‘Artists today do not want to talk about war but about the need for a more peaceful and just world’—An Interview with Valentinas Klimašauskas, Curator of the ArtVilnius’23 Project ZoneOctober 8, 2023
Valentinas Klimašauskas, a writer and curator of contemporary art, named the programme of this year’s ArtVilnius’23 Project Zone Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow. The programme is dedicated to happenings, to the possibility and impossibility of repetition, to today, which is influenced by yesterday and will undoubtedly affect tomorrow.
Laisvė Radzevičienė talks to Valentinas about performativity in the contemporary world, the influence of social networks on art and the influence of art on social networks, as well as some of the exciting participants and artists of the ArtVilnius’23 fair.
LR: This year’s edition of ArtVilnius echoes the themes of the first Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art and yet, the concept of performativity in contemporary art is much broader than it might seem at first glance.
VK: Indeed, the theme of performativity is closely linked to the Vilnius biennial and Vilnius’ 700th birthday. Time is important for performativity. When we talk about contemporary art, at least in its English name, there is the word ‘con’, Latin for ‘with’ and ‘temporary’, which is more related to the overlapping of different times. Contemporary art in English means modernity and I think we have already entered it: contemporary art contains a lot of scenes and different conceptions of art.
We have to constantly reaffirm the identity of contemporary art because the scenes are always changing, there are new faces and institutions. ArtVilnius’23 will be a good example of this. This year, we have named the Project Zone Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow. By slightly changing the usual linear sequence of time, we want to emphasise the importance of today. Every day, in the same place at the same time, the same artists will perform the same performance. Undoubtedly, that day’s audience, mood, lighting and temperature of emotions will make each repetition unique.
Performing at the fair will be students of the Theatre Arts Expression and Acting course at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, with their public theatre sketches Me and Others based on the play ‘The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sad’ by playwright Peter Weiss. It is a reference to what is happening at the moment in Belarus and Ukraine. There are both Belarusian and Ukrainian students at the university and the situation of both groups in today’s world is nothing to envy. Particularly for Belarusians. We supported them when there were demonstrations in Belarus and now that Russia has attacked Ukraine and Belarus is on Russia’s side, Belarusian emigrants have become like aggressors. I know and talk to a number of established Belarusian artists who worked and had their own studios but now are unable to return to their country because, for any critical drawing, they can get at least five years in prison, where they will be tortured and humiliated. These new themes can be seen in the work of Belarusian artists.
Georg Kargl Fine Arts, one of Vienna’s oldest galleries, will be presenting the exciting Polish artist Agnieszka Polska, who won the prestigious National Gallery Prize in Berlin a few years ago. The Stasys Museum, a modern cultural institution being established in Panevėžys, is preparing a major presentation at the fair. The Riga Contemporary Art Centre Kim? is bringing interesting artists to Vilnius. Visitors will enjoy the first-time participation of E. A. Shared Space Gallery from Tbilisi and Medūza Gallery who, together with the artists’ project space Draugų vardai, will create an open performative space with music. The performance of the acclaimed artist Robertas Narkus is expected to be spectacular—he will talk about his experiences at the Venice Biennale, the relationship between two artists and the experience of creation in his family. A kind of unexpected self-narrative and stand-up comedy set.
At the fair, we are creating a space where artists and institutions from different countries can communicate with each other. Naturally, they affect each other in their interactions; the encounters and repetitions at the intersections and within the architecture of the Project Zone will allow the viewer to jump like an atom from one time to another, from one happening to the next.
LR: Recently, there has been a clear indication audiences are very interested in performance art. Perhaps because it can convey more than the stable painting by combining several art forms. Have you noticed a trend that artists are increasingly turning to performance as the medium for their work?
VK: It would be extremely bold to say one medium can be better than another. Painting can also be very performative, you can feel the expression in the themes, decisions and strokes.
There is certainly truth to the fact contemporary technology encourages us to be performative and social media culture influences art and artists. In particular, TikTok demonstrates a clear performativity that constructs identity through clothes, hairstyle, make-up, voice, environment and directorial decisions. It is perhaps inevitable that art also reacts; in the same way, TikTok adopts solutions from art and popular culture. Social media platforms enable audiences to become artists themselves, not just consumers, pushing contemporary art to respond. This is why art exhibitions today are becoming increasingly performative and attractive, reflecting the screen-like nature of the world.
Performance is a complex mechanism and a 15-minute performance often requires enormous effort, creativity, time and financial resources. However, even the most expensive performance will be over in 5 or 15 minutes but the painting will continue to hang on the wall. This is why, in the history of the world, the idea of collecting performance is a tricky and complex one. What defines a performance? What are the possibilities of keeping it, storing it or repeating it? I do not doubt ArtVilnius’23 will try to address these themes as well, bringing them back to the Project Zone from other areas of the fair through conversations and discussions.
LR: Indeed, performance art is often fleeting—you can’t cage it or put it on a shelf. Are performance and longevity compatible concepts?
VK: If we look historically, performance remains if it is documented. Marina Abramović has meticulously documented her works in videos and photographs. So today, we can witness her performances. Some artists, who believe documentation does not help their work in any way, deliberately avoid doing this. Tino Sehgal, for example, an artist based in Berlin, used to sell his performances of constructed situations without any documentation. The collector would buy the title of the work, the words spoken by the artist at the time of its creation and the name of the author. This radical act of disappearance… Maybe it’s a good one, given the world is already full of objects, things and information. It is not at all necessary that every act of our creativity has proof.
LR: Last year, Ukraine was a very prominent theme at the fair. Will we see the theme of war in the works of the Project Zone this year? Or perhaps artists have discovered other important issues throughout the year?
VK: Last year we had some really interesting projects from Ukraine. This year, we decided not to repeat the theme and involve more Eastern European artists to talk about the instability Central and Eastern European countries are going through. As a member of the European Union, we can feel more secure, we can talk about the success of artists and their work in the art scene but artists from countries further to the east are going through other, much more difficult topics.
In the previous edition, war and its premonitions were very much present in the fair’s spaces. This year, I noticed artists are talking about the multiple crises of the world, about its fragility, about ecology and the need to talk and act together. Artists do not want to talk about war but about the need for a more peaceful, less conflictual and more just world. While the idea of peace is apparently becoming akin to a utopia at the moment, we need to rethink who we are, where we are going and what we can do together so the results of multiple crises are not so tragic.
LR: This means there is no way to separate art from politics. Do apolitical artists simply not exist?
VK: It has been talked about since at least World War II. Is it possible to write poetry after Auschwitz? One of the answers was you can write even better poetry that speaks about the pain you have experienced. It makes sense to make art and talk about war and that is probably what is happening, although there are many different scenes in the world. In Paris, the war is further but there are strikes and racism. Living in Lithuania or Central Eastern Europe, we see how fragile the lives of states, communities and minorities are and how important it is to cherish the history of our culture. For me, this is very much related to the war in Ukraine because we can see how Russia is destroying Ukraine’s heritage and the stories have to be retold.
Another important theme in Central Eastern Europe is the desire of artists to become modern and contemporary, using as much technology and modern materials as possible. This brings us back to the notion of identity and performativity because culture is something that repeats itself over and over again until it becomes an unquestionable algorithm. At the fair, we will observe how institutions from different countries create new worlds through their national narratives, talking about being together in one world of peace. It seems to me being at the crossroads, where you can meet other artists and viewers, is very important.
The three-day programme of ‘Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow’ will showcase a lineup of Lithuanian and international art institutions and invited artists at the contemporary art fair ArtVilnius’23, which will take place at the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Centre LITEXPO between October 13–15. This year, the fair explores interpretations of performativity.
New additions to the fair this year include exceptional contemporary art institutions such as E. A. Shared Space from Tbilisi; the Theatre of the European Humanities University, art space Medūza and Draugų vardai from Vilnius; the prestigious Georg Kargl Gallery from Vienna; Kim? Contemporary Art Centre from Riga; and Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art. New projects specially created for the fair will be presented by the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Centre, Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art from Krakow, and Stasys Museum from Panevėžys.
ArtVilnius’23 is organized by the Association of Lithuanian Art Gallerists, headed by Diana Stomienė with artistic director Sonata Baliuckaitė.
ArtVilnius’23 is funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, patron is Vilnius City Municipality, and Maecenas the law firm Cobalt.
The main partner of ArtVilnius’23 is Litexpo.
Main photo of Valentinas Klimašauskas – by Mika Savičiūtė.