WAITING TO RETURN: A KAUNAS BIENNIAL PROJECT AT THE OLD BUS STATION ADJACENT TO KAUNAS CASTLE Vita Geluniene & Ed Carroll Kauno Bienale, Rotuses a. 26.
1. BACKGROUND Thank you for the invitation to speak about the Old Town and in particular about a site that borders the River Neris, Kaunas Castle and the Old Town. Before we deal directly with the project a short word about our experience of the Old Town. In the public imagination the Old Town is primarily an architectural and historical site, which houses many public buildings including municipal and educational. Often when the ‘problem’ of the Old Town is discussed it registers with the economic interests of city municipalities, planners, architects and developers and less with ordinary people. The focus of this presentation will foreground an aspect of the Old Town that is less obvious at first glance and concerns how ordinary citizens experience each other in it which we contend has validity when plans for the future are in the making. In this project we will present a project that upon first reading may seem like an enigma i.e. something in which the meaning is puzzling. The project Waiting to Return by Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk assisted by Marcel van der Meijs was part of an art commission by Kaunas Biennial. The location for this commission was located in Kaunas Castle Old Bus Station adjacent to the Old Town. It is a rundown space, still used as a bus station for certain routes into and out-of the city with a small snack and beer bars. Kaunas Municipality owes the waiting zones for public transport while a kebab and bar buildings is privately owned. It was also suggested that the artistic process could involve an engagement with local people and result in an artistic manifestation addressing the city. The project resulted in a daylong series of performative actions involving over 30 volunteers. It was also planned that each performance be filmed and afterwards edited and screened in the location.
2. PROJECT RESEARCH VISIT AND PROPOSAL The site for the artwork may seem in the first instance somewhat like a ‘dead space’ because of the physical deterioration of its buildings. But as this article will illustrate the site brings together a public who feel ownership of the site i.e. bus drivers and users of its facilities. 1
Working with us the artist responded to the site and built upon her ideas and experience of working with public spaces around the world. The process involved a weeklong research. In practice she spent days loitering at the bus station and talking and listening to peoples narratives about its history. Also, in a published interview with Miesto IQ the artist invited people to write their ideas and suggestions for the future of the station. Among the responses was one from a young student, Elvina Nevardauskaite I spent lots of time thinking how important the stop of Kaunas Castle is to all habitants of Kaunas city, how often people pass this place, what are their feelings about it and why. I believe that stop, which is the closest to the Castle of Kaunas, can be vitalized by light (â€Ś) and decorated with shining artwork. I would gladly join to the works of stop restoration, because I am a student and I can spare my free time with this work. I also can ask my friends help, because they all would like to live in homelike city. The artist developed her ideas through listening and reflecting upon ideas that people shared with her. Their ideas, hopes and fantasies became the raw material to develop each scenario for the performances. Then, after a period of planning and logistics the artist returned and spent a week in preparation for the performance day (November 11th 2009). From the moment the first bus (No. 120) departs until the arrival of the last one, a sequence of small intervention happened every hour based upon the timetable of the bus. These interventions were based on the stories of people about their relation to the place. These interventions were small performative actions, which take around 8-10 minutes: the time of the waiting for the next bus. The series of performative actions form a unique look at the history of use of this abandoned bus station. Waiting to Return was set in the bus station and features no linear narrative and no continuous characters. The one day performance moved from one intervention to the next, reflecting the political and cultural tenor of the life of the bus station through its users, from the political shifts in the 1990 to the current historicizing of the castle area, and closed with the questions about the future life of the bus station and its immediate surroundings. The interventions based on peopleâ€™s stories are re-enacted by a group of artist, actors (in close collaboration with bus drivers and members of the audience) portraying many different users of the station. 3. PROJECT REALISATION What follows will briefly recount each sequence. 2
6:05am - 6:10am - Bus 120 pulls into the station and a man walked towards the toilet and turns on the switch for the lights that were installed on the top of the building. 7:05am - 7:10am - During the artists research visit she was told that many years ago the station was the site for a farmers market and this idea became the inspiration for the next action. A white van pulled into the bus station and a man began to set up a market stall with ecological produce including milk and vegetables. Illustration 1 - Farmerâ€™s Market Plan and Realisation
8:20am - 8:25am - Two construction workers arrived carrying a new information sign, which is placed adjacent to the Public Toilet. The sign read â€˜friendly toiletâ€™ and nice towels and perfumed soap were placed beside sinks inside. Illustration 2 - View of Friendly Toilet Sign
Illustration 2 View of Friendly Toilet Sign
9:05 - 9:10 - In this sequence, a new Coffee Bar is specially opened for the day. A young woman arrived and tore away a paper covering the front hatch and window to mark its opening. During the rest of the day coffee and other light refreshments were available for purchase. In order to convince bus drivers to assist with some actions a decision was made to offer free coffee to the drivers for the day, an action that was met with considerable enthusiasm because one driver was heard radioing all other drivers about it! 3
Illustration 3 - Opening of Coffee Dock
10:05am - 10:10am - In this performance a woman arrived with a red carpet on her shoulder and was assisted by a man in a safety jacket who also directs traffic. She placed the carpet on the ground of the bus car park and unrolled it until she reached footpath of the Old Town. This performance was repeated during the day and when asked why she was doing this, she replied, “I am making the connection with the town!” Illustration 4 - Woman unrolls a red carpet
11:05am - 11:10am – In the performance that followed a Kaunas based artist selected four portraits of famous Lithuanian politicians because of what they did or did not do for Kaunas city. The portraits are hung on pillars under the canopy of the waiting area. 4
Illustration 5 - Portrait Gallery
12:05pm - 12:20pm - Using a spray can, a man paints the ground with the number of bus that is supposed to park in that spot. Assisted by a young woman, who also negotiated with the bus drivers and helped guide the busses into newly dedicated spaces. 1:05pm - 1:20pm – In the next sequence a Kaunas architect set up an area adjacent to the bar and commenced an archaeological dig looking for remains of saunas from Roman times! A sign was also erected which informed passers-by about the important excavation work. Illustration 6 - Archaeological Dig
2:05pm – 2:10pm - A man dressed in Russian combat cloth carried a ghetto blaster in a trainer bag. He walked up and down in front of the pillars –asking bus drivers and other passers-by, “what bus can take me to ‘Neverland’”.
