Long-distance Friendships - Kauno Bienalė

Long-distance Friendships


The 14th Kaunas Biennial (Kaunas, Lithuania) and Contemporary Art Festival Survival Kit 14 (Riga, Latvia) announce Alicia Knock and Inga Lāce as the co-curators of Long-distance Friendships. A programme of events driven by shared research, friendship, and exchange of ideas, will activate decolonial perspectives and aesthetics across both sites, in each country. Through the overlooked lens of personal exchange and relationships drawn from transnational research paths, the collaboration will engage in the history of emancipatory struggles that connected Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and certain countries in Africa. The Soviet Union and other Socialist bloc countries played an important role in the processes of decolonisation in Africa from economic, infrastructural and military support, to education and cultural exchanges driven to expand influence and promote socialism globally. Ideologically driven, those exchanges nevertheless offered personal, often transformative experiences to the community of students, artists or workers involved. Departing from these past exchanges that were used by the Soviet ideology to strengthen its influence in the world, Knock and Lāce propose alternative perspectives for the future. As the seemingly forgotten, yet so present, the traumatic past of the region is looming back in the daily lives of Eastern European societies with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the curators  ask: in a time of geopolitical fragmentation, can international alliances be forged and nurtured based on friendship and solidarity rather than power and market dynamics? 

Unearthing personal stories rooted in both history and fiction, notions of friendship and education as a learning process lie at the heart of both projects, also addressing embodied racism and the lack of mobility between people, then and today. Sharing intimate research journeys and activating workshops, the two sites will work in tandem. Largely collaborating with contemporary artists that have strong ties to Africa and Eastern Europe, Knock and Lāce invite participating artists to respond to the seemingly distant contexts of post-Soviet and post-colonial African states

Kaunas Biennial takes as its point of departure the now disused central post office. The post served as a point of connection for both the countries on the border of the USSR like the Baltics, as well as for many African countries. Under the nose of official communication, it was a space for smuggling and resistance, that the curators hope to revive through mail art and decolonial education networks across the Global South. Highlighting ongoing mobility restrictions based on harsh visa policies, Long-distance friendships will articulate official and unofficial spaces, also reminding us of the post office as a space of surveillance and censorship. Artists will revisit politically engaged mediums such as cinema, textile and printmaking to stage a fragmented history of resistance. Digging into precolonial imaginaries, pagan symbolism, myths and motifs from both regions, the artists will try to propose common languages and codes. New strategies of communication drawn from spirituality, locality and indigenous knowledge will therefore connect the different sites contemplated as spaces of shelter and survival in the time of war

In Riga, the annual contemporary art festival Survival Kit will see Knock and Lāce revisiting international conferences and festivals from the past, seeking to create new networks of solidarity, storytelling and intimacy. Rooted in the cultural exchange between local and global audiences, the Survival Kit festival was conceived 14 years ago in response to the economic crisis. Each edition continues to explore socially significant themes with the aim of calling on society to consider alternative scenarios of survival by continually engaging cultural discourse. This year’s edition, through archival and research-based commissions with links to Latvia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Africa will shed light on a performative archeology of the Soviet era as well as in pre-colonial times, offering fragments of unwritten histories by propelling them into the present. There was a certain ideological framework that surrounded performances of peace and friendship in festivals, gatherings and conferences during the cold war, thus the curators have invited participating artists to propose a redefined framework for a transnational conference addressing the issues of co-existence today, one that considers the environment, gender and politics.

Nurturing a growing network of friendship that transcends borders, a collaboration is organised with Ljubljana Biennale (opens 15th September 2023) under the artistic direction of Ibrahim Mahama who has invited curators Exit Frame Collective, Alicia Knock, Selom Koffi Kudjie, Inga Lāce, Beya Othmani and Patrick Nii Okanta.


Kaunas Biennial is co-funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture and Kaunas City Municipality. Survival Kit 14 is organised by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art and supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, Riga City Council, Goethe-Institut Riga and Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.