IX Baltic Triennial of International Art

Contemporary Art Centre

With each edition the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius secures greater international visibility and interest. This year’s curators, Sofia Hernández Chong Cuy, Raimundas Malašauskas, and Alexis Vaillant, chose a subjectivity-driven method and pulled off an interesting and complex show, somewhat mystifyingly entitled “BMW, The IX Baltic Triennial of International Art,” whose intentionally disorienting mix of works was underscored by the hanging sheets of black plastic that evoked a “shadow” wall structure for the Vilnius CAC (developed in collaboration with the architect/artist Valdas Ozarinskas) and by Arturas Raila’s project of marking out the “energy waves” of the location on which the CAC is built. These two irrational yet clearly conceptualized spatial articulations facilitated the bringing together of artists with a special interest in the “black market” as a metaphor for hidden situations and stories.

The projects ranged from Teresa Margolles’s soap bubbles in the CAC courtyard, blown with water from a Mexico City morgue that had been used for washing unidentified bodies (In the Air, 2003), to Joachim Koester’s “Morning of the Magicians,” 2005, a photographic examination of a Sicilian villa where the notorious English satanist Aleister Crowley and his disciples performed their rituals in the 1920s. Loris Gréaud’s ghostly shadow play incorporated two works, Hors-Prises, 2005, a back-projected black-and-white video sequence with lamps going on and off, and The Big Bang Machine, 2005, a device whose vibrations were meant as a low-intensity reconstruction of the sound at the moment of the universe’s creation. Ignacio Gonzalez-Lang’s Untitled, 2005, was a Ku Klux Klan outfit embroidered in Mexico with traditional ornaments; the decoration strangely undermined the costume’s violent connotations. Reena Spaulings’s “Money Paintings,” 2005, were based on the mysterious scrip used by Lithuanian deportees in displaced persons’ camps in Germany after World War II. Maaike Gottschal recycled branded shirts into all-black garments, BLACK faded/re-done, 2002, creating her own pirated line on top of the brand products.

Refreshingly, “BMW” opted not for the clarity of concept and presentation that curatorial activity usually aims at, but for making things difficult to discern and decode. At times one was blinded by sudden spotlights in the darkness of the exhibition halls, and as a consequence saw all the work around as a “negative.” Or the black plastic curtains would cut an image in half and confuse one’s perception. The exhibition space became a labyrinth of hallways and passages, a mesh of shadows and disruptions. These mystifications went well with the mystical bent of some of the works. Many succeeded in bringing out the invisible, the irrational, or sometimes the downright scary. Only a few were ironic, such as Gabriel Lester’s All Wrong, 2005, a detective story using images found through Google, Altavista, and Yahoo! searches.

The final impression was that the show was impossible to grasp as a whole, since many of these bits and pieces of space, light, and sound had been short-circuited. It takes courage to produce and present such profoundly irrational experiences in such a strongly articulated way. In a sense, “BMW” perhaps even offered a forecast of what much art production could be like in the years ahead. One hopes the Baltic Triennial in Vilnius will continue carving out a niche for itself as a haven for curatorial and artistic experimentation.

Liutauras Psibilskis