Illustration 7 - Bus to Neverland
3:05pm - 3:20pm – An important city official handed out a proposal handing out a document for a new drawing competition for a new bus station. He actively talks to the passer-by and bus drivers about their ideas. He explained to everyone that is an open call –and all ideas for the station are welcome. Illustration 8 – Open Call for Ideas
4:05pm - 4:10pm As the day began to get dark and the rain intensified a singer arrives with his guitar and sat down at a bench beside the Kebab Bar. He started to sing a love song. 5:05pm - 5:10pm – In this sequence there is a young woman dressed in her school uniform and a man sitting on the bench opposite staring intensely at each other for almost fifteen minute but not meeting. Finally getting in the same bus. Illustration 10 - Woman Finds her Lover
6:05pm - 6:10pm Bridging the other side. Woman caring a spot light comes out of the toilet and walks to the riverbank. She asks passer-by (if there) to help here carry the light. The light has to bridge one side of the river with the other side. She puts on the light and directs it to the other side of the water â€“ she sings a song.
Illustration 11 - Bridging the Other Side
7:05pm - 7:10pm Woman invites into the bar. Woman bar owner comes out and invites every one to come in for a free beer â€“shooting and waving her hand: Please just enjoy the local.
3. CONCLUDING REMARKS At the outset we remarked that this work may be puzzling because it chose to foreground narratives through the medium of performed actions.
It involved over 7
thirty people from different walks of life. People intimately involved in the daily course of event in the Bus Station i.e. bus drivers, businesses, passengers or others whose professional responsibility concerns how to develop the Old Town e.g. architects, artists, city officials, etc.
In fact the project could not have developed
without the practical assistance and permission of the owners of the Kebab Take Away and Drinks Bar. As the project evolved it gave validity to ordinary citizens to express how a particular public space in Kaunas Old Town is experienced by its ‘community’ but unseen and unknown by many others who regard the Bus Station as a nonspace. Thus the project has an inherently civil orientation where civil can be taken to mean the creation of a space to be human and in relationship with each other. In this regard the art project makes us questions whether discussions about the future development of historic sites care more about the “buildings” than about ordinary human beings. It seems to us that ‘Waiting To Return’ is a little epiphany that creates and nourishes a new proximity with others who inhabit the Bus Station. What we like about this work is its magic that dazzles our understanding and interrupts its isolation by producing a new fantasy, dream or hope by re-representing small recounted instants in the life of people The moment in which this project created and nourished an experience of being public – a civil space - is concretely experienced as a real presence of people with each other. This project may have lasted only a short time and is not repeatable but our hope is that it may have captured something radically new and absolutely simple idea, which catches as it were a new intuition to bring into the new millennium of Lithuania.
About the authors: Ed Carrrol and Vita Geluniene are initiators and co-ordinators of the Friendly Zone Project and board members of Kaunas Biennial. Email: email@example.com
REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY Deutsche, R. (2002) Sharing Strangeness: Krzysztof Wodiczko’s ægis and the Question of Hospitality in Grey Room 06, Winter 2002. Grey Room, Inc. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Heeswijk van. J. (2008) Systems. Berlin: The Green Box Kunst Editionen.
Gülec, A., et al. (2009) documenta 12 education 1 - Methods and strategies in gallery education at documenta 12. Berlin: Diaphanes Kester, G. (2005) ‘The Role of Dialogue in Socially-Engaged Art in Theory.’ In Z. Kocur and S. Leung (eds.) Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Mörsch, C. and the Documenta 12 Education Team (2009) documenta 12 Education 2 - Between Cultural Praxis and Service: Results of a Research Project. Berlin: Diaphanes.