THERE AND NOT THERE
(Im)possibility of a Monument
In public spaces around the city
The 11th Kaunas Biennial seeks to oppose the populist practice of removing/erecting and the conservative traditionalism prevalent in monument discourse in Lithuania, and to stimulate and legitimise radically new, contemporary, conceptual, relevant ideas and forms of commemoration, inviting us to look back at removed monuments, rethink existing monuments, and imagine new monuments.
Paulina Pukytė, curator of the 11th Kaunas Biennial
Participating artists of THERE AND NOT THERE:
Horst Hoheisel & Andreas Knitz
Allard van Hoorn
Jonas Oškinis & Raimundas Krukonis
When Lithuania broke free from Soviet rule a quarter of a century ago, it hurriedly removed all monuments that had anything to do with communist ideology or Soviet occupation. Then, with the same hastiness, we rebuilt the national monuments that the Soviets had destroyed and erected some new ones, albeit exactly in the same style and of the same content. After paying that debt to the past (as if correcting the mistakes of history), we might have hoped that new monuments would be more conceptual, relevant and diverse, and the remaining ideologically dated or controversial public sculptures would be re-contextualised and acquire new meanings. However, apart from several successful but temporary public art projects and a few less traditional monuments, this hasn’t happened. In fact, we are experiencing a regression – in recent years the few remaining specimens of Soviet sculptural heritage were removed (arguably the last example of Social Realism in Lithuania succumbed to populist political manipulations), and there is a growing urge to erect even more traditional bronze heroes, as well as demands to memorialise freedom by simply adopting totalitarian and imperial tradition. And here in Kaunas, in the turbulence of the mid-twentieth century, my grandfather, as a young man, together with other 34,000 other Jews (a quarter of all pre-war Kaunas population), vanished without a trace. When you walk around Kaunas, almost nothing reminds you that they all lived here, that they were all murdered, and why. But how to remember what is NOT THERE? How not to forget what is THERE? How to forget? How to commemorate something we wish had not been? And, in the face of over-saturation, what monuments do we really need and why do we need them at all?
Counter-monument is the monument against itself, against the traditional didactic function of monuments, against their demagogical rigidity and their authoritarian propensity to reduce viewers to passive spectators. (James E. Young)