Issue 175