Lithuania walked away with the coveted Golden Lion award for Best National Participation at the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale 2019 bringing theatre, music, literature, poetry and fine art closer to each other in an inventive creation, subtly addressing the possibilities of what can be art and most importantly delivering a very powerful message to the world about changing ecosystem and how man influences the earth negatively.
The Sun and Sea (Marina), at the Arsenale, curated by Lucia Pietroiusti, commissioned by Rasa Antanaviciute, is an opera-performance by Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte, Lina Lapelyte and about 20 or more volunteers clad in beachwear, sprawled out on an artificial sandy beach created indoors with room for viewing from atop. Holiday revelers - men, women, children and pets are seen lazing away on the sand, basking under the imaginary Sun above, making light conversations, moving around; the scene is complete with towels, umbrellas and all other beach holiday paraphernalia that you can think of; a man is even seen walking his dog on this artificial beach while children are running around the place playing and laughing; in the background sounds of waves soothe the setting; the atmosphere is carefree and languid. But that’s not it – they are singing! At first the performers begin to sing songs describing commonplace issues and aspects of life; little joys and worries of a boring life all find space in their songs but then somewhere towards the end of the 70 minutes opera performance, the mood shifts from the blithe to the grave. Mundane and individual stories, pave way for something more alarming and global in nature; the singers begin to sing in chorus about climate change – an environmental catastrophe that has disturbed the flora and fauna of the Planet toppling the ecological balance of the Earth and most importantly expressing man’s role in this. This very grave issue is definitely the crux of the matter, central to the performance and at the very instant individual voices come together to form a chorus lamenting the plight of the earth, the entire property turns into a very powerful tool. Perhaps this is the exact moment when the performance matures into a consummate example of how art becomes a vehicle of thought and purpose. There are many comparisons and analysis that one can draw from this fine work of art, that all at once thrusts the onus of creating this global situation on the shoulders of ambitious man, artfully critiquing him for his frivolous getaways unperturbed by the cataclysmic environmental issues that he has set into motion; while at the same time portraying earth as a planet in ‘deep pain’ by the doings of its inhabitants. With an overhead audience, perhaps symbolic of unaffected mankind, the performance begs to ask the very pertinent question of how man who is a part of nature can be so oblivious to the woes of nature; it also attempts to raise an alarm on behalf of bleeding Earth. The opera continues to repeat itself in loops of 70 minutes duration, continually sending the message home to an audience that has all the while been watching from above and certainly from across the globe!
Meanwhile, the Golden Lion Award for the Best Participant in the International Exhibition May you live in interesting times was bagged by celebrated filmmaker Arthur Jafa for his 2019 film The White Album that addresses the touchy issue of race. Silver Lion Award for a Promising Young Participant in the International Exhibition went to Haris Epaminonda. Special Mentions for national participation was awarded to Belgium while Special Mentions for individual artists was bagged by Teresa Margolles and Otobong Nkanga.