Marina Abramović in Kaunas. Deciphering Contemporary Art and Sending Energy to Ukraine

Six thousand people, holding each other’s shoulders and sending the energy of love to Ukraine, currently fighting for its freedom. It was not a protest or a rally in the central city square. It was six thousand people gathered in Kaunas on the evening of 31 March to hear Marina Abramović talk about performance art and life in art. The most recognisable art world figure to visit Kaunas started the evening with the following words: “I have an additional part of the lecture because of the current war situation.”

The artist came to the homeland of her friend Jonas Mekas to launch her retrospective exhibition “Memory of Being”. The opening event was accompanied by a lecture “The Past, Present, Future of Performance” at the Žalgirio Arena, which was crowned by an artistic message supporting Ukraine and a short yet impressive Q&A session. This was one of the events of the Kaunas - European Capital of Culture 2022 programme that attracted the most extensive local and international interest.

“This is the biggest audience I have ever had,” smiled the Serbian-born artist as she greeted the people from all over Lithuania and abroad. Abramović, who almost five decades ago switched Yugoslavia for the liberal West, where she blossomed as an artist, gave, in a good two hours, a comprehensive introduction to performance art and its influence on other, often more traditional, fields of art.

References to essential names and their works - performance videos, music pieces, film extracts - were supplemented by insights into the artist’s place in humanity, the Abramović method she has refined to achieve the best possible results, the relationship with the other, and the cost of being an artist, which includes sacrifice, suffering and loneliness.

The fragmentary yet broad perspective of Abramović’s own work became for some a timely repetition of what they have read, heard and seen, as well as a way to make connections before visiting the exhibition at the Kaunas Picture Gallery, while for others, it turned out to be a key to further acquaintance with contemporary art and its seemingly unlimited forms and the possibilities of human mind and body.

“ex-Yugoslavia was a bridge between the East and the West, the Eastern and Western concepts of time - and on a bridge, there is always wind,” the artist began to explain the difference between Eastern and Western concepts of the body. She mentioned that people rely on technology in the West, while in the East, they trust intuition and the power of the body itself. “I have been to the East many times, I have participated in many rituals - not as an observer, but actually to understand how I can best use my body in the best possible way, to push my mental and physical limits - and by learning this, I could take Eastern practices to the West and create art.”

Interestingly, religion and a lack of belief in anything other than oneself are intertwined in the artist’s life. As a child, she was under the care of a very religious grandmother and was later brought up in a more liberal environment; she believes this contrast helped her to learn and maintain the discipline that is necessary for an artist’s practice. “I don’t think everyone can be an artist, and I don’t think artists can change the world - but they can point to important questions; they are servants of society and have to be responsible,” emphasised the guest who visited Lithuania at the invitation of Kaunas 2022 and the Meno Parkas Gallery.

Abramović made several references to Ulay, the recently deceased German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen, with whom she lived and worked for twelve years, exploring, to put it very briefly, the relationship between the couple and their bodies. A large screen in the Žalgirio Arena also showed recordings of several of their performances. “We parted on the Great Wall of China - each of us walked 2,500 km to do it. Why couldn’t we do it over a phone call? Well, we wanted to have a dramatic ending,” Abramović joked delicately. Both she and Ulay were born under the sign of Sagittarius and met on their shared birthday, a coincidence that was symbolised by the performance Rest Energy in Amsterdam in 1980. “It was only four minutes long, it was the shortest, and I thought it was the longest,” recalled the artist. Rest Energy is a piece about absolute trust when your life depends on others. The impression was reinforced by microphones attached to the artists’ chests so that they could hear their hearts beating faster and faster.

Among the names such as Bruce Nauman, Laurie Anderson, Pina Bausch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Abramović mentioned the Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh. “I am not inspired by others. Why should I be inspired ‘second-hand’? I go to the source - nature inspires me. But there is one person I call a master. It is Tehching Hsieh. This man only made five pieces in his life. Every piece lasted one year. Then I asked him - what are you doing now? He said - I’m doing life; I am living my life. I realised that he had gone through a transformation - he had reached the highest stage possible for a human being,” the artist told the audience in Kaunas. She says that true Zen is only achieved by doing difficult things because it is very easy to do what you like. Don’t be afraid to explore, don’t be afraid to make mistakes - such seemingly simple advice should not be overlooked if you want to do more than 100%. And, according to Abramović, you need to do 150%.

Although her work explores essential, complex and often difficult themes, a cool head and a healthy sense of humour are integral. “I am going to sit and talk to you; after all, I am 76,” the artist laughed after standing at the beginning of her lecture. She also mentioned the talent to joke when talking about Jonas Mekas, whom she described as a great human being. “I divide the world into two sections - the originals and those who follow. John Mekas was a true original,” Abramović said what the audience received with an ovation.

There were dozens, if not hundreds, of those willing to meet the icon in person. Still, only those who attended the opening of the “Memory of Being” exhibition on Tuesday could get the celebrity’s autographs or take a selfie. However, after the lecture on Thursday evening, a few of the attendees were invited to ask questions. An artist from Ukraine, currently in Kaunas, asked how to start making art after experiencing great pain. Abramović revealed that after the Balkan war, she felt great shame and was highly shocked - she was unable to create for two years; it was just too difficult. In order not to become a daily newspaper with yesterday’s news, it takes time to digest information and to create a work of art that speaks not only about a specific war, the war in Ukraine, but about war in general.” Here, Abramović mentioned her bloody performance Balkan Baroque, which was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1997.

On the occasion of Kaunas - European Capital of Culture 2022, Meno Parkas Gallery presents the exhibition “Memory of Being” by the art world icon and performance artist Marina Abramović, which is on show at the Kaunas Picture Gallery of the National M. K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art (K. Donelaičio st. 16, Kaunas) from 30 March to 31 July. The exhibition, which consists of video and sound installations, offers an opportunity to get acquainted with the artist’s creative biography, her famous Manifesto and her unique creative method, as well as to see interviews with the artist and other documentary material and to purchase the catalogue “The Cleaner”, the most comprehensive catalogue of Abramović’s work to date, which has been published especially for the occasion in Lithuanian.

Photos by Martynas Plepys

Attending the Opening of Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022? Check out This Memo

In just a few days, the communities of Kaunas and Kaunas District will be able to proudly introduce themselves as residents of the European Capital of Culture. Hundreds of artists, performers, technicians, volunteers, and all who are passionate about culture are putting the finishing touches to the grand opening of Kaunas 2022 – and they have put together a memo for all those who want to celebrate together.

Getting a Free Pass and Scheduling Your Arrival

On 22 January at 7:30 pm, at the Žalgiris Arena, Act I of The Contemporary Myth of Kaunas Trilogy, “The Confusion”, will occur on the Nemunas island, near Žalgirio Arena. It will be a miraculous spectacle of music, video projections, dance and light, telling the story of Kaunas for Lithuania and Europe.

Anyone with a free ticket for the opening show “The Confusion” will be able to enter the spectator sector indicated on the ticket through the gate marked with its letter, 2 hours before the start of the event, from 5:30 pm. Free tickets for this event are available on the bilietai.lt platform.

Accessibility for Attendees with Special Needs

A designated sector will be accessible for persons with special needs. To access this sector, the visitors will have to present the staff with a ticket, the EU Digital COVID Certificate (or its local equivalent), and a certified medical special needs certificate.

Trained volunteers will assist participants in the Accessibility Sector. In addition, people with special needs are welcome to use the Social Taxi service free of charge by filling in the online form or calling +370 687 440 01, weekdays 9 am to 6 pm.

Events After the Opening and The Beast of Kaunas City Secrets Game

For the precise schedule and locations of the 100+ other Kaunas 2022 opening weekend events, please visit www.kaunas2022.eu/sukilimas  and download the brand-new Kaunas 2022 mobile app. On 19 January, the events will start in the Kaunas district. On 22 January, the most important day of the weekend, the programme in downtown Kaunas has been arranged so that everything will be easily accessible on foot.

A unique gift for visitors of the European Capital of Culture opening weekend is The Beast of Kaunas City Secrets Game, which will start right after “The Confusion”. Not only players will discover the faces of Kaunas you have never seen before, but they will also have the chance to win extraordinary prizes. A map with the objects and rules of the game will be available to everyone and can be downloaded from 22 January on the official Kaunas 2022 website.

Traffic Restrictions and Planning Tips

To ensure the safety of participants and spectators and the undisturbed work of special services, traffic will be restricted in part of the city centre of Kaunas during, before, and after “The Confusion” event.

The organisers recommend travelling to the opening events of “Kaunas 2022” by public transport (check t real-time timetable in the Trafi app), cooperating with your neighbours, or using car-sharing or taxi services.

If you choose to drive your car to the events, the recommended car parking areas are at Kaunas railway and bus stations, Kaunas Castle, Brastos and Užnemunės St., and Aleksotas Aerodrome.

From 22 January 00:00 to 23 January 00:00, the section of Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave. from Maironio St. to Kaunakiemio St. will be closed, and the entrances to the avenue via A. Mickevičiaus, Kaunakiemio and Maironio St.

From 22 January at 3:00 pm until 23 January at 03:00 am, traffic will be restricted on the following streets:

  • Kęstučio St. (closed at the intersection of Vytauto Ave. and Kęstučio St., public transport traffic is allowed)
  • Gedimino St. (closed at the intersection of V. Putvinskio St. and Gedimino St.)
  • Poškos St. (closed at the intersection of I. Kanto str. and D. Poškos str.)
  • Ožeškienės St. (closed at Šv. Gertrūdos str. and Savanorių pr., public transport traffic is allowed).
  • Griunvaldo St. (closed at the intersection of Griunvaldo St. and Vytauto Ave.)
  • Miško St. (closed at the intersection of Griunvaldo St. and Vytauto Ave.)
  • Laisvės Avenue (closed at the intersection of Vytautas Ave. and Laisvės Ave.)
  • Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave. towards Žalgirio Arena (closed at the intersection of Birštono St. and Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave., traffic only allowed towards the parking area)
  • Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave. towards Žalgirio Arena (closed at the intersection of Prietilčio St. and Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave., traffic only allowed towards the parking area)

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Information Points Open all Weekend

The Kaunas 2022 office at 36 Laisvės Ave. has joined forces with the Tourist Information Centre – from now on, you can get all the information not only about the events of the European Capital of Culture, but also about tourism in Kaunas, excursions, exciting objects, and other attractions, and buy souvenirs. The opening weekend opening hours of the Kaunas 2022 office are 10 am – 11 pm on 22 January, and 10 am – 6 pm on 23 January.

The Kaunas 2022 Information Centre in the Akropolis Shopping and Entertainment Centre will also be open all year long, starting with “The Confusion” weekend. Here, you can ask all your European Capital of Culture-related questions, find out the most exciting things to know and learn more about Kaunas. On 22 January, visit the info centre between 10 am and 9 pm, and on 23 January, 10 am – 5 pm.

Winter Tips and COVID-19 Management

“The Confusion” and numerous other events planned for the opening weekend before and after will take place outside. Residents of Kaunas, Kaunas district and visitors are advised to carefully assess the weather forecasts and take into account the temperature and precipitation when choosing clothing and accessories and slip-resistant footwear.

Kaunas 2022 is happy to have an extensive network of partners, including many Kaunas cafes and restaurants, ready to warm up the visitors during the opening weekend and offer them refreshments during the cultural marathon.

The organizers remind that the COVID-19 pandemic management procedure established by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania will be in force at all Kaunas 2022 opening events: only visitors with a valid local vaccination passport or its international equivalent document (which must be presented together with the ticket when entering the event area) will be admitted to the events. Protective medical face masks or respirators (FFP2 masks) must be worn throughout the main event and recommended while outside; coughing and sneezing etiquette must be observed, and a safe distance must be maintained. As of 17 January, respirators (FFP2 masks) must be worn for indoor events.

A Live Broadcast for Those who Can’t Join

If you feel under the weather or have cold symptoms, stay at home and watch “The Confusion” on the National television and online – after all, this weekend of Kaunas 2022 is just the beginning! This year, culture will be impossible to avoid in Kaunas and Kaunas district, with more than 40 festivals, over 60 exhibitions, more than 250 performing arts events, including more than 50 premieres, and more than 250 concerts in the official programme.