History Will Be Rewritten in the Museum
I will probably be right in saying that the understanding of history and the continuity of memory depends more on rewriting and retelling than on verbatim repetition. It would be difficult to remember a history, which I would not have heard several versions of, and if I did remember it, this would still not mean that different versions would never exist. It would be difficult to remember a history repeated verbatim because it should be doomed to stagnation and dogma. Meanwhile, a history that is constantly rewritten confirms not only its own viability, but also its relevance. It is necessary to fill various existential and metaphysical gaps in the changing environment, although that is often done only in order to achieve political goals. Thus, it is not surprising that we got what we had been waiting for in the 20th century: The End of History by Francis Fukuyama; we also got the gospel of the 21st century, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The rewriting of history shows the subject’s creative ability to react to the changing environment, moreover, the conventionality of the historical truth.
An expert rewriting of history requires the entire spectrum of instruments: a narrative, an authority, the means of broadcasting, etc. And only a purposeful application of those instruments turns history into the truth. The museum as one of instruments to create the historical truth is no longer just the abode of the muses created for the few elect. Today the museum is a place for targeted communication and mass education, in which existential and metaphysical aspects of our worldview are being modulated.
Museum – this is the title of the continued artistic project by Dainius Liskevicius, which addresses the canon of Lithuanian art in order to prompt a wider debate on the notions of creativity and art. The artist imitates the principles of writing history and the functioning of museums provocatively. He also juxtaposes Lithuanian historical personalities (who were involved in political protest and resistance during the Soviet occupation) with global historical and cultural phenomena as well as with the artist’s (personal) creative biography. Thus Liskevicius raises and establishes the idea of protest as a creative act ‘historiographically’.
In doubt over the truth of the story of Lithuanian art during the Soviet period and, perhaps, intuitively perceiving its limited nature, Liskevicius proposes to include political history into the discourse of art history and vice versa. In the Museum, the discourses of local and international, personal and social history are interrelated. Political protest becomes a cultural phenomenon because it is interpreted as the most radical means of artistic expression opposing Soviet ideology as well as disputing the moderate position of the non-conformist silent modernism.
In the Museum, history is a hyper-textual story told by Liskevicius in first person. He connects the forms of political protest, which are presented through logical, conceptual and formal links throughout the exposition, with relevant historical personalities and cultural artefacts, including excerpts from the artist’s biography.
Antanas Kraujelis, Romas Kalanta and Bronius Maigis are doubtlessly among the most dramatic and outstanding representatives of political protest of the 1960s–1980s. They left a deep trace in the history of civil opposition to the Soviet occupation. Kraujelis was a post-war fighter, the last partisan in Lithuania. He shot himself on the 17th of March in 1965 when KGB agents surrounded his hiding-place. Museum compares his partisan activities to the underground art movement. Romas Kalanta was a dissident. On the 14th of May in 1972, in protest against the occupation of Lithuania, he burnt himself in the garden of the Musical Theatre in Kaunas. His self-immolation is likened to political performance. Bronius Maigis destroyed Rembrandt’s masterpiece Danae in The State Hermitage Museum with a political motivation on the 15th of June in 1985, the date when mass extermination of the Lithuanian nation started. This act of vandalism carried out in one of the largest museums of the USSR is associated with the controversial art destruction movement.
The project Museum, as well as the search for the historiographical truth, is not finite. Its collection keeps growing and its story is being constantly rewritten. In 2012, the Museum debuted as an independent exposition at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius – the building that had housed the Museum of Revolution until 1990. Now it houses the institution that represents the history of 20th century Lithuanian art. In 2013, the story of the Museum was retold at the Museum for Contemporary Art Leipzig. This book not only confirms the vitality of the story, but also attempts to fill the gap in its creative understanding.
National Gallery of Art, Vilnius, 2012
Gallery for Contemporary Art, Leipzig, 2012