Kaunas Textile Biennial: Part 1

Four of my works were recently selected for an exhibition entitled Experiments with Light that was scheduled as a part of the exhibition programme for the eighth international Kaunas Textile Biennial. It was the perfect excuse to take myself off to the beautiful city of Kaunas in Lithuania for three days to explore the city and the

The heart of Kaunas is populated with old buildings in varying states of disrepair that date back as far as the fourteenth century and there are more churches and other such religious buildings than I could count. It’s a beautiful place to retreat to and a wonderful setting for the textile art festival.

I must admit that I the Kaunas Biennial was only on the edge of my radar before I headed out there and I really wasn’t prepared for the scale of the festival. I was treated to a who’s who of international textile art and experienced some incredible work by both established and emerging artists alike. As a result of the volume of work I’m going to have to break this blog post into pieces to make it manageable.

*Yinka Shonibare: A Masked Ball (2004) Film Still

On the Friday night, not long after touching down in Lithuania, I headed to the Kaunas Picture Gallery for the grand opening of the Biennial and the launch of two exhibitions. The first of these exhibitions featured work by invited artists that included a beautiful film by Yinka Shonibare and the most incredible tapestry by Annika Ekdahl.

The exhibition provided an interesting exploration of what might constitute a work of textile art. Although Shonibare presented a time-based piece the costumes that had been created for the film were incredible and inspiring. They were cut in a manner that resembled period costumes but the fabrics that had been used were extremely vivid and beautifully patterned. The film was apparently inspired by the the 1792 assassination of the Swedish King Gustav III at a masked ball in Stockholm. The film explores frivolity, play and excess.

*Vita Geluniene: Hunt of the Unicorn

Vita Geluniene exhibited an intricate tapestry entitled, ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’, featuring a number of figurative elements that she brought to life in an accompanying video work. Actors/dancers were filmed in front of a blue screen against which an image of Geluniene’s tapestry, without the figurative elements, was superimposed whereby the actors replaced the figures in the tapestry that was exhibited. The work took three years to develop and was inspired by tapestries produced around the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

*Swedish student’s work at The Kaunas Picture Gallery

The first floor of the Kaunas Picture Gallery housed an exhibition of work by Swedish textiles students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I saw a wide range of textile art by recent graduates during the degree shows this summer but I must admit that the work exhibited by these students in Kaunas surpassed anything I saw at home this year both technically and conceptually.

One of my favourite student pieces was the work pictured above. Apparently Swedes wastes approximately 25 kilograms of textiles each year and so the artist has created this jacket that weighs exactly that. Accompanying the work was a video of the artist struggling to wear the work buckling beneath its weight. (Embarrassingly I’ve lost my notes with the students name on it so I’ll have to do a little investigating and update you with that information a little later).

The students’ work really was strong and featured a hole range of textiles from some simple, yet really beautiful embroidery, to film and video works and larger installations with wire and thread.

Given that this was my first evening in Kaunas I was suitably impressed by the quality of the work on show at the Textile Biennial as well as the scale of ambition.

I’ll post articles about my other experiences at the Biennial later. In the meantime you can few a set of my photos on my Flickr pages here.

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