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On a More Serious Note: Art Actions and Performances
Erika Grigoravičienė
An important element of rebellious art at the end of the 1990s was living and body art: happenings, art actions and performances.
In so-called body art actions, representation (characteristic of painting) was replaced by real processes, actual materials and the bodies of the artist or actor – physical objects and psychophysiological subjects experiencing the boundaries of their abilities. In Lithuania, body and material art actions did not strictly differ from performances, in which the artist acts personally. In contrast to an actor in the theatre, the artist did not portray another person, and his behavior – whether unusual or quite common to the routine – was comparable to real events in the artist's life. Happenings, in which bystanders were included (sometimes against their will) as participants, became – similarly to political activities – part of the life of the community and its history.
Living art arose and thrived in the United States, Western Europe and Japan at the end of the 1950s and through the 1960s. This was a time of growing social activism, political unrest and upheaval in the media. Western artists fought against the norms of the art market, conventional morality and a consumerist society. Happenings, art actions and performances became a means of political activism and expression for oppressed social groups, and soon spread to Eastern Europe.
Living art accompanied the numerous political actions of the Sąjūdis period, but they were first an attempt to revive cultural spheres and bring them closer to daily life. This movement is most clearly represented by the artist groups "Žalias lapas" (Green Leaf) and "Post Ars", as well as interdisciplinary and international happening and performance festivals.
Living art festivals were first organized in Lithuania by young composers (Gintaras Sodeika, Arūnas Dikčius, Šarūnas Nakas). On March 27, 1998, students of the State Art Institute and members of "Žalias lapas" – Gediminas Urbonas, Aidas Bareikis and Džiugas Katinas – held an event at the State Conservatory entitled Geležinis vilkas (The Iron Wolf), where they tested both the sound emanating from sculptures made of several tons of nonferrous metals as well as the patience of the audience.
Composers organized the first happening festival in the town of Anykščiai in the summer of 1988. In attendance was Professor Vytautas Landsbergis (soon to become the leader of an independent Lithuania), who shared with participants his memories of corresponding with Jurgius Mačiūnas. During an event called ​Paskutinė vakarienė (The Last Supper), "Žalias lapas" members wrapped themselves in red-painted gauze and distributed pages of the Communist Party manifesto to audience members, setting fire to a sacrificial table as a finale. In Nida, at the "Vėjas" international symposium organized by the Lithuanian Artists’ Union, the group presented art action Angakoko sugrįžimas (The Return of Angakok), dragging an enormous inflatable snake through the dunes around the city.
The most impressive event organized by "Žalias lapas", which thrived until 1992, was the presentation of Kelias (The Road) in December, 1990, in front of Vilnius City Hall (which at the time housed the Lithuanian Museum of Art). To the sound of amplified crashing cymbals, human figures drawn with soot and chalk were "run over" by cars, mixing the materials into a gray mass that settled onto the audience. The artists had received prior permission from city authorities and coordinated the event with city police who, as they regulated traffic, occasionally opened the street and urged drivers to pass through, including random people as participants in the event.
"Post ars" was established in 1989 by the artists Česlovas Lukenskas, Robertas Antinis, Aleksas Andriuškevičius and Vilnius photographer Gintaras Zinkevičius, who documented the group's events. In their first show in 1990 at the Kaunas Artists' Union, Lukenskas exhibited a composition called Persižvaigždžiavimas (Overstarring) made from rotting pig heads, and Andriuškevičius displayed loaves of bread impaled with nails. The exhibit provoked considerable public outrage and protest. In 1991, at a gravel quarry in Zatyšiai (Jonava District), "Post ars" performed its first public event, involving many onlookers. The plot of this pseudo ritual centered on death and rebirth: people lying on the ground were covered in sheets weighted down with stones, and then covered in gravel and wrapped in thick paper. When they freed themselves, the sheathings were set on fire.
At the first "Works" Vilnius Performance Festival, Lukenskas wrapped a group of renowned artists in paper and carved the resulting object with a terribly roaring chainsaw (Veiksmas darbo motyvais (Action a Work Motif)). In one art action, a festival participant, Aistė Kisarauskaitė, sliced her fingers with a small, blunt knife while reading from children's books, while another art action – the killing of young hamsters – failed because the sidewalk brick that was to forever flatten the poor animals didn't fall into its assigned place. The public failed to understand the content of the feminist art actions and was enraged by the cruel treatment of the animals. Thus began in Lithuania a debate about killing for art's sake.
Read more: "Post Ars".
The Vilnius festivals were organized by Linas Liandzbergis, who was inspired by his own participation in similar international events. In the summer of 1991, he began a collaboration with Džiugas Katinas, a member of "Žalias lapas". For the next decade, they participated together in international new art festivals (in Hungary, Slovakia and Korea). In 1991, in Vác, Hungary, they performed an event called ​Žemės paslaptys ​(Secrets of the Earth), covering themselves in clay and gluing themselves with human hair they had collected from the many hair salons in Vilnius.
Vilnius hosted three performance festivals: "Works" in 1991 (at the Art Exhibition Hall and the Langas Gallery), the international festival "Body Dimension" in 1995 at the Jutempus Gallery (with the participation of artists from Poland, France, Canada, Korea, and Gintaras Zinkevičius as the sole participant from Lithuania), and "Dimension O" in 1997 at the Contemporary Art Centre, where members of "Post ars" flogged the walls with whips. Participating for the first time as representatives of the new generation were Jonas and Justas Vaitiekūnas, who brewed and drank moonshine; Artūras Raila, who organized a biker group to ride through the halls of the Art Centre; and Evaldas Jansas – stripped naked in front of an audience, his body then covered with honey and bird feathers (and with every intention, in such a state, to mount the steed depicted in a famous statue carrying city founder Grand Duke Gediminas).
According to Šarūnas Nakas, the central feature of the happening festivals in Anykščiai was their frivolity, as organizers sought neither to export their ideas nor commercialize them. (Ne)priklausomo šiuolaikinio meno istorijos: savivaldos ir iniciatyvos Lietuvoje 1987–2011 m., sudarytojai: Vytautas Michelkevičius, Kęstutis Šapoka, Vilnius: Lietuvos tarpdisciplininio meno kūrėjų sąjunga, 2011, p. 140–142. The one-day art actions organized by Redas Diržys in Alytus between 1993 and 1996, called ​Tiesė. Pjūvis (Straight. Section) were also of an anti-art character. Liandzbergis intended to turn Vilnius into an internationally renowned center for performance art, with "Žalias lapas" and "Post ars" planning to seriously pursue this field of expression, but by 2000 the idea had lost its vigor, as artists began directing their interests to new digital technologies.


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(Ne)priklausomo šiuolaikinio meno istorijos: savivaldos ir iniciatyvos Lietuvoje 1987–2011 m.
Sudarytojai: Vytautas Michelkevičius, Kęstutis Šapoka, Vilnius: Lietuvos tarpdisciplininio meno kūrėjų sąjunga, 2011
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