Curators transform Baltic Triennial into ‘Mindaugas’
Rather than following the standard model of a “multi-platform, pluralist exhibition,” Ayas, who is also the director of the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, and Cook have intentionally curated the event around a more condensed theme, embodied in the character of Mindaugas, who will be the triennial’s central figure. “We wanted to choose someone who is as empty a subject as possible. A sort of stereotype that lures you into thinking that you recognize it, and yet once examined closer is in fact without a real character and ready for any manner of modification. We thought of someone who would be commonly known by the locals — Mindaugas is one of the most popular male names in Lithuania,” Ayas explained in an interview with Today’s Zaman. The concept was developed with Ieva Miseviciute and Michael Portnoy.
In addition to being a widespread name, Mindaugas was also the first and only king of Lithuania, ruling in the 13th century. “It is amazing that the name, while being so common, like Osman, Mehmet or Ali in Turkish, has such clear reference to one single human at the beginning of Lithuania’s history. Just by mentioning this name we are already speaking about the local context, its various traditions, customs, their inventions and revivals,” Ayas further elaborated.
Since everyone knows at least one Mindaugas and everyone has an idea of who he is, he becomes a repository of images, according to Ayas. The idea behind the event is that a different artist will direct Mindaugas every day. “People will be able to see him in various places in the city, at various times, engaged in different activities. The idea of using him as a medium for artists’ work is similar to a school of acting that treats an actor as an empty vessel: We asked each artist to fill that vessel, to create Mindaugas from scratch,” she noted.
When Ayas and Cook met in Vilnius in order to work on the triennial, they inquired not only about the contemporary art scene, its actors, and the history of the triennial, but also delved into the past and present of Vilnius, including its contemporary issues, its crises and its historical relationship to communism, Christianity, paganism, anarchism and other religious and political movements. However, their work was also shaped by their personal interactions with the city. “We also faced the fact of a limited budget. We took a long walk in the snow, climbed a hill to oversee the city and decided there to shrink the triennial. In part because of the reality of budget limitations, since performance is quite a costly medium, in part due to the experimental nature of the Baltic Triennial — we are sure that even a small event can activate a wide response and provoke many thoughts,” Ayas explained.
Lack of radicalism and experimental spirit
Although the Baltic Triennial had previously been on the path of the ever-expanding large-scale art exhibition that gets larger with every new edition, in the current installment the curators decided to “focus on the human experience and the ways a human functions in today’s environment.” They believe that it does not necessarily take much production to share complex ideas or to resonate with the audience. “It is no coincidence that a large part of the triennial is dedicated to solo performance and film with very prominent personal visions,” Ayas emphasized.
Asked what she felt was lacking in the dominant model of multi-platform exhibitions, Ayas cited “radicalism and the experimental spirit.” According to her, visitors see an experimental spirit more in exhibition-making rather than at biennials, and this is how the Baltic Triennial distinguishes itself from other similar events in the world.
Further elaborating on the concept of the event, Ayas explained that in the evenings Mindaugas will rest, and the ideas that he has embodied during the day will appear on a stage at the Contemporary Art Center where a different artist will present a solo performance each night. “The stage represents a dream-state of Mindaugas, a site for even more possibilities. It is called ‘Charismateria,’ the charismatic self as ‘prime material.’ Thus the evening program is dedicated to an examination of this,” she said.
The performances that will take place throughout the 12-day event include Alexandra Bachzetsis’s opening performance, titled “A Piece Danced Alone,” which Ayas described as “a series of open-ended, deceptively simple solos, through which two charismatic performers who, as if learning and stealing from each other, mirror, record, repeat, exchange and gradually modify the elements of each one’s individual gestures, looks, and choreography.”
As part of the İstanbul-based artist Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s performance titled “Incubatio,” a dream interpreter will also be present. Ayas noted that the performance is inspired by the Muslim practice of “istihare,” which involves praying for personal guidance from God, often in the form of dreams. It also incorporates the legend of a dream seen by a Lithuanian king in the 14th century that changed the future of the country.
Apart from Çavuşoğlu and Bachzetsis, Danai Anesiadou, Egle Budvytyte, Tim Etchels, Goodiepal, Ragnar Kjartansson, Valentinas Klimasauskas with Morten Norbye Halvorsen, Ursula Mayer, Erkka Nissinen, Benjamin Seror, Rimas Sapauskas, Marianne Vitale, Mark Aerial Waller and Claude Wampler will all be performing at the triennial.
Cinema of the Self
Led by Benjamin Cook, the Cinema of the Self is a program of contemporary artists’ films revolving around notions of identity and the construction of the self. “It is particularly inspired by one of the films in the series, ‘All Divided Selves’ by Scottish artist Luke Fowler, and the ideas of its subject,” Ayas explained.
Cinema of the Self gets its inspiration from the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s arguments about the self, concerning the idea that everyone is healthy and that people with so-called mental illnesses are just trying to find their way back to their natural state and that everyone exists in the world as beings defined by others who carry a model of each other in their minds. Containing a wide range of subjects from the Japanese Red Army Faction, to André Breton’s apartment and Egyptian movie stars, the films can be best described as artists’ documentaries. “Apart from communicating strong visions of their directors, the films also focus on the human psyche, the construction of selfhood,” Ayas stressed.
The 11th Baltic Triennial runs from Aug. 24 through Sept. 9 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. For more information, visit www.cac.lt/mindaugas/en.
Rumeysa Kiger, İstanbul
Today’s Zaman Newspaper