Exhibition review: Urban Stories, The X Baltic Triennial of International Art in Vilnius

"The Return of the Torn Out Pages." Review of Urban Stories, The X Baltic Triennial of International Art at the Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius, Lithuania, September 25 – November 22, 2009.

Published in Studija 69, no. 6 (2009).

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View article on Studija magazine online archive here.

Read more about the exhibition on the Contemporary Art Center website.

Detail of Arunas Gudaitis project for the X Baltic Triennial of International Art.

Briefly about the X Baltic Triennial of International Art:

The title of the exhibition Black Swans, True Tales and Private Truths reflects upon the fact that the Triennial is being staged in Vilnius during a time of crisis – the Black Swan referring to events that appear by complete surprise and have a major impact – and upon the idea that every image, reconstruction or evocation of a city contains a high degree of the ‘consciously false’. According to curator Ann Demeester; “Much has been made of novelist Jonathan Franzen‘s attempts to avoid cliché by writing blindfolded in the dark. This might be just what we have asked artists to do: produce – blindfolded in the dark – a response to Vilnius. This has generated a plethora of works that are based on a contemporary version of armchair travelling or idiosyncratic local research, works that offer parallel [hi]stories, based on a mixture of rumours and half-truths, hard facts and reliable information. Films, sculptures, performances and installations that offer, a phantasmagorical portrait of an existent city, to borrow from Laimonas Briedis‘ book Vilnius – City of Strangers (2008), or that examine a real place that seems as ‘illusionary’ as Disney’s town ‘Celebration’ or New York’s ‘Roosevelt Island. As a whole the exhibition will position Vilnius as both Everywheresville and Nowheresville, it will scrutinize the fictional character of real places and the reality of imaginary spaces.
— Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius

The Return of the Torn Out Pages


The Triennial was included in the national programming of “Vilnius – European Capital of Culture 2009” as the central event for contemporary art, and for this reason it was even moved forward one year (according to mathematical calculation the 10th triennial was to have taken place in 2008). In line with present day ideas regarding large scale displays of contemporary art, the exhibition was created by an international team of curators who likewise invited artists on the same international scale. The Triennial comprises of two principal exhibitions: Black Swans, True Tales and Private Truths in the Contemporary Art Centre and Vilnius COOP: Gaps, Fictions, and Practices in an abandoned building on the main promenade of the city, at 27 Gediminas Prospect. Separate performances and projects also have been taking place elsewhere in Vilnius.

The majority of Urban Stories are, of course, about Vilnius: artists from various countries have lived and worked here and given shape to this collection of “stories”. These works, however, show no trace of the pearls of Baroque architecture, for example, the ones that Vilnius is associated with in the first place. The result is not a flattering advertisement for the city. The artists have researched and sought out historical facts, legends, anecdotes and parables referring to the hidden, unknown, forgotten, forbidden and marginal. Such interest, for its part, has emerged as one of the leading motifs in present day art, at a time when all tried and trusted practices have already been contested, the history to date of “popular” art and culture has been disowned, and the time has come to seek new points of reference. That is: new, previously unknown, concealed or forgotten words, works, phenomena, facts and processes.

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Kevin van Braak. Books for Burning? Object. 2009. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Ha Za Vu Zu. Bread Way. Installation. 2009. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Indre Klimaite and Isabella Roozendaal. Research on Revival of Altered Culture. 2009. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Contemplating the X Baltic Triennial of International Art in Vilnius. Photo: © Zenta Dzividzinska.