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Kaunas Textile Art Biennials are Gathering Momentum

Every few years Lithuanian and the neighbouring Textile Artists’ Guilds are stirred up by the international textile exhibitions, arranged in Kaunas. The wide range of geographical locations of the artists, who presented their artwork for the competition – beginning with the “traditional” participants from the Baltic and Nordic countries and ending the list with far away Japan and exotic Taiwan, allows us to say that the prestige of this event, arranged for already the forth time, has apparently increased. Side by side with always active participants of Kaunas exhibitions, Lithuanian and Latvian textile artists, Kaunas Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery will provide us an opportunity to see the recent artwork, made by the artists from Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Belgium, and Rumania.
    For the first time in Lithuanian history of textile exhibitions, the artwork sent in for the competition was evaluated by the international jury, consisting of art critics and artists, chaired by Beatrijs Sterk, General Secretary of the European Textile Network. The authoritative and textile world famous artist, was encouraged to come to Lithuania due to her earlier contacts with the Textile Department of Kaunas Art Institute, the international textile exhibitions award winning names of the textile artists - Lina Jonikienė, Feliksas Jakubauskas and others, and the desire to get a closer look at the contemporary Lithuanian textile art. According to B. Sterk, the Lithuanian textile art has already made the choice, which direction to take – contemporary art or design – differently from Germany, where at the moment the textile art is undergoing a period of uncertainty in attempts to make that choice. During her work at the jury B. Sterk admitted being surprised by the artistic level of the Lithuanian textile art – original ideas, the variety of techniques, and high quality of artwork performance.
    The decision of the exhibition organizers to invite international jury had certainly proved itself, though at first it seemed quite risky. On the one hand this added reputation for the event, on the other hand allowed achieving more objectivity in the evaluation of the artwork, avoiding the complicated circumstances, which usually follow the work of the jury, consisting exclusively of local experts.
    Since I had a chance to work in the jury of this competition for the second time, I’d like to point out substantially improved organizational side of the project and this time especially professional information dissemination about the venue. The invitations to participate in the exhibition were sent out through the international ETN organization publications and textile journals (Textile Network, Embroidery, Fibre Art, Tapestry and etc.), also making use of the personal artists’ and event organizers’ contacts. It is obvious that in the process of learning from the mistakes of the past and gaining experience the arrangement of applied art exhibitions in Lithuania is acquiring substantially higher level. We are continuously searching for more objective artwork selection methods and such evaluation criteria, which would arouse interest of the much wider group of contemporary art viewers due to the quest of textile rather than just be understandable for exceptionally narrow circle of specialists. It is no longer surprising that getting selected for Kaunas Textile Biennial is gradually becoming a matter of prestige for the local and foreign artists.
    While recently major shows of the textile art world stage, such as Laussane, Lodz or Nordic countries triennials are naturally becoming exhausted, more and more interesting and new art initiatives start appearing in the European Union candidate countries. It would be sufficient to remember impressive international textile exhibitions, which took place a few years ago in Hungary, Arsenal Museum in Riga, Baltic and Scandinavian Applied Art Symposiums in Zvartava (Latvia), Felt in Lithuania, Tallinn Applied Art Triennials, which are still attracting the artists. In this respect Lithuania has also promising perspectives, considering the nourishing of deep textile traditions, taking pride in internationally highly recognized artists and talented youth, having two strong Textile Departments in Vilnius and Kaunas.
    What makes this exhibition attractive? It became a tradition for it to distinctly represent the art of the Baltic and Nordic textile artists. Despite the fact that the number of our neighbours, Latvian artists, are among the national majority in the exhibition, it is a little sad due to the lack of activity of that young generation Latvian artists, who have recently productively cooperated in other textile art projects in Lithuania (maybe they are getting as little tired of the frequent meetings?).
    Another interesting thing is that this year exposition features as many as seven Japanese artists’ Akesaka Hisako, Hara Sugane, Kasim Amayo, Kawarabayashi Michiko, Murayama Yoriko, Sugiura Kimiko and Tanaka Nobuko. Everybody, at least a little interested in the history of applied art, is familiar with the fact that Japanese cultural heritage constitutes one of the richest pages of the history, which keeps fascinating us, Europeans, with peculiar aesthetics and excellence of the craft. This exhibition appeals as an intersection platform of very different cultural and textile art traditions. It is worth mentioning that Lina Jonikienė became famous after winning a special prize in Japan, Kyoto in 1997 and later became a winner of Kaunas International Textile Exhibitions twice (1999, 2001). Feliksas Jakubauskas’ artwork has just been awarded with a special prize in the International Applied Art Biennial Cheongju, currently taking place in another Eastern country in Korea. Recognition, gained in such countries of deep textile as well as ceramics and metal work traditions is worth a special pride. Now we have a rear opportunity to see the artwork of Japanese textile artists in Lithuania, following recent exhibitions of Japanese architecture and traditional dolls in Lithuanian Art Museum in Vilnius.
    What textile art tendencies does this exhibition reveal? The attention to impressive size special textile installations is noticeably subsiding, as compared to their abundance in a few recent expositions. It could have been influenced by the topic of the exhibition Right and Wrong Sides, encouraging the artists to focus on the textile artwork itself, revealing specific features – surface textures, expression of colour combinations, multiple possibilities of different materials or mediums rather than original artistic ideas or search for unusual ways of exhibiting. The youthful excitement of modern technologies application in textile objects has decreased. There is more focus on nourishing of the craft – weaving, demanding meticulous toil, traditional shibori technique, hand and machine embroidery. Individual techniques are still popular. The fantasy of the artists is especially expressively revealed in the plane of the materials, used as textile fibres. The eye got used to polyethylene, paper or metal constructions in the textile exhibitions, but now (not without the influence of other contemporary kinds of art) the textile artists use such materials of organic origin as human hair or natural dog’s skin. Light shiver waves through the body when looking at some of the art objects, which seems like handcraft from the first sight...
    It is evident that contemporary textile is playing the decorative art rather than truly being one, it is manipulating the clichés, set in the viewer’s mind, it is questioning its own traditions by broadening them and as if testing the limits, to see how much they can be stretched. There is no doubt that the usual duties of interior decorator are already forgotten. The contemporary textile art has clearly chosen independent road of quest, not minding the threats to its artistic identity in the environment of post-modern culture formation. The time when it had to be content with the “secondary” roles and was always matched to something else is history. Today textile artists are driven forth by the desire to try out what has not been experienced. On the other hand, respect for the craft, which is still considered artistic value among its representatives, helps this field to retain its identity. Of course, the alluring magic of cognition has led many artists along the mistaken paths or pushed towards the downfall, but it is the only thing allowing experiencing the joy of discovery, immeasurable by any measures. Wishing the artists not to run short of it I hope that the exhibition will provide enjoyable moments for the art viewers as well. 


Dr. Rūta Pileckaitė