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 Round Table Discussion: The Making of the Kaunas Biennial

Location: Artists Association, Rotuses Sq. 26.
Begins:  14.00hrs.

Vita Geluniene:  We shall now begin our round table discussion and our moderator for this event will be Ed Carroll, Community Programme from CityArts Dublin.

 Thank you Vita, for those of you who don’t speak English as your first language we will try and speak slowly.  We decided to do this session in English because it gives a chance to meet the curators and organisers who can all communicate through English. We don’t have translation into Lithuanian, which we are sorry about.  So let me introduce Keiko Kawashima from Japan, Jon Eric Riis from the USA and Silija Puranen from Finland.  Each of these will make some short introductory remarks based on their experience as curators for Textile 05.   And Vita Geluniene, Chief Executive of Textile 05 is also here to present her perspective on the Biennial.  I am delighted to facilitate this session.  The intention is to provide an opportunity where we can sit down after the opening event and begin the process of reflecting on its  strengths, concerns, and opportunities going forward.  Our discussion will be recorded and will be used as part of the evaluation and review process.  Keiko has prepared a text, which she will read from so I would invite her now to begin.

Thanks for today. I really appreciate having the chance to put heads together…

 Janice Jeffries: Many models can be looked at for a Biennial but I would like to draw attention to one issue regarding the body of work that has been produced and exhibited starting from Lodz right through to this Kaunas Biennial.  We might consider re-presenting aspects of that body of work in a new context for the next Biennial.

 Ed Carroll:  I think Janice is raising is an issue of drawing from the culmination of these type of events by looking at representing thematically or otherwise the parts that have a resonance with our reality today. I am now reminded of a comment yesterday by the MKC Museum Director, Osvaldas Daugelis.  He spoke at the Opening Ceremony about the challenge of a Biennial that is getting bigger each time.  How do you deal with that success and growth?  Is bigger always better?  What remains after each Biennial event?  How is it effecting change in the field of practice?  That may be where your question is coming from it seems to me. What do people think?

 Jon Riis: Being from the States and being involved in showing only once in Lotz I didn’t really understand how they chose artists for this event.  You know if your Peruvian; do they choose your work?  I don’t quite care for the selection aspect of the show or I don’t quite understand how people are selected for that show.

 Vita: In Lithuania the Artists Association make the selection. 


 Jon Riis: Can I address one aspect of this show.  I was not quite aware of the amount of work that we were going to see and I thought there might be some pre-jury aspect to the selection.  The catalogue is beautifully presented but I’m not so happy that every piece was illustrated here. It would have been less expensive and not as cumbersome. Can we talk about that a little bit?  The idea there being to have a pre-jury.  I don’ know how that would work but it would be nice if it was dwindeled down a little bit because in this way everything is accepted and there are different levels here. 

 Vita: That was our goal here to have the exhibition open to everyone; to all artists who wanted to exhibit once they followed our restrictions in terms of the categories and size of the works.  And the reason for that was that we were able to exhibit a large number of works and we wanted to try and do that for the first time in the Biennial’s history.  We wanted to make it open completely and to see what happens.  And to my mind the quality of the exhibition didn’t become an issue.  This is my personal opinion as I’ve always questioned any jury’s predjustice and expertise. The jury member is a limited number of people who are very subjective. They have their own attitudes in their own fields. And this is what we wanted to avoid in this exhibition.  If possible to make it as open as it is and to make the visitors come in and make a judgement on the pieces. So that was the whole idea. This is why we had the other opportunity to make the three curated parts which showed a very subjective and personal way of looking at textile art.  So this is the background to this Biennial show.

 Jon Riis: That helped to clarify it in my mind so that is good.

Vita Geluniene: And in terms of talking about the catalogue. The catalogue is our documentation of the event.

 John Riis: This lives on…

 Ed Carroll: Does anyone else want to take up that discussion of ‘open’ vs. ‘curated’ as a dynamic in this years event or you may wish to broaden it out to other Biennial choices that you perceive.

Fran Reed: I think it is a wonderful opportunity.  And you get a history in time and pieces from other partso fthe world more. I think it is really a great opportunity for some of these artists we are not familiar with to be able to show.

I was just going to say


 Katherine Pannepacker: I was just going to say that I was so grateful to the idea of open call because in America, in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia every other April there is big biennial of textiles that is international as well.  And as a Philadelphia artist I am aware of so many artists that are working in fibre arts. So I took it upon myself to curate an exhibiton that is open to all firer artists in Philadelphia with the only restriction that they consider themselves fibre artists, are working in the field and that the work they exhibit is professional. I think it is commendable that the Biennial is open because it provides an opportunity for us to show our work internationally.  In a very small way in Philadelphia by providing an opportunity to show you can really open up people’s minds about what is happening in textiles. 

 Ed Carroll: Could I invite some more opinions from different countries?

