Danutė Kvietkevičiutė, At the Speed of Thought, 1978, wool, synthetic fabric, 111 3⁄4 × 105 1⁄2". From the Baltic Triennial 14.

Danutė Kvietkevičiutė, At the Speed of Thought, 1978, wool, synthetic fabric, 111 3⁄4 × 105 1⁄2". From the Baltic Triennial 14.

Baltic Triennial 14

When it started in 1979, the Baltic Triennial featured mostly young artists from the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union; the event was expanded after the restoration of their independence to make global trends more visible in the region. This year, for the first time, the organizers focused their attention on contemporary and historical artistic practices in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Curated by Valentinas Klimašauskas and João Laia under the title “The Endless Frontier,” the triennial was a sensitive and kaleidoscopic mapping of common grounds and rifts within the region’s economic, ecological, and ideological pasts and presents. An obvious reference point was the dissolution of the Communist regimes, as featured in seminal works such as Jonas Mekas’s Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR, 2008, composed of excerpts from television newscasts of the time, or Videograms of a Revolution, 1992, in which Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujică follow the popular uprising in Romania in 1989 using footage gathered from both amateur videographers and official news channels.

The recent Belarusian protests were referenced poignantly in a two-channel video installation by Sergey Shabohin, Mandrake Gardens, 2020, juxtaposing illegal rave parties taking place during lockdown in Berlin’s Hasenheide park, a popular queer community spot, and the electoral campaigning of the opposition in Belarus in 2020—two equally timely but very different manifestations of a struggle for freedom occurring in the public space of city parks. While the raves were peaceably halted when discovered by the police, the opposition forces in Belarus faced heavy aggression.

The battle for LGBTQI+ rights is an incessant one in the CEE region, where conservative politicians call queer culture a Western import. Karol Radziszewski has for years been researching, collecting, and digitizing queer archives from the region, here shown as the vitrine installation Queer Archives Institute, 2021, featuring new research on the Lithuanian context, compiled in collaboration with poet and art critic Laima Kreivytė. Radziszewski’s The Gallery of Portraits, 2020–, made up of twenty paintings so far, represented “queer ancestors”—prominent historical figures from the region in art, culture, and politics. Another attempt to subtly counter the often violent conservative/liberal divide appeared in Agnė Jokšė’s film Unconditional Love, 2021, which follows a trip with the artist’s family, revealing along the way simple gestures of care and shared joy that level out generational and ideological differences on an everyday basis.

The transhistorical dialogue in the exhibition was further strengthened through the inclusion of such artistic elders as Danute Kvietkevičiutė and Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė. Kvietkevičiūtė, born in 1939, is a Lithuanian textile artist whose brightly colored, wall-mounted, manually woven tapestry At the Speed of Thought, 1978, points toward our relationship with nature, already at the time of the work’s making in a fragile balance, and now, needless to say, more disturbed than ever. Rožanskaitė (1933–2007), a highly versatile artist, was best recognized during the Soviet period for her “medical” paintings. This exhibition included, for example, Disease, 1989, which depicts a man in a hospital bed connected to a system of abstract metallic-rod structures: a disturbing reminder of illness, death, and the entanglement of life and technology, resonating powerfully in these times of pandemic.

Tekla Aslanishvili’s video Scenes from Trial and Error, 2020, followed the rise and fall of techno-utopian optimism by tracing the past decade of the development of a large-scale infrastructural project—a futuristic plan to turn the small Georgian town of Anaklia, just south of the Russian-occupied territory of Abkhazia, into a “smart city” and a deep-sea port. The initiative would transform the country into a link in China’s speculative New Silk Road project, mirroring the ambitions of the post-Soviet countries to gain their place in a complex world order. By carefully examining the past, the exhibition thoughtfully envisioned the possible futures of the region—potentially more inclusive, queer, and amorphous, but only if the geopolitical balance and fragile freedoms that need constant reinforcement remain in place.