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Kaunas: The 12th Kaunas Biennial

June 7, 2019 - September 29, 2019

Illustration for the 12 th Kaunas Biennial by Karolis Strautniekas.

Illustration for the 12 th Kaunas Biennial by Karolis Strautniekas.



Artists: Bas Jan Ader, Jasmina Cibic, Céline Condorelli, Johanna Diehl, Ieva Epnere, Aslan Gaisumov, Inga Galinytė & Anna Papathanasiou, Alberto Garutti, Francesca Grilli, Laura Grisi, Christian Jankowski, Laura Kaminskaitė, Taus Makhacheva, Adrian Melis, Artūras Morozovas, Deimantas Narkevičius, Robertas Narkus, Tamu Nkiwane, Amalia Pica, Karol Pichler, Andrej Polukord, Ghenadie Popescu, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Mykola Ridnyi, Bálint Szombathy, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas.

MagiC Carpets artists: Sonja Jo, Ana Kovačić.

The 12th Kaunas Biennial: AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING invites visitors to embark on a journey through the city. Taking the history of Kaunas as its point of departure, the exhibition explores the metaphor of travel to investigate broader notions of passage, transition, and repair. Works by thirty international artists reflect upon how the feeling of disorientation underlying contemporary existence globally intertwines with the specific socio-political realities of nation- building in the New East, where alternative European alliances are emerging from the knots of past regimes. In the midst of this shift, AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING examines the role cultural production can play in documenting and processing moments of political change as well as in the construction of regional and national identity. In many ways, Kaunas can be seen as a microcosm of the multiple narratives of change that unfolded across Europe during the 20th Century. Over the course of recent history, the city has been caught in a state of political flux, transitioning from one regime to the next. Even during its prosperous twenty-year phase as capital city after the declaration of Lithuanian independence between 1919 and 1940, Kaunas remained in waiting, set to fall back into the status of second city after the liberation of Vilnius from Polish control. What followed, however, was occupation by the Soviet Union, then Nationalist Socialist Germany, reoccupation by the Soviets, and finally the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990. This chain of events allowed Lithuania and Kaunas to emerge once again as consciously European entities, with the country gaining entry to the European Union in 2004. But it also raises the question of how the city should position itself culturally and ideologically in the aftermath of such perpetual change and political trauma.

After Leaving | Before Arriving stakes out a path in the undefined space between remembering and forgetting, and history and progress, against the backdrop of the city’s Naujamiestis (New Town) district. A sensitive selection of existing artistic projects, as well as 10 new commissions and two projects developed within the framework of the MagiC Carpets residency programme, have allowed a careful dialogue to emerge between the works of art and their location. Alongside the main exhibition venues at Kaunas Railway Station (including a set of historical cargo wagons) and Kaunas Picture Gallery, interventions will take place at further sites that bear witness to the city’s multi-layered history: the complex at Unity Square which is home to the Vytautas the Great War Museum and the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art; the Kaunas Artists’ House; and the Kaunas Old Cemetery (also known as Ramybės Park). The curatorial methodology of the exhibition focuses on the architectural history of each of these locations, looking at the close interplay of urban development and political transition in Kaunas throughout the 20th Century. The works on display serve to activate these different loci in the city's collective memory and foster an understanding of history as a vital force that can rupture the fabric of everyday existence and offer new perspectives on the city environment.

Known for reinventing itself with every edition, Kaunas Biennial announced an open call in summer 2018 and invited a group of international curators to give shape to AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING. Advised by consulting curator Lewis Biggs, the team consists of Elisabeth Del Prete, Daniel Milnes, Lýdia Pribišová, Neringa Stoškutė, and Alessandra Troncone.

From its humble beginnings in 1997, each Kaunas Biennial has been developed from scratch, changing the structure, terms of participation, place and concept of the exhibition and inviting new partners, curators, artists, and other cultural operators to bring art into focus as a powerful and transformative force. Since 2017, Kaunas Biennial has been the leading organization for Creative Europe Platform project MagiC Carpets, which unites 13 organizations, based in 13 different European Union and candidate countries. Within the framework of AFTER LEAVING | BEFORE ARRIVING, new projects will be presented by MagiC Carpets artists Sonja Jo and Ana Kovačić.