When I left Lithuania at the end of August 2011, the new Kaunas arena was still under construction — even though the arena was supposed to host the September European Basketball Championship. They managed to finish the arena just in time. It’s a big glass box on the river, but I hear that inside it is comfortable and on the leading edge of arena technology. While the building itself isn’t particularly attractive, the glass provided amazing reflections of the clouds and sky on Sunday afternoon.
On Friday evening, I went to the opening of the Fluxus Ministry in Kaunas. Fluxus Ministry is an alternative arts organization that has transformed the former Lituanica shoe factory building into an exhibit and performance space. Fluxus Ministry’s mission is to intervene in the tedious, routine world with the unexpected and paradoxical. And they do just that! My favorite exhibit was “Requiem Orchestra” — a darkened cavernous second floor room was filled with rows of folding chairs, each with a music stand and a rusted or dented instrument. It was strange and fascinating and thought-provoking, exactly what I would expect from a Fluxus art space. You can get a glimpse of it in this Fluxus video of the opening.
Fluxus Ministry is named after the Fluxus art movement of the 1960s. The Fluxus community was organized by George Marciunas and Jonas Mekas, two Lithuanian-born artists who immigrated to New York. The movement grew to encompass artists in the United States, Europe and Japan. Fluxus artists were interdisciplinary and collaborative — and “anti-art.” They believed that art should have social and political meaning and not just be art for art’s sake. They emphasized minimalism in their work. Yoko Ono is probably the most famous Fluxus artists.
Best “I won’t take it personally” quote — said to me by a Lithuanian friend:
“When I was in the United States, I would say something and I knew I said it correctly in English, but still people wouldn’t understand me. Sometimes when you say something in Lithuanian, I have no idea what you said and now I understand how those Americans felt when I talked.”
Best “totally validates my opinion that Lithuanians don’t plan” quote — said to me by a Lithuanian who lived in the States for nearly 20 years as we were discussing how he could help me with my research:
“I’m going to write this down. I learned how to plan in America.”
Most useful phrase I learned in Lithuanian this summer (unfortunately I had several opportunities to use it given the frequent thunderstorms):
“Eidama per parką, aš sušlapau [While walking through the park, I became completely wet].”
Best philosophical quote — from the summer course lecture on Lithuanian literature:
“Should we rely on the illusion that the era of changes ever comes to an end?”
Lithuanians LOVE basketball — and right now the entire country has basketball fever because Lithuania is hosting Eurobasket 2011. The European basketball championship games start August 31 and the final rounds will held in a brand new arena in Kaunas on September 18. The arena was officially opened last Thursday with a “friendly game” between Lithuania and Spain, the reigning European champions. Lithuania won (whoo-hoo!) but I’ve been told that they don’t have a particularly strong team this year and probably won’t get a medal. But that doesn’t mean that the streets aren’t awash with red/yellow/green basketball paraphernalia. There is even an official song featuring three Lithuanian pop starts. Go Lithuania!!
Today I say goodbye to Kaunas. This afternoon I am moving everything from Kaunas to Vilnius, where I’ll spend the last few days before I leave. I’m packing this morning, then friends from the university are bringing lunch for a final farewell gathering before I leave town. These are a couple of my favorite photos from Kaunas on this, my last day.
The shadows of onlookers on street paintings done by kindergarteners at the Kaunas Jazz Festival
A section from the mural on the Kaunas Picture Gallery
While I think that it is appropriate that the independent Lithuania removed ideological statues — such as Lenin and other Soviet leaders — and statues commemorating the Red Army victory in World War II, I am glad that not all examples of Soviet-era art have been removed from public spaces in Kaunas and Vilnius. Lithuania was a part of the Soviet Union and this period of its history should not be erased from public view. Keeping good examples of monumental socialist-realist art is, I believe, an appropriate way to acknowledging that past. Socialist-realist art was defined as socialist in content, realist in form. This means that the content had to show ideological reality rather than the “real” reality (in other words, happy workers and peasants).
Socialist-realist worker at its monumental best (Kaunas)
Another piece from the set of concrete socialist-realist scupltures in Kaunas
I thought that I wrote a 2009 blog post about the statues on the Green Bridge in Vilnius, but apparently I didn’t. And now I can’t find photos of the statues, although I was sure that I had taken some. I’ll try to get photos next time I am in Vilnius and post those. They are another great example of socialist-realist monumental art that I am glad has been preserved.
In the spring, I learned that the park by my house was the site of the original Kaunas cemetery. In the 1950s, the Soviet authorities removed the gravestones and monuments and turned the area into a park. Many of the remains were re-buried elsewhere — such as Darius and Girenas, who were moved to the war cemetery on the outskirts of town. However, some remains were simply left under the park grounds. A few months ago, a monument commemorating the park’s past was installed. The artist who created this monument is the same artist who created the Kalanta memorial on Laisvės Alėja. A few weeks ago, I conducted a “working interview” with him in the park while he supervised installation of the final pieces of the memorial.
Established in the mid-19th century, the cemetery had sections for Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Russian and German soldiers who perished in World War I were buried here. Importantly, soldiers who died fighting the Bolshevik army in 1918 (thereby securing Lithuanian independence) and some partisans who fought against the Soviets during World War II were buried here — hence the Soviet decision to move the cemetery, thereby removing a “nationalist” site.
The new memorial consists of a large cross with 40 small crosses -- each one unique.
Marking the original burial site of Darius and Girenas
Several times this summer, I intended to go to an outdoor concert in the courtyard of the Communications Museum in Kaunas’ Old Town. However, each time something else came up and I didn’t go. But, finally, I made it to a concert — on Thursday evening, I went to a Dainuojamosios Poezijos [Sung Poetry] festival concert with a couple of other students. “Singing poets” in Lithuania are the equivalent to folk singers (in the early Bob Dylan sense of the term) or singer/songwriters — meaning acoustic guitars and an emphasis on lyrics. Of course, I couldn’t understand the lyrics because it’s difficult for me to understand 1) sung Lithuanian and 2) Lithuanian over a microphone (especially with a not-so-good sound system). But it was a lovely evening and I enjoyed the music and the chance to listen to an outdoor concert in Old Town.
The first performances definitely fit the singer-songwriter/folk music category. The final band had a comedic 1980s punk thing going on. They are know for their very lyrics, which I didn’t get, but the performance was equally entertaining. Here’s the evening’s line up.
Opening Act: Andrius Zala and Aurimas Driukas, “The Power of Love”
Middle Act: Gediminas Storpirštis, “Someone”
Closing Act: Liūdni Slibinai [Sad Mythical Beasts], “Spring Song” — unfortunately the concert videos on youtube aren’t that great, but this will at least give you an idea of what they are like on stage
Graffitti on the pilings of a bridge over the Nemunas River in Kaunas
Between Lithuanian language lessons every day and continuing to check things off my research to-do list and spending time with friends before I leave, I’m a busy girl with no time to write a full blog post for today.