Title: The (Al)chemists of time or a monumental word
Biennial’s artistic director: Agnė Šemberaitė.
Coordinators: Rūta Šipalytė, Eglė Einikytė-Narkevičienė, Evelina Juncienė, Rasa Justaitė-Gecevičienė, Solveiga Gutautė, Jurga Jasinskaitė, Valdas Pukevičius.
Biennial selection committee: Rita Mikučionytė, Monika Patuszyńska, Evelina Januškaitė, Rūta Šipalytė, Rytas Jakimavičius
Author of the exhibition: Milena Pirštelienė
Organizer: Lithuanian Artists’ Association’s Arka Gallery
Design: Mantas Ramanauskas
No matter what you read and where you travel, what cultures, arts and mythologies you are interested in, stone and ceramics are at the source of all rivers. Like stone, but easier to shape, ceramics are created from earth, water, air, and fire, yet none of these elements can completely destroy it. It has been hidden under deep cultural layers for millennia, and when discovered by new generations it is able to illustrate to us the history of civilization’s beginning and development.
Ceramics is liberal and cosmopolitan. Its materiality and applicability is similar in all continents of the world, in the household and rituals of early civilizations. Where the visual language of human cannot be used, their inner or spiritual world is conveyed through figures of nature’s creation, ornaments, precious metals and stones. But the origins of ceramics – just like early script – that lie in the allegorical language of form and function, remain.
Inseparable from the knowledge of chemistry, materials, glazes, air and fire reactions, ceramists are increasingly compared with alchemists in the discourse of art. Because both are fighting against the limitations of beauty, thought and time, trying to transcend the immovable formulas defined by the Earth of the Creator.
This year, the 7th Vilnius Biennial of Ceramic Art (Al)chemy focuses on the physical, chemical and metaphysical side of this field. It seems that this topic should bore the ceramists but just like love or hate, life and death, it is universal and complex and due to its mysteriousness never fully understood.
Alchemy, scientia immutabilis, a branch of chemical research is aimed at turning base metals into precious ones. Alchemy is surrounded by a veil of impossibility, behind which a battle with death is taking place. Trying to overcome it, alchemists looked for ways to not only create a long-lasting gold, but also substances that would help cure all diseases and stop the human aging processes. Although they failed to achieve all these metaphysical goals, certain discoveries contributed to the science of chemistry.
In today’s world, art is becoming homogenous, and it is looking for ways to best describe what is so difficult to express verbally. Being inherently interdisciplinary, ceramics is increasingly being used by artists from other fields: painters, sculptors, photographers, interdisciplinary artists, even musicians or film directors. However, in order to embody your thought or a feeling that is difficult to describe in words, to create not only a repetition, but also something new, you must first have a very good knowledge of the processes of ceramics as a chemical field of art. Interaction of materials and combustion, a variety of nuances.
The 7th Vilnius Biennial of Ceramic Art features 45 ceramists. They are well-known Lithuanian and foreign artists, revealing how different generations and their environment can not only distance themselves from each other, but also synergize. Guided by this year’s theme of alchemy, the artists of the biennial interpreted it widely. Some emphasize scientific, technological, stylistic experiments, the complexity and materiality of the nature of ceramics, its interdisciplinarity, as well as whims, when an artistic idea, which cannot always be easily put into practice in the field of ceramics, is sought to be implemented. Others focus on chemical and alchemical transformations, the metaphor of transformation, change, and fluidity, trying to control not only clay, porcelain, stone mass or fireclay, but also to give shape to time. They focus on life that feeds on rain, water or blood and exists because of them.
Fusion, change and transformation are characteristic not only of the field of ceramics, but also of the environment in which we live. The last exhibition of the biennial, which took place in the first year of the pandemic, now takes place in a time of war, humanitarian and economic crisis. Environmentally sensitive and observant artists also turn to (AT) i.e., alternative time, the one that temporarily but crushingly destroys the illusion of peace and inviolability, forcing you to rethink your values, limitations, and fragility in the context of personal and global environment.
Time is fragile, maybe that’s why we try so hard to capture its every moment. The monumental symbol remains when everything else that is human crumbles. From Marija Gimbutienė’s sculptures of Old Europe, Kazakh petroglyphs and Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Greek, Sumerian, Nazca, Navajo, Siberian or other peoples’ jewelry… in the folds of our Earth, time is measured by stones and rocks, and human history – shaped on or from the earth – is carved with emotion and thought.
The Vilnius Biennial of Ceramic Art, which has become an important tradition, brings together Lithuanian ceramics professionals and the viewers to rethink the concept of time for the 7th time. A feeling that has been hiding for a long time turns into a thought. A thought comes to a person’s mind. The mind and hands once again fight with the earth, water, air and fire… The form of ceramics, the carving, again and again becomes a witness – a monument to nature, human and history’s change.
Art critic Kamilė Pirštelytė.