Kaunas Biennial: AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING

M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, Kaunas Picture Gallery

For its 12th edition, the Kaunas Biennial explores the journey as a metaphor for the burgeoning cultural identity of a city with a complex past. Over the course of recent history, Kaunas has been caught in a state of political flux, transitioning from one regime to the next. Even during its prosperous twenty-year phase as capital city after the Polish annexation of Vilnius between 1919 and 1940 Kaunas remained in waiting, set to regain its status as second city after the liberation of the former capital. What followed, however, was occupation by the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, reoccupation by the Soviets, and finally the declaration of Lithuanian independence in 1990 with the country becoming a member state of the European Union in 2004. This chain of events restored not only Lithuanian national sovereignty but also the status of Kaunas as second city with the stubborn moniker “temporary capital”. This perpetual change has shrouded the city in a collective amnesia fueled by discrepant lived experiences across the different generations. Now, looking forward to its tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2022, Kaunas seeks to carve out a unified path to the future on its own terms, mythologizing its troubled past in order to write new narratives for the present.

AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING takes the story of Kaunas as its point of departure to examine broader notions of passage and transition in the context of individual experience and intergenerational structures. The exhibition reflects upon how the feeling of disorientation underlying contemporary existence globally intertwines with the specific sociopolitical realities of nation-building in the New East, where alternative European alliances are unfurling from the knots of past regimes. Alongside these historical and geopolitical narratives, the exhibition looks to more poetic strategies of depicting or perhaps overcoming the condition of precarity, with the absurd, the mystical, and the humorous serving as key tools for navigating uncertain terrain. AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING understands these liminal moments not just as an occasion for contemplation, anticipation, and doubt, but also as a call to action–both individual and collective–in the search for one’s place within the universe.

The role of the Kaunas Picture Gallery during this biennial is twofold: it is both the space of the main cultural infrastructure and one of the main exhibition spaces, indicating the conceptual direction of the exhibition.

The artists, representing their works at Kaunas Picture Gallery: Bas Jan Ader, Celine Condorelli, Johanna Diehl, Ieva Epnere, Alberto Garutti, Francesca Grilli, Laura Grisi, Laura Kaminskaitė, Adrian Melis, Amalia Pica, Ghenadie Popescu, Mykola Ridnyi, Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonai.

Curators: Elisabeth Del Prete, Daniel Milnes,Lýdia Pribišová, Neringa Stoškutė, Alessandra Troncone
Consulting curator: Lewis Biggs 

M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, V. Putvinskio St. 55, Kaunas

Video work Revisiting Solaris by Deimantas Narkevičius.

Revisiting Solaris in stop shot –  D. Banionis and D. Narkevičius

In his screen adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction novel Solaris (1971), Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky conspicuously excluded the final chapter of the book in which the main protagonist, Chris Kelvin, returns to Earth after his mission to investigate uncanny encounters with extra-terrestrial intelligence. With the video work Revisiting Solaris Deimantas Narkevičius invites Kaunas-born actor Donatas Banionis to reprise briefly his role as the psychologist-cum-space traveller and play out this final scene. Narkevičius intercuts the filmed material with photographs taken in 1905 by Lithuanian national painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis of the Black Sea, the same spectacle that inspired Tarkovsky’s filmic rendering of the oceanic surface of Solaris.

Opening hours: Thursday 5–7 p.m., SaturdaySunday 12–4 p.m

Video: Lithuanian spoken, English subtitles
Duration: 18 min