Highlights from the 14th Baltic Triennial

Through clever exhibition design and a mix of historical and contemporary positions, ‘The Endless Frontier’, offers a telescopic view onto complex issues

BY Yana Foqué in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 17 AUG 21

The political context of Eastern Europe has altered dramatically over the past few decades. The many rapid identity shifts – from socialism to neoliberalism, from USSR oppression to EU alliance – have left the region vulnerable to a surge of right-wing ideology and an accompanying outpour of ‘isms’: climate-change denialism, racism, separatism and sexism. It is against – and in opposition to – this backdrop that the 14th edition of the Baltic Triennial unfolds. Under the title ‘The Endless Frontier’, curators Valentinas Klimašauskas and João Laia underscore how both historical and contemporary artists hailing from former USSR countries are countering these tendencies. In doing so, the exhibition offers us a telescopic view onto complex issues that reach far beyond the porous boundaries of this geopolitical region.

Natalia LL 'Consumer Art', 1972–1975, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

Eschewing the traditional white cube exhibition format, the triennial presents itself as a colourful maze inside the Contemporary Art Center’s brutalist building. The scenography, by Lithuanian architecture studio Isora x Lozuraitytė, carves unfamiliar paths through the museum using thin plastic curtains. The coldness of their rubbish-bag-like materiality is offset by their warm gradient hues and flowing drapery, which divert visitors from well-trodden routes by reducing the size of some spaces and giving entry to formerly inaccessible ones, such as storage areas and offices. A constructed recess on the ground floor, for instance, forms the perfect secluded space to watch Natalia LL’s uber-erotic, slapstick film from the series ‘Consumer Art’ (1972–75). This footage of a woman eating a banana, filmed by another woman, turned the classic paradigm of the submissive female on its head and, in the words of the exhibition guide, was a ‘groundbreaking work for the sexual revolution of the 1970s in Poland’.

Anastasia Sosunova, Another Dinner Ruined, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

One of the clear strengths of this triennial is the effortless combination of historical pieces like this one with contemporary works from the region. The message of self-empowerment that oozes from Consumer Art pairs well with the sculptural installation Another Dinner Ruined (2021) by Anastasia Sosunova. Four dough-filled pizza boxes are scattered on a floating tablecloth, which functions as a visual metaphor for the largely invisible, often gendered, domestic labour of food preparation (or its contemporary, outsourced cousin: takeaway). Yet, the work also points to the dinner table as one of the few remaining places where different groups of people can encounter each other in an increasingly polarized society. Similarly, Jonas Mekas’s work Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR (2009) – which compiles 286 minutes of historic footage from television news broadcasts recorded during that crucial period – serves as a perfect prelude to Unconditional Love (2021), a film-portrait by Agnė Jokšė of her extended family that pieces together what happened next. Finally, Danutė Kvietkevičiūtė’s hallucination-inducing, folkloristic tapestry Grass (Dedicated to M.K. Čiurlionis) (1975) – a personal favourite, which depicts a dreamy microscopic world in fine thread – aptly hangs opposite Tomasz Kowalski’s surreal paintings contemplating, among other subjects, wheat-attacking fungus (e.g. The Kiss 2020, 2019).

'The Endless Frontier - Baltic Triennial 14', 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artists and CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

Beyond the main exhibition, five project spaces – Atletika, Autarkia, Editorial, Rupert and Swallow – were invited by Klimašauskas and Laia to develop parallel autonomous projects. In this way, the curators avoid preaching to their own choir and fulfil their objective, outlined in the exhibition catalogue, to give space to different narratives in a ‘polyphonic juxtaposition’. The message is clear: to offer a genuine platform to multiple voices, you sometimes have to hand over the mic.

'The Endless Frontier - Baltic Triennial 14' is on view at CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania, until 5 September.

Main image: Isora x Lozuraityte Studio for Architecture, exhibition achitecture. Courtesy: the artists and CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

Thumbnail: Anastasia Sosunova, Another Dinner Ruined (detail), 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and CAC - Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius; photograph: Ugnius Gelguda

Yana Foqué is a curator, a writer, and the director-curator of Kunstverein, Amsterdam. She spends her time between the Netherlands and the Baltic States.