Vilnius Biennial for Performance Art

What to give to a city that has been growing and transforming for 700 years, adapting to change and creating new traditions? The first International Vilnius Performance Art Biennial that took place in the summer of 2023 reflected the city’s values of multiculturalism and innovation.

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The main Vilnius Performance Art Biennial took place from 23 July to 6 August 2023. The focus of the festival is the city of Vilnius, but also the city per se as a man-made and human-dominated environment that we share with other species, where histories coexist and intersect.

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Aleksandra Janus, Weronika Pelczyńska, Monika Szpunar performance „Still standing“ (From VB23 summer open call programme). 

The biennial festival, initiated by “Meno Niša” Gallery, turned the whole of Vilnius into its stage, as artists drew the attention of the audience with their works in public spaces: historic and newly built city sites, parks, streets and indoor spaces. The Biennale featured unique works created especially for the event. They were performed live in the city, making each performance a unique opportunity to see the performance artists’ interpretations and celebrate with Vilnius. Vilnius residents and visitors not only had the opportunity to meet foreign artists, but also to see Lithuanian works that make Lithuania famous worldwide. The city’s anniversary is the perfect time to create new traditions, so citizens were invited to participate and discover contemporary art in the city’s spaces.

A new festival as a birthday present

Although Vilnius is 700 years old and full of buildings and other urban structures that celebrate its history, the country’s capital has a distinctly modern face. So, to celebrate its anniversary, it was decided to give the city a modern new tradition. The first Vilnius Performance Art Biennial, which started in the summer of 2023, is an ongoing international art event that will take place every two years.

Egle Budvytyte, Choreography for the Running Male, performance in public space, 2014. Photography by: Sebastian Kriete 

The first festival focused on the city of Vilnius: its historical and contemporary achievements, important dates, events, places and people. Young and established, renowned and emerging artists from Lithuania and around the world spread out across the capital, presenting works that explore and reflect on the city’s complex past, present and imagined future. The Performance Art Festival developed the identity of a multicultural and dynamic Vilnius, creating the face of a creative and bold contemporary city.

Vilnius as a performance art scene all year round

On the occasion of Vilnius’ 700th anniversary, the whole city became a stage. The first and only event of this scale in the capital, the Performance Art Biennial 2023, took place from 23 July to 6 August in the public spaces of Vilnius, with some performances moving inside various buildings. The organisers of the Biennial did not limit themselves with the summer and gave the city two more exceptional events: in January 2023, the real birthday of Vilnius was celebrated with a performance given by a famous performance art star, the artist Emilija Škarnulytė’s new work “Afotija”. The performance consisted of specially choreographed sound and lighting, large-format video projections and live performances. The music was written by Suzanne Kite, an award-winning Lakota composer, who grew up in Southern California, together with Jokūbas Čižikas and Emilija Škarnulytė.

The Director of the Vilnius Biennial is Diana Stomienė, a nationally renowned gallerist, director of the “Art Vilnius” art fair, and member of the Vilnius City Council. Neringa Bumblienė, curator, contemporary art expert, has been appointed the Biennial’s Art Director.

Performance – as the art of live action

The idea of pushing the boundaries of art and making live action an art form in the world began in the 1970s. Although performance often includes elements of music, theatre and dance, it is most often created by representatives of the visual, interdisciplinary arts.

Performance art in Lithuania appeared only after 1990, when the country regained its independence. In 2011, Dainius Mikšys’ performative installation Behind the White Curtain represented Lithuania at the Venice Biennale and was awarded a special prize by the jury. In 2019, the performance-opera “The Sun and the Sea (Marina)” by Lina Lapelytė, Vaiva Grainytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė won the Golden Lion, the prestigious award of the Venice Biennale, and Lithuania became world-famous for its contribution to contemporary culture and the art of performance.

Today, many artists in the country are working with performance and it is regularly presented in various exhibitions and art events, including the “Art Vilnius” art fair. At the fair, the Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art presented its stand, where visitors could see films of the impressions of the Biennial’s performances that had already taken place and visit the performance “Egghorsecizmus” by the Biennial’s programme participant, the artist Robertas Narkus.

The International Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art is a great opportunity to get to know performance art better and see how artists here work with themes that are relevant to the world and Lithuania today, and how they creatively use the city’s spaces as a platform for their work.

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