When Lithuania broke free from Soviet rule a quarter of the century ago, it quickly removed all monuments that had anything to do with communist ideology or the Soviet occupation. Then, with the same hastiness, she rebuilt the national monuments destroyed by the Soviets, and erected some new ones, albeit exactly of the same pre-war style and content.
After paying that debt to the past (as if correcting the mistakes of history), there were hopes for new public art to become more contemporary, new monuments to be more conceptual and more relevant, and the still remaining ideologically controversial ones to be re-contextualised. However, this hasn’t happened. On the contrary, in recent years the few remaining examples of the Soviet sculptural heritage of Socialist Realism were removed, and there is a growing desire to erect more and more bronze heroes for the centenary of the Lithuanian nation state. There are even demands to memorialise freedom by directly adopting not only romantic, but also imperial and totalitarian tradition. But do these monuments fulfil their function today? Do they help to remember, to reflect, do they act as a moral compass?
The question of why and when society needs monuments and what kind of monument can keep memory alive today was brought up by the 11th Kaunas Biennial in the fall of 2017: the international exhibition There and Not There, curated by Paulina Pukytė in public spaces in Kaunas opposed conservative traditionalism of monuments with its inherent didacticism and demagogy, and suggested new, conceptual ideas for commemoration: monument as intervention into everyday ritual; monument as a constant effort; monument that is there only when there is someone to create and perceive it at the same time; monument that exists by its absence – an unerectable and therefore indestructible monument. Monument as a process.
Curator: Paulina Pukytė
Participating artists (in order of appearance): Adina (LT), Philip Miller (ZA), Paulina Pukytė (LT), Jenny Kagan (UK), Horst Hoheisel & Andreas Knitz (DE), Allard van Hoorn (BE), Tatzu Nishi (JP), Dainius Liškevičius (LT), Anton Lukoszevieze (UK), Karolina Freino (PL), Jonas Oškinis & Raimundas Krukonis (LT), Manca Bajec (SI), Juozas Zikaras (LT), Kostas Bogdanas (LT), Juozas Laivys (LT).