The 12th edition of Kaunas Biennial, titled AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING, will take from June 7 to September 29, 2019, in Kaunas, Lithuania. The art event has embraced the co-curation approach and entrusts its journey to a team of five emerging and international curators: Elisabeth Del Prete, Daniel Milnes, Lýdia Pribišová, Neringa Stoškutė, and Alessandra Troncone, together with consulting curator Lewis Biggs. The locations of the biennial, including the Railway station, underground passages, a former cemetery etc., will be lined along the axis of Vytauto avenue, connecting the station district and the art gallery quarter of Kaunas.
Kaunas as a starting point in search of identity
For its 12th edition, Kaunas Biennial explores the journey as a metaphor in the context of the burgeoning cultural identity of a city with a complicated past. Throughout 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 the 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 the second city with the stubborn moniker “temporary capital”. This perpetual change has shrouded the city in collective amnesia fuelled 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 terms, mythologizing its troubled past 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, transition, reorientation and repair 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 socio-political 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.
An international team of curators and artists
Known for reinventing itself for every edition, Kaunas Biennial has announced an open call and formed a group of international curators, advised by a consulting curator Lewis Biggs(United Kingdom). The team to embark on this journey includes Elisabeth Del Prete(Italy / United Kingdom), Daniel Milnes(United Kingdom / Germany), Lýdia Pribišová(Slovakia), Neringa Stoškutė (Lithuania) and Alessandra Troncone(Italy). The task for the group is both demanding and rewarding: to offer an exploration of the nexus between location and identity, an innovative approach to the complex topics of history, collective memory, facing the past and embracing it to better the future.
The list of artists for the biennial includes 26 names from all over the world, 11 of which are making artworks specifically for Kaunas.
New commissions will be made by Jasmina Cibic (Slovenia, 1979), Johanna Diehl (Germany, 1977), Inga Galinytė (Lithuania, 1988), Christian Jankowski (Germany, 1968), Laura Kaminskaitė (Lithuania, 1984), Artūras Morozovas (Lithuania, 1984), Robertas Narkus (Lithuania, 1983), Tamu Nkiwane (United Kingdom, 1990), Andrej Polukord (Lithuania, 1990), Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa (Guatemala, 1978), Mykola Ridnyi (Ukraine, 1985).
Other participants of AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING will include Céline Condorelli (United Kingdom, 1974), Ieva Epnere (Latvia, 1977), Aslan Gaisumov (Chechnya, 1991), Alberto Garutti (Italy, 1948), Francesca Grilli (Italy, 1978), Laura Grisi (Italy, 1939–2017), Bas Jan Ader (Netherlands, 1942), Taus Makhacheva (Russia, 1983), Adrian Melis (Cuba, 1985), Deimantas Narkevičius (Lithuania, 1964), Amalia Pica (Argentina, 1978), Karol Pichler (Slovakia, 1957), Ghenadie Popescu (Moldova, 1971), Bálint Szombathy (Serbia, 1950), Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas (Lithuania, 1966, 1968).
Never stepping into the same Kaunas Biennial twice
From its humble beginnings in 1997, each Kaunas Biennial is developed from scratch, i.e. by changing its structure, terms of participation, type, place and concept of the exhibition, inviting new partners, curators, artists, and other art operators to bring art into focus as a powerful and transformative force.
Thanks to this approach combined with integrity and faithfulness to its principles, it is the most popular contemporary art festival in the Baltic Countries, a member of “International Biennial Association” and “Biennial Foundation”, and has secured for itself a place on the map alongside other important art biennials.
Each year, the team of organizers strives for Kaunas Biennial to remain a significant and relevant event within the context of Kaunas, Lithuania and Europe, reacting to the processes taking place in the world, innovative art practices, relying on creative collaboration and openness as integral to art creation and its perception.