European Capital of Culture in Kaunas also backs Ukraine

In the middle of a cloud, Yoko Ono over Lithuania

Organisers of the European Capital of Culture 2022 event at Kaunas in Lithuania this year have scored a notable coup with the staging of an installation/exhibition by New York-based Japanese-American artist Yoko Ono.

The installation by the world-renowned artist is named “Ex It” and it went on display on January 23 in the main operations room of the Kaunas branch of the Bank of Lithuania, a famous example of interwar architecture in Lithuania’s second city. The artistic piece consists of 100 wooden coffins of different sizes with fruit trees growing out of them and a sound recording of living nature.

It is described as a powerful image of the aftermath of war or natural disaster, a metaphor for the resilience of life and the vitality of nature. As the artist herself says: “Ex It is life as a continuation.”

This is the precursor to Ono’s major retrospective that will be presented at Kaunas Picture Gallery in September this year. The forthcoming exhibition, titled “The Learning Garden of Freedom”, will feature a wide range of works reflecting her various creative periods and practices, from conceptual art and experimental cinema to spatial installations, objects and textual works.

It is also symbolic that the exhibition is being held at the Kaunas Picture Gallery located right next to the childhood home of George Mačiūnas, who was born in Kaunas in 1931 and became the founder of the Fluxus movement. Fluxus is a Latin word meaning flowing, and in English a flux is a flowing out.

Mačiūnas, who died in Boston, US, in 1978, said the purpose of Fluxus is to “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art”. This gallery also houses a special Fluxus cabinet dedicated to Mačiūnas.

“The Learning Garden of Freedom” is an invitation to see freedom in the everyday, including outside the exhibition gallery. Ono’s works will also be on display in Kaunas’s public spaces and at the Emanuel Levinas Centre of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences.

Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933 and is a renowned pacifist and artist of global significance. Starting her artistic career in the avant-garde art scene in New York in the 1950s and 1960s, Ono established herself in the field of conceptual art, creating performances, music, films, sculptures and installations.

Early in her career she worked closely with Fluxus founder Mačiūnas. She received the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. Her work is highly political and social, while her artistic practice is inspired by everyday life and the desire to preserve the delicate balance between the forces of power and good.

Ono is the widow of Beatle John Lennon, who was murdered outside their New York home, the Dakota Building, in 1980. They had met in a London gallery in November 1966 and married in Gibraltar in March 1969. After his death she had a 20-year companionship with Sámuel Havadtõy who was born in London in 1952 to Hungarian parents who had moved there after the Second World War. He was only a boy when his family returned home to Hungary in 1956, some months before the Uprising.

Havadtõy got out of Hungary in 1971 through the former Yugoslavia, moving on to the UK and then the US. His fate took a different turn 20 years later when two famous customers walked into his New York boutique: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, whom he befriended.

The Kaunas exhibition is organised by the Contemporary Art Centre in collaboration with the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (Porto, Portugal) and Studio One (New York, US), and curated by Ono’s long-time friend and curator of Fluxus exhibitions, Jon Hendricks.

It is a continuation of the exhibition held at the Serralves Museum in 2020, specially adapted for Kaunas, George Mačiūnas’ hometown. The exhibition is a part of Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022. Visiting the installation is free of charge.

Lithuania and its two fellow Baltic States are often mentioned as a future target for the disturbed monster Putin. Kaunas has reacted to Russia’s war against Ukraine by cancelling the International Day of Happiness events planned for March 20. The European Capital of Culture organisers in the city say it’s hard to talk about happiness when Lithuania’s close friends in Ukraine are going through the darkest moments in the country’s history.

“We are with Ukraine wholeheartedly and want to contribute not only with our thoughts but also with our deeds to support it,” the organisers say. “By cancelling the International Day of Happiness events we are devoting all our energy to other initiatives that mobilise help and support for the victims of the war. “

Kaunas 2022 will join the international support campaign for Ukraine on March 17. Various activations as well as collecting donations for Ukraine will take place during the campaign. This support initiative will be wide-ranging and will seek to unite partners not only in Lithuania but also in Europe.

“We also pay high attention to supporting the representatives of the Ukrainian culture and art. Kaunas 2022 is starting an initiative to turn Kaunas Central Post Office (which was just recently opened to the public and where art events will take place throughout the year) into a residential space for the Ukrainian artists, who will choose Kaunas as their temporary home during the war, to continue creating.

“The Ukrainian creators will also be invited to the cultural visibility platform in Kaunas through Kaunas cultural organisations, which maintain contacts and have partnerships with the Ukrainian artists,” the organisers say.

“Together with our partners we are also planning to make a special merchandise supporting Ukraine. The funds collected from this merchandise will be used for the scholarships dedicated to the Ukrainian artists and for implementation of a residential programme in the Kaunas Central Post Office. The project Kaunas – European Capital of Culture has more than 800 volunteers who will be encouraged to join the organisations, helping Ukraine.

“Kaunas 2022 is already inviting to join other initiatives organised by our partners that contribute to the support of Ukraine. For example, the ‘Kaunas Full of Culture’ and ‘Hands on Press’ cultural initiative ‘Colors for Ukraine’. It has united creators for a single purpose: posters and other drawings by which artists express their creativity, support Ukraine, and protest against the war that Russia started.”

Artists can contribute to this initiative through creation, while society can assist by buying the artworks. The developers will transfer the money to a charity of their choice to help Ukraine and its people.

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