How do we prepare for the future?


The opinion of Kęstutis Kuizinas, the Founding Director of the Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius

In the last month, ‘cancelled’ and ‘postponed’ were the two primary words found in most public announcements issued by art institutions and structures. A little over four weeks ago, e-mails with those words began to arrive in inboxes from all over the world, at first creating uneasy feelings of confusion, sadness and futility. Yet time has come to show that life cannot be cancelled: despite the deserted city streets, despite the museums, galleries, and other art institutions closed to visitors, despite the unrealised projects and events that had been meticulously scheduled to take place in a specific physical space and time – the art organism continues to thrive. It is mobilising all of its internal energy reserves and launching new initiatives that have been adapted to this period of self-isolation. There is acute awareness that after this moment of confusion brought upon by the crisis, we all yearn for two things: the ability to act and the need to support one another. We must become partners who have moved beyond competition, leaving all rivalry in the past.

In this regard, turns to the heads and managers of art institutions and structures with the request to share their thoughts and ideas of how this time can be weathered while, at the same time, preparing for the future – a future which will most likely have a plot-line drastically different than that of the pre-pandemic world. In the following express-interview, Kęstutis Kuizinas, Founding Director of the Contemporary Art Centre (Vilnius), shares his opinions.

How does CAC Vilnius live and work in this time of crisis? What does it mean to be on lockdown for an art institution?

At the moment, CAC, like many other art institutions, tries to sustain its relationships and keep in touch with our audiences, artists, partners and friends. In reality, however, this means running operations mainly from home, following the news, obeying the rules, and discussing different matters and possible scenarios with our team via Zoom.

Despite the fact that the future looks like never before, there is a positive side to the lockdown: we now have some extra time to reflect upon things and to discuss projects that were previously frozen or postponed. For instance, the design and functionality of the CAC website and refreshing our public programmes, in addition to continuing our preparations for the delayed and ever-upcoming reconstruction of the CAC facilities and launching various on-line projects and initiatives (which I believe are only effective as a temporary remedy or as a supplementary means of communication in place of standard operating procedures). We collectively decided to move a major solo show by Lithuanian artist Kipras Dubauskas outdoors! So, if nothing changes and our exhibition spaces will still have to stay closed during the summer, we plan to invite our visitors to experience Kipras’ site-specific installation built outside and around our building, including the screening of his new film on the roof area of CAC. I am truly fascinated by this fantastic idea, which emerged under special conditions and a question of how to cope within their constraints.

Generally, the artists and the art world, at least in our part of the world, have always operated in ‘survival mode’ – even under normal conditions.

In a call to save the art world, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in London mentioned Roosevelt's Federal Art Project, while Manuel Borja-Villel, the Director of Museo Reina Sofia, has called for a ‘new’ Marshall Plan, etc. What are tools that could help artists and the art world survive?

Generally, the artists and the art world, at least in our part of the world, have always operated in ‘survival mode’ – even under normal conditions. So, there is nothing new or extra needed to maintain our operational habits. Although, I do remember my colleagues from The Netherlands constantly complaining that decent governmental support doesn’t necessarily guarantee an output of high-quality artistic production. I mean to say that the real tools or impact mechanisms are hidden somewhere behind the obvious and perceivable production engines.

It is sad to admit it, but in the near future we might need to reconsider, and say farewell to, some of our dearest social habits and behaviours.

Do you have a vision of what the art scene will look like? What will be the main shifts and to which direction will they shift?

I am not sure if the language of art itself will change that much because of the current crisis. But it will impact our minds, and the conditions for showing art and the social interaction within the art world will definitely be different.

It is sad to admit it, but in the near future we might need to reconsider, and say farewell to, some of our dearest social habits and behaviours. The recent imposition and normalization of social distancing will mute or slow down all those hugs and kisses we’re accustomed to, as well as other displays of affection and tenderness related to close relationships. Meanwhile, wild DJ parties or super-crowded after-opening receptions typical of art fairs and biennials might become just a distant memory of ‘the good old days’. A similar shift in mentality towards more responsible sexual behaviour evolved after the HIV outburst in the eighties. Similarly, the way we travel and commute has never been the same since 9/11. Art institutions will have to accept it and to adapt to the new rules.

In the end, predicting the future has always been a tricky business: how can one say or imagine something for real when your breathing is blocked by a surgeon’s mask and your sight is blurred by the fog on your glasses…?

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