Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art (VB23) is a new, ongoing international event dedicated to contemporary performance art, organised by the Vilnius City Gallery Meno Niša as an official part of the Vilnius 700th anniversary programme. The main theme of the inaugural Biennial is Vilnius, but also the city per se – as a human-made and human-dominated environment that we share with other life forms, where different histories, myths, activities, interests, desires and visions collide, coexist and overlap. The two-week VB23 programme will showcase 38 artists with a total of 31 performances in 17 different locations in Vilnius.
“I encourage you not to miss this unique opportunity to see Vilnius become the international capital of performance art,” says the Biennial’s Director Diana Stomienė. “In celebration of the capital’s anniversary, we invite everyone to attend what is predominantly a free programme of events. Tickets will be needed for just two events: Eglė Budvytytė and Marija Olšauskaitė’s performance Song Sing Soil at the Arts Printing House, and Eye Gymnastics’ performance What Are the Dreams of Concrete? at the Liepkalnis Water Storage. The free events will be open to everyone, with no registration required; however, some locations are only able to accommodate a limited number of spectators, so we recommend arriving early.”
According to VB23 Artistic Director Neringa Bumblienė, the Biennial offers audiences the opportunity to get to know Lithuania’s capital city from unique perspectives and to experience not only the places that are normally quite easy to reach, but also the more hidden, less accessible “backstage” areas of the city.
“The festival will take place in 17 different locations, ranging from spaces dedicated to culture, such as the National Gallery of Art and the National Drama Theatre, to areas that are usually completely off bounds to the public, such as the Train Repair Depot of the Lithuanian Railways or the Liepkalnis Water Storage. We have faced many challenges and adventures while organising performances in places that have no existing structures for these kinds of events. And I can certainly say that I now experience and understand this city in ways I hadn’t before. I invite you to dive deeper into it together,” says Bumblienė.
The first chords play out in the art institutions of Vilnius
The main programme of VB23 will start on Sunday 23 July with the performance Song Sing Soil by Eglė Budvytytė and Marija Olšauskaitė, who took part in the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition last year. Their performance will take place several times over two days at the Arts Printing House, with tickets already available for purchase.
On 23 and 24 July, Pamėnkalnis Gallery will host a series of performances called Gimbutas Street Band by artist, poet and art critic Laima Kreivytė, poet and writer Eileen Myles, and curator Justė Kostikovaitė. On the evening of 25 July, the National Drama Theatre will host the performance -lalia by Basel-based artists Dorota Gawêda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, who won the Swiss Performance Art Award in 2021 and were nominated for this year’s main Swiss Art Prize. The evening of 26 July will in turn be marked by the renowned Portuguese artist Pedro Barateiro’s performance My body, this paper, this fire at the National Gallery of Art.
On the evening of 24 July, the railway turntable at the Lithuanian Train Repair Depot will host a performance by internationally renowned artists Liam Gillick and Anton Vidokle (the latter with Lithuanian roots), entitled A Guiding Light. Part 2. This performance is one of the highlights of the main programme of VB23. The two sources of inspiration for the artists were songs of independence composed and performed in different parts of the world from the 1960s to the present day, and the Vilnius Television Tower, for its significance in the country’s history and its dominant vertical position in the capital’s urban landscape. The performance also works as a film set, and the Vilnius railway turntable has been chosen as a cinematic setting, becoming a double for the revolving restaurant of the TV Tower.
Some of the performances will make use of the city’s open-air public spaces. On 28 July, Swedish artist and choreographer Pontus Pettersson’s performance Cat Practice will unfold at the fountain of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, while British interdisciplinary artist Adam Christensen will perform his latest work Damascus, Copenhagen, Fetish Shop in the newly installed Vingriai Springs Square on the same day. An opportunity to take on a revelatory perspective on the city’s history will be offered by a trio of Polish artists, consisting of Aleksandra Janus, Weronika Pelczyńska and Monika Szpunar, whose performance Still Standing will take place on 29 July next to the site of the Piromontas Old Jewish Cemetery (by the Vilnius Sports Palace).
One of the most impressive underground structures in Vilnius, the Liepkalnis Water Storage, will host the performance What Are the Dreams of Concrete? by the experimental music and performance duo Eye Gymnastics (Viktorija Damerell and Gailė Griciūtė), taking place on 2 and 3 August. The century-old reservoir, located under a hill of earth, is a remarkable feat of construction and has incredible acoustic features. Open to visitors just a few times a year, this performance is a great opportunity to visit one of Vilnius’ most desirable non-tourist attractions.
Another Biennial artist, Kris Lemsalu, who represented Estonia at the 2019 Venice Biennale, is also turning to water structures and will present her performance Lust Fest at the Lazdynai swimming pool on 5 August. Rowing and singing in a boat amid blue and pink ripples of chlorinated water and surrounded by a troupe of synchronised swimmers, the artist explores our deepest and ever prevailing search for passion, love and consolation.
On 1 and 2 August, VB23 will invite viewers to visit the Kalvarijos Market, where the Ukrainian-Polish artist trio Yuliya Krivich, Marta Romankiv and Weronika Zalewska will reflect on the Ukrainian war crisis in their performance Kiosk Kłącza (Kiosk of Crisis).
Two performances will take place on 31 July and 1 August at the Tech Zity Vilnius tech campus: Enter Exude by Finnish queer-theme-exploring artist Teo Ala-Ruona, and False Fall by Estonian artist Keithy Kuuspu, who works in the field of contemporary physical theatre.
The performance Egghorsecism by Robertas Narkus, who represented Lithuania at last year’s Venice Biennale, will take place on 4 August in the square of the CORE Business Centre. In collaboration with the city’s sanitation services, the artist will invite the public to a session of black humour and absurdity that casts a male protagonist going through a midlife crisis at its epicentre.
The rich programme of the first Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art will conclude on 6 August at sunset (10 pm) with the Italian artist Jacopo Miliani’s performance Throwing Balls at Night on the tennis court of the Vilnius Bernardinai Gardens. Inspired by Claude Debussy’s 1913 ballet Jeux (Games), which was supposed to become the first homosexual male ballet, the new performance will have dancers recreate the ballet’s plot in the vogue dance
The full VB23 programme can be found at vilniusbiennial.com. This Biennial is one of the most important events in 2023 in celebration of the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. The anniversary programme was initiated by Vilnius City Municipality and is curated by the official business and tourism development agency of Vilnius City, Go Vilnius. VB23 is funded by Vilnius City Municipality, the Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, and the Lithuanian Council for Culture. The main partner is JCDecaux Lithuania.