Europos Parkas – Harmonious Space of Experience



by Laima Kreivyte - Kulturos barai, 2000 No.12

I visited the place several times in connection with my large project that Mr. Gintaras Karosas built up, so that the final result became exactly what I wanted – a space to contemplate, to experience.


Magdalena Abakanowicz

EUROPOS PARKAS was founded in 1991, under sculptor Gintaras Karosas’ initiative. Those who have visited the park for the first time this year and within the last two years, could hardly have imagined the location seven years ago. What does it mean to be determined to establish a sculpture park and introduce the best samples of modern art without having practically anything: no money to buy or order the works, nor the name to convince the public at large of the one’s serious intentions, nor influential patrons with whose help one might make one’s way through the thicket of bureaucracy? In 1993 many found the vision of a multicultural co-existence within this piece of land - inspired by the near-by geographical center of Europe - utopian. This was because there was only a small glade close to Joneikiškiai village with a house built by the sculptor’s parents, to which led a bumpy country road from collective gardens near-by. At that time, the space was far from the present 55 hectares territory with 70 sculptures created by artists from 22 countries of the world. Therefore, it is no wonder that most art professionals and functionaries were initially skeptical about Gintaras Karosas’ idea. This was due to the artist’s young age and because a private initiative was not only a rare phenomenon, it also caused suspicion in the artistic life of Lithuania at that time.

One cannot say that such initiatives did not exist before. An excellent example of these would be symposia of concrete sculptures organized by sculptor Mindaugas Navakas: in Aukštieji Paneriai (1985), in the courtyard of the former Artists’ Palace (the President’s Office, at present) (in 1990 and 1992) and Santariškės (1991). Yet, in the general context of exhibitions at that time, the aforesaid events were functioning as exceptions to the rule, as artistic life was organized and managed by creative unions and state institutions. But we must emphasize that this artistic practice implemented by the sculptors themselves “introduced” the young participants of Navakas’ symposia (Algis Lankelis and Artūras Raila) to the urban landscape and prepared the “soil” for their later interventions into urban spaces (A Sculpture in the Old Town, 1994; Language of Daily Routine, 1995; Forgotten Present, 1996), and thus encouraged the development of alternative art forms in Lithuania.

However, let us return to Europos Parkas. In 1993, Gintaras Karosas, a student at the Vilnius Art Academy, organized an international sculpture symposium with ten sculptors participating from Greece, Finland, Armenia, Hungary, Norway, the USA and Lithuania. Most of them were preparing for graduation from different art academies. Today, their small sculptures made from wood and stone look rather modest in comparison to the works of later symposia. Yet this very first attempt has contributed to the formation of principles significant to further development of the park:

  • a focus on a relationship between pieces of art and landscape and among the pieces of art themselves rather than on separate authors and their work;

  • a sculpture formation process perceived not as a finished product, but as a continuous long term process that is not completed by its integration into the landscape, the sculptures may be transferred to other places more suitable to them, when new territories are opened;

  • the formation of the space of experience joining different cultural traditions and artistic practices that are open for new searches;

  • when inviting artists, art quality criteria is considered superior to the geographical principle.

By the second symposium in 1994, two different ways of space formation were already revealed under the influence of different cultural traditions: the western, striving to mark the space, where a piece of art is dominant in the environment (Cloud Hands, stone, 1994, by American Jon Barlow Hudson) