First Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art Held One-Time-Only Performance by Prominent Artist for City’s 700th Anniversary

On the cusp of Vilnius’ 700th anniversary, a prominent artist Emilija Škarnulytė held a one-time-only performance in the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. The performance is part of the first Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art which will host more shows in the summer.

January 24, 2023. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, finally ends its two-year wait till the most festive year to date—the 700th anniversary and year-long celebrations, starting on January 25th. As a present to the city guests and residents, Vilnius has prepared a program filled with musical performances, art events, crowd-favorite shows, and other activities.

One of the highlights of the program is the first international Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art, organized just a few days before the official birthday. The festival, created specifically for Vilnius’ anniversary, will host shows all over the city— from open squares to tennis courts and traditional cultural venues from July 23rd to August 6th. To celebrate the start of the birthday year, the festival held an opening show on January 23rd with a one-time-only performance, Aphotia, by internationally-recognized artist Emilija Škarnulytė.

The performance took over the entire building of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, which was designed by another female artist—a recognized architect Elena Nijolė Bučiūtė. Škarnulytė combined the aspects of nature, man, deity, and animal, creating a performance that is unique in its own right, forming an active relationship with the theatre and enveloping the audience in singular sensations, at the same time delving into the themes of ecology, subconsciousness, and the climate crisis. The performance combined special sound and lighting choreography with large video projections and live performances. The soundtrack was written by Suzanne Kite, an award-winning composer who grew up in Southern California.

The performance genre has been swirling around the cultural circles for the last several decades, and the festival is slated to elevate the city’s contemporary art landscape. Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art consists of a program that encompasses the works by guest artists and is curated by Neringa Bumblienė, artistic director of the Biennial, and works by artists selected by an international jury through an open call. In fact, the festival has garnered the interest of many local and international artists—the organizers selected the most notable performers out of 300 applications from 58 countries. As a surprise to spectators, eight world-famous artists will display their yet unannounced performances.

“When I was invited to become the artistic director of the Biennial, it took me some time to devise a suitable theme for the festival. Ultimately, I decided to focus on the city—as a human-made and human-dominated environment that we share with other species, where different histories, myths, activities, interests, desires, and visions overlap, coexist and collide,” said Bumblienė. “It also seemed to me that it would be strange to explore something else because the event, after all, is part of the official program of the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. So it offers a great opportunity for the citizens of Vilnius to rethink their city—not only its past but also its present—and to try to imagine its future.”

Throughout the entire anniversary year, city visitors and guests will be invited to rediscover the city’s cultural scene and attend a number of other events: Vilnius Light Festival on January 25th-28th, the international music festival As Young As Vilnius on July 25th, Opera. Connect: Vilnius, a City of Opera—city-wide opera performances in June, Music for Vilnius, where world-known compositors will create short musical pieces resembling Vilnius’ sounds in May-July and others.

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