 Danica Maier:  This is not a country opinion  but I just wanted to hightlight the danger that an open exhibition, while it opens up an opportunity for people to participate, there is also a dange of artists seeing that and not wanting to exhibition because they worry about the quality and the level of the work. That is something that needs to be considered.

 Ed Carroll: Does anyone want to respond to that issue of quality.

 Iceland woman: So people proposed their work and it was selected.

 Ed Carroll: No.  In this  Biennial it was an open call so there was no selection process.

 Iceland woman: We made a similar exhibition along the same model in Iceland last year.  But it was an open call and we selected the works from the submissions.

 Silja:  I can comment on this open system. It is a very interesting and new way of thinking.  Because in the art worlds normally everything is selected by someone who is guarding the quality all the time.  So in that way it is very very good idea. But it may be through that some artists may not apply because of worries about quality.  I wouldn’t be so worried about that but rather about another issue which is now you have such an amount of work (about 144) and the information about the Biennial is spreading so at some point maybe you have to make some kind of limit. Next time there could be 300 works and so on.  But I think it is something to try once or twice. It is a very good idea.

 Vita Geluniene:

Ed Carroll:  In terms of the evolution – growth and expansion.  There is always something innate in the human being that it wants be be bigger, better, more, and son on.  I was just wondering in terms of organising a Biennial how do  you find a solution to that conundrum i.e. a constant evolution to getting bigger. Is there any other way in which evolution can make you smaller or more distinctive. Have people any comment in this regard?

 Vita Geluniene: In this Biennial the idea was to make the exhibtion open. 

 Fiona Kirkwood:  I really appreciated the opportunity to take part. In my experience coming from a country like South Africa which only became open after Nelson Mandela in 1994 and prior to that I was not able to exhibit internationally.  And it has just been a great opportunity for me coming from a remote part of the world, where I am not known so much internationally, to be able to put my work out there.  I was at Lodz last year.  I know I was aware vaguely of the last Biennial two years ago.  And I remember thinking at the time where is Lithuania, where is Kaunas, and there is another exhibition that I have to get my work ready for so I did not participate.  And when this came up again a second time round for me I looked at concept, place and technology I just thought wow it just cuts through all the stuff I am doing and it puts textile and fibre at another level so I just said this is for me.  I just found it really exciting. So that is where I am coming from.  I just thought that the overall idea of place, technology and concept was just excellent. I really feel that when you come in on that level  that you obviously need to get….

 Liliane Ploskova: I just want to say something more about this opportunity to show works.  I am coming from Vienna and there it is especially difficult to show works. There is no place.  It is impossible to show something new or something that people don’t know.  They is more preference for working with artists who are internationally well known.  So I felt it was very important to say that this open system allows to show work that may not find their way through a jury or some such choice by name of artists alone.  There can be a way found to choose beyond categories of work for instance by internationally known artists or not-known artists, or some such way.  I think it is not correct.  And maybe this issue is just not relevant to my case but to others too. Of course I am new and I have not made work that has shown ‘outside’ in an international context.

 Ed Carroll:  Could I ask someone who have been in the last Biennial to give their impression of the distinctive mark or difference of this years event.

 Amayokasim Yamamoto:  Yes I have shown in both recent Biennial’s. 

 When I looked at the information for 05 and read the categories I cannot say it is the best way or not.  I cannot say I knew what would happen.  I saw it as a possibility to ….    I’d like to ask what was the idea to make the Biennial in these three parts – technology, place and concept?   

 Ed Carroll: Vita, would you like to take that question.

 Vita Geluniene: We really tried to cover the whole spectrum of textile art possibilities.  The idea was to show the work in the category of place which referred to site specific work.  In my experience I have never seen that category represented in any biennial.  And I though this is a part that is dark and we should put a light on it.  The technology and idea are the things that are different parts of textile art. And we really wanted to show the spectrum. And I know it is very ambitious. But we didn’t want to throw a light only on one aspect. We really wanted to have a spectrum. 

Janice Jeffries: From where did the idea for the Biennial come?

Vita Geluniene: At an institutional level the idea at the beginning behind the Biennial was born in the Kaunas Art Academy.  It would not be like i.e. in terms of the Institute taking a lead if there was not a need to ‘feed’ the students.  Therefore my involvement and my colleagues in the Institute became involved because of our role as teachers.  Then it developed into something bigger because it and there was a concern that we need to get to a wider audience, we need to know the background and what is happening in the whole world of textiles. It was also the political situation that was in Lithuania at that time which made us ask ourselves how can we survive this current situation?  That was the beginning and then it developed into something bigger.

 Laima: The main idea at the beginning was how to keep textile art alive in Lithuania because all the time there were discussions that textile art is dead and so on and so on.  So the inspiration was to work to make a textile art exhibition.

 Vita: We ask ourselves whether it was worth making a textile art exhibition?  Should we focus solely on naming the biennial ‘textile art’ and there are people who will support it and others who want it called something different.  My own idea is that I think this is about art, which is called textile.

Seamus McGuinness: I agree with that.  It is art, made by textile artists but the textile is secondary to the art.

 Laima:  It is the art expression - that was how we developed our position.

  Seamus McGuinness:  I think that it the great fault of textiles artists; it is often like an apology ‘textiles art’ rather than art that is made by textiles. I think it should be art first and textiles second because art is not about a material, its about an ideas.

Ed Carroll:  Moving along, another impression I have from the Biennial is about new work. Any biennial that is worth its salt should be able to commission new work; that it can put in a place processes where new work is created.  I enjoyed the satellite exhibitions and the site specific work in the Old Town for this reason.

Janice Jeffers: That goes back to the collaborations and partnerships.  And what might be around specific places.  Because I also would feel that I wouldn’t always necessarily say that it is important to say it is a biennial or a triennial.  It may be about something that happens in six months or four years depending on the nature of the project. I think what happens with the other ones is that they got into a very particular kind of formula and then there was a sort of expectations that this has to happen in two years and this was the theme last time and so on. I was going to say, naturally enough some individuals began to think about how that might slot into that sort of orthodoxy.  And that kills things off very very quickly.

 Ed Carroll: Janice, talk a little more about that because it seems to be a very interesting point.

Vita Geluniene: There is another danger that you can do nothing.

Janice Jeffers: Yes I know.  I know.  All I am suggesting is that as soon as there is this idea that there is a biennial with a fixed timeframe and it was about ‘not this commissioning process but more this is the particular theme, this is the time, this is the place then there were individuals and countries of support. It became a sort of cultural diplomacy, tourism sort of idea.  I don’t want to make too many judgements.  Because there were so few opportunities to show work that I think that it did get into a certain orthodoxy.  And the orthodoxy was often, I think, to do with a certain material or technical innovation and not the process of how the thinking would develop which allowed other ways of thinking to form and be articulated. 

For example, this idea of commissioning. It may be well here is a kind of space or factory or a possibility or whatever.  How might people want to work with that.  And the concrete way that is realised and made visible occurs over a period of time or at one time depending on what .  Work is made then very specifically with people. 

Ed Carroll:  I actually like the commissioning process because there is so much work that arrives at a fixed point where it concludes i.e. exhibition that the idea that here is a group that is dealing with a conundrum, dealing with a problem, that they don’t have the answer yet but this is as far as we’ve gone. And we are still….. I think that type of commissioning is really based in.  There is some much emphasis that all the problems are resolved by the time the work is shown that your rarely get a sense of this is still in negotiation…

Janice Jeffries: It’s ongoing.  You see that was why I was saying when you were having your conversations and arguments earlier about how, what, etc, the Biennial might be and when you began that discussion – all of that ‘process’ is still part of the work. It is part of it.

Vita Geluniene: It started in June 2004 when we really knew we are going to do a Biennial because you never know what is going to happen at any time. 

 Laima: We agreed that Vita would be the Chief Executive for this Biennial.  Now we can discuss how to do it and consider what are the problems. 

Vita Geluniene: To my mind it started when we decided that we have to join the artists association.  We were not members of the Association and we had this conflict of interest.  We were involved in the organising since the Biennial began in 1997 but we always had this conflict of interest as if we were something different to the Artists Association and no one was thinking about the whole idea that textile was the thing that united us all.  So there was some conflict between organisations. So to avoid the conflict we decided that we better join in with the other members and let the things go. 

Asvaldas: That is important because from this September the Artists Association have got social security.

Vita Geluniene: We were not thinking about that though.

Janice Jeffries: That an interesting point because Associations have a long history but they also in this moment have to reinvent themselves to rechange and rethink their role. So in having that

Osvaldas Daugelis: In our country that is quite a new step because in other countries the status of the artist is more defined.  Now if you are a member of the artists union you have social rights secured and it is a kind of trade union but it is very important. Because the artist works as a freelance and gets his/her honoria and it is quite complicated for the individual to get this type of protection.  I am a member from 1990 of the Art Historians Section.  It is my speciality and if I am ever out side of the museum I still have my profession.  And the Artists Union is quite happy as I say from our local chief at the opening about this operation.

Seamus McGuinness: How many people were at the opening. I was quite impressed at the crowds at the opening. You would never see that in Ireland and England – that amount of people at an opening. Everywhere you looked there were people everywhere. Anybody guess how many.

 Vita Geluniene: I would guess a thousand.

 Osvaldas Daugelis: I would say more than five hundred. 

Ed Carroll: I can only say that over the weekend since the opening there were many people coming. Is it like that every weekend?

 Osvaldas Daugelis:  No No No it is not like that.

 Ed Carroll: And they were paying to get in too.

 Janice Jeffries: That is another factor too. 

Osvaldas Daugelis: Wait until Wednesday which are free.  I had a discussion with my deputies about whether we should skip the free day.  I thought not because people are used to that so let us have more visitors.  Because in the middle of the week not everybody is able to get out of a job.  Let them go an see it because this exhibition is interesting with its criss cross of different ideas and its very lively and in such an autumn its very good. 

 Seamus McGuinness: How many visitors at the last Biennial.

 Laima: It was a very topical one two years ago.

 Osvaldas Daugelis: I don’t know how many because I never counted. But maybe we should look at that. 

Janice Jeffries: It is obsessive number crunching in England.  Because that Boys Who Sow at the Crafts Council had the hightest number ever. 

Vita Geluniene: Well the title is great!

Janice Jeffries: Well I wanted a different title. I wanted the more colloquial Boys Wot Sow.  I wanted more slang but I wasn’t allowed my slang.  Boys Who Sow is more tidy but Boys Wot Sow is more

Seamus McGuinness: Its very local language; its very working class English. 

Janice Jeffries: They were absolutely obsessive about numbers.  In six weeks it was twelve thousand.  Even I was quite pleased.  That is one of the things that is important to have some critical …. Because it was popular. 

Seamus McGuinness: The day I was there it was very busy. It held to clear my head about why am I making textiles.  For me it was a very good exhibition.  Because you know sometimes you see an exhibition and everything just click click click. – everything just clicked for me. 

Ed Carroll: I actually don’t mind if people hate something.

 Janice Jeffries: No I actually think its great.  The arguments.

Ed Carroll: And here the art critics are really important for this type of exhibiton because if people don’t write about it it is not in the memory. And there is that power dimension that if there are not reviews then it does not remain in the memory. 

Janice Jeffries: Unless you have an archive that is.

Mike Hines: Not speaking Lithuanian we bought a newspaper yesterday and we say a photography of Gerard Williams piece.  And we are very interested to know what the press said about the work and about the show in the museum.  Has it been favourable?

Vita Geluniene: Well to date we have got a restating of the content of the biennial. It was not critical.  And actually I would look forward to the critical articles which really look at the show. Virginija could say more about that because she is an art critic and writes for the magazines.  It is very rarely that an art critic would give a critical review on the work.  So I hope we will get some critical reviews.

 Laima:  You are very optimistic.

Osvaldas Daugelis: Last night at the opening my colleague from the Applied Art Museum in Riga she told quite opposite thing. She brought an article from the most critical critic in Latvia. She has never written a good word about anything.  It was about the Lithuanian Textiles. 

Vita Geluniene: There is a Lithuanian exhibition in Riga at the moment and Virginija curated that exhibtion.

Janice Jeffries: It is one of my favourite museums.  I love the Latvian benefits.

Vita Geluniene: Laima is an expert on the belts. 

Laima: We call them saches. 

Osvaldas Daugelis: In Latvia they have these one hundred patterns saches.  In Lithuania it is very rare the simtas.  We have very few with a hundred patters. Each pattern is very different. 

Janice Jeffries: There is a language, a symbolism and a history in these works.

Laima: It is like a letter; a letter from the past to the future.

Janice Jeffries:

Ed Carroll: The other point for the Institute is the contact point with Goldsmiths in England or Galway in Ireland. Here are opportunities for institution to institution contact at the coal face of creativity; a research house for young students and practitioners. For that thpe of discourse is something that can last beyond the two or three days of the event.

Seamus McGuinness: I would not be here if it was not for that initial point of contact made possible by the EU Socrates exchange programme.  I often think that the institution contact need personal contacts to make them work.  Otherwise they do not work. 

Janice: What ever we say about people and personalities there has to be the idea of the open space. 

Seamus McGuinness: Can I ask the question: why did you decide not to display statements by the work?

Vita Geluniene: The answer is very simple. It is too overloaded.  There is hardly a space for a work to be exhibited on the wall. So really there is no physical place for a statement.  We did have the initial idea to have the statement. But not every piece has a statement.  Not every artist is able or interested to make a statement.  I am very sorry for your piece because it really needs it.
Seamus McGuinness: I feel that some of the pieces needs a statement; not all but some.  I do not object but I was just wondering why and I understand your reason because it would be far too much.  And infact I feel that in some exhibitions like the Tate, you are bombarded with information before you see the work.  And sometimes I feel that you are not allowed to make your own interpretation.

 Janice: There is a fear that you will not understand.

Ed Carroll: It is one dimension in the catalogue that I like which is that you have the artists statement there. 

 Janice Jeffries: There are also other ways to do it too. You can have an information leaflet along side the work. It does not have to be in the catalogue.  And if people are interested they can take it away with them.