Violeta Jaseviciute, Head of Education department at M.K.Ciurlionis National Museum of Art, Lithuania




Art as an Opportunity – Contemporary Art Projects for the Blind and Visually Impaired at M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum of Art

Violeta Jaseviciute


The role of art is of high importance for the development of man, for his/her adaptation to the world and the recognition of the self and others.


The educational department at M.K.Ciurlionis National Museum of Art has been preparing specific educational programmes for children and youth since 1994. Some of them are implemented at the museum itself and are adjusted to the permanent exhibits. They are aimed at introducing the younger generation to the art objects that have been preserved at the museum. Their aim is to introduce children to the art by combining theory and practice. Thus, they are not only passive listeners, but also participants in games, visions and solving various tasks. We also organize exhibitions, creative actions, plein – airs and symposia in which youth can participate alongside professional artists.


After the Declaration of Independence in 1990, Lithuania has encountered a wave of postmodernist tendencies. The artistic situation significantly changed and a vacuum between society and shocking artistic novelties became distinguished.


Contemporary Art Centre became the leader in spreading postmodernism art ideas in Vilnius, while M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum of Art had the function of leader in Kaunas. The museum not only preserves cultural and historical heritage, but also pays considerable attention to organizing exhibitions of contemporary artists.


The educational department of M.K. Ciurlionis National Museum of Art was the first to implement contemporary art projects specifically for children and youth. In 1998 we implemented a contemporary art project “Seven Love Days for Postmodernism”. It was based on the following 7 modernism/postmodernism beliefs by postmodernism theory author and literature critic Ihab Hassan: urbanism, technologism, dehumanism, primitivism, erotism, antinonism and experimentalism. These beliefs were interpreted in one week happenings and performances by artists from Kaunas. Moreover, the spectators were invited to participate as well. It was an educational project. It fostered the young people to refuse the role of a passive spectator and to join the active postmodern game. Today it is already possible to evaluate the first lessons of postmodernism, their influence on youth, to analyse the attempts by the artists, their successes and failures and the project’s resonance within the society. However, I would like to concentrate this presentation on our educational projects for the blind and visually impaired. We began their implementation in 1997. We did not have any specific theoretical or practical experience. Thus, we relied on our artistic intuition and human values. At that moment nobody in Lithuania or the countries of the former Soviet Union implemented such kind of projects and we had no opportunity to observe other practices in Europe even though our society was going through certain changes.


The end of XXth century is marked by an emerged wish to change the point of view of the society towards the social group with a so called risk factor. There gradually appeared an understanding about the “others” distinctive characteristics and the need for the preservation of those qualities. The integration of people with restricted possibilities into the community began to change the preconceptions about disability, eventually, considering it not a flaw but a distinct characteristic that has its value. Because not only artistic works constitute cultural values, but also every human being with his/her personal fate and feelings. Art in this respect is important not for its own value, but as the one that transfers human values. If man stands in the centre of a social paradigm, art builds a bridge that leads from one to the other and to the art itself.


While following these beliefs we were the first to organize not only in Lithuania but also in the whole former Eastern block an exhibition for the blind and visually impaired called “In the Search for the Sixth Sense”. The exhibition was opened in 1997 and lasted since May till the end of June at Kaunas Picture Gallery. We tried to turn the attention of the society towards the problems of the blind and to change the stereotypes about the inability of the blind to integrate in to the vivid cultural life. In such a way we tried to overcome artificial obstacles and the issues that conditioned a passive attitude of the blind towards this dehumanized situation that we had. While preparing this exhibition we chose sensory and tactile senses as a starting point in finding the optimal relation with art. We looked for the relation between traditional art, minimalism and conceptualism. We used for the exhibition not only artistic works but also the space of the hall, walls, doors and the contrast of light and dark (one of the halls was dark, the other – light). Thus, we tried to evoke emotional reaction to the person who can see and who, in such a way, approaches the world of the blind. The principle of juxtaposition of optic and tactile is very important in the concept of the exhibition. According to Riegly, “the cleansing of optical senses leads to the more objective perception of phenomena. Only by touching the objects we are able to perceive them as they are, that is, objectively. In such a way, the exhibit was targeted at the blind and the “blind “ that are able to see, thus, providing an opportunity for everyone to discover his/her sixth sense. The objects were accompanied by texts that expand the scale of interpretations. The form was laconic, contemplative and provoked the freedom of thought. The works by Aleksas Andriuskevicius, Robertas Antinis, Vidmantas Bartulis, Virginijus Kasinskas and Algimatas Slapikas blended into the unity of thought and artistic persuasion. The starting point of the exhibition was the work “Boundary” by Virginijus Kasinskas - the doors that served the function of a picture. The blind woman with great effort cut the linen that blocked the entrance. Having crossed the “Boundary”, visitors went in to the hall where they themselves became live exhibits. During this action the hall was filled with the melody from a musical composition “Ear” by V. Bartulis which was subtly performed by Saulius Bartulis and violinist Dalia Terminaite. Then visitors saw the next work by V. Kasinskas “In the Proccess of Painting”. Paint brushes that cut the organic glass looked at the people in motion at the hall. The artist refused traditional painting and offered a concentrated system of signs that covered his assumptions about painting and other aspects. The author wrote: “Paint brushes have collected colours, emotions and experience. They are able to see through touching. While clean and inexperienced brushes that have never touched a linen – are blind.


Robertas Antinis was even more courageous. He identified himself as a blind person. He talked about his sculptures “the blind” and “The Well” in such a way: thoughts about the world of the blind stimulate us and provide an opportunity for a new branch of art. This broadens the means of connection among people <…>. Every one (sculptor) who can see is blind to some extent<…>. I am also a blind who takes up a hill his ball<…>”


The object “the Dose of One Glance” by Aleksas Andriuskevicius is also based on a text. Having painted a symbolic round on the wall, the author offered to look for the solutions and opportunities in the spatial composition of words, that is, in their plastics, form, ways of expression, meaning, ambiguity, etc.


Sculptor Algimantas Slapikas in his sculptural object “Hand – rail” used natural materials such as wood, water, grains, linen, coal and grass – the most prominent creations by nature and man that accompany us through the journey of life.


Wooden sculptures by the folk artist Lionginas Sepka such as “a Stick with People”, “St. George”, “The Last Supper” fit well in the exhibition. They represented tradition, their importance and continuity.


At the end of the exposition was a dark hole concealing the “Map of Senses” by Robertas Antinis. The map represented an enormous globe full of secrets that meant infinity for the scientist, opportunity for the child and an external journey for the bug”.


In 1998 the exhibition “In the Search for the Sixth Sense” was transferred and exhibited in Moscow, where it received high appreciation and served as an impulse for the curators there to create an international forum dedicated to children with disabilities. In 2001 we were invited to this forum and presented a new project for the blind “Day Dreams”. The main idea of this project was the creation of a communicative space. Thus, we had a new experience addressed against a system that is filled with fear, prejudice, rules and misunderstandings, because it is not the restrictions that create a man. It is the need for the creativity, openness, trust and a wish to be understood. A barrier is not only a distinctive mark but it is a place where different places conjoin, opportunities and dialogue appear. In this situation the expression of contemporary art is very handy. We just need to know how to use it. The title and the concept of the project were based on the Austrian psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and other philosophers’ ideas about psychoanalysis, terminology and the explanation of dreams: “During our sleep our associations and criticism disappear. There is no knowledge any more”. Dreaming, according to Aristotel, is the life of our psyche when we are in sleep. If we transferred these ideas in a creative form, we would notice certain points that are close to the nature of contemporary art. We find those points in the explanation of dreams, especially day dreams that have a feature to change and to obtain the mark of time. This is also confirmed by Carl Gustav Jung: “Collective unconscious is the expression of our common human experience. It consists of archetypes. We can become acquainted with it and our soul (as a part of our unconscious) through creativity, dreams and through the state between a dream and awakening during which we experience visions”.


We aimed during this project at transformation the stereotypes of fear, alienation to artistic action, based on subsensor perception, that is, the potential of a human being’s sensory organs, the sixth sense that is developed after we have eyesight dysfunction. The most peaceful way to take away the tension is through creativity, when one type of energy is transformed to another. Hence, we created a therapic space where things that were happening there reminded a dream, but not a real life.


During the project we implemented the following happenings: “the Theatre of the Blind” (author Robertas Antinis and Kaunas Modern Dance Theatre Aura, director Birute Letukaite); “About the ABC of Visualism” (author Ceslovas Lukenskas); “A Black Square” (author Evaldas Pauza). There was also presented a sculptural object “Mobile Secrets” (Algimantas Slapikas), tactile exhibition “Foxy Fox” (Vytautas Umrasas), a video “Cinema for the Blind (authors Violeta Jaseviciute, Raimundas Eimontas and Arvydas Liorancas) and a video installation “Documentics” (author Algis Garbaciauskas).


The co-authors of the action were also pupils from Kaunas board school for the impaired that alongside with the artists created the atmosphere of a new quality communication that was based on the joy of discoveries of the secrets of the art world and mutual trust.


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