Ed Carroll and Vita Gelūnienė live in Kaunas (Lithuania) where they have been exploring ways of creating community art for several years. When Ed sent me some photos of their latest event I asked if I might share them on this blog, partly because they give a glimpse of what’s happening in a part of Europe that isn’t widely known in the landscape of participatory art, and partly because the images offer such a resonant feel of midwinter celebration, ancient and contemporary, elemental and human. I also sense Welfare State’s ideas and aesthetics, spreading unseen like rhizomes, relevant still because their own roots are in ancient, anarchic popular visions the need of which people are starting to feel again.
Ed and Vita have written this brief account of this evening, which is the latest in a series of – what, happenings? – they’ve helped create in their community.
In the centre of Šančiai is a wasteland called the ‘Cabbage Field’, the final fragment of a vast area used as a military territory from the mid-19th century until 1993. Over the last four years a group of community artists and leaders who formed the Lower Sanciai Community Association worked to reclaim this land. In December 2017, the Association joined the Council of Europe Faro Convention Network, a solidarity platform working with local cultural heritage and making it a resource for citizens to create commons, narratives and cooperation. This is the second year the group organized a festive community gathering called the Balsamic Poplar, which takes its name from the oldest tree.
In the process of preparing for this event, local leaders and community artists organized more than 20 open art workshops. The result of these workshops became a two-hour coproduction led by children, people with disabilities, the local circus and library as well as community members. Over 200 people came and were met by resident Field Fairies who drew people to the shadow theatre on the specially adapted ‘Dream Bus’. The shadow theatre used the local library for rehearsal involving children and parents. After the performance, creative workshops in shadow making attracted some; others preferred to watch the newly placed crib into the belly of the Balsamic poplar, while others were engaged in making and sharing waffles and doughnuts from an open fire oven. People brought in new books to donate to the library!
A band of samba drummers led the crowd on a journey around five specially constructed circular screens to watch a unique performative light animation produced produced by artists from Psilicon Theatre and the local Baltic circus. Finally, the night ended with a fire sculpture created by a local resident of the Cabbage Field.
“The animators of the Cabbage Field have worked for a few years to mobilize community and to create this festive tale. Many had criticized them for what they were doing in this wasteland. But in spite of it, the community kept on working and is going to make more events attended by children, neighbours and even those who never heard about the space. People were happy and joyous and this mood was made by the magic of the faith in community and Christmas spirit.” Kauno Diena newspaper 2017-12-18
Thanks to Ed and Vita for sharing this work, and to the photographers Darius Petrulis and Regina Sabuliene. I hope to be able to visit the project next year and learn more about their experience at first hand.
- PS Ed Carroll has long been involved with Blue Drum, working for cultural rights in Ireland and the Legacy Papers, an project to document the origins and development of community art, including interviews with people like Mary Jane Jacob, Arlene Goldbard and many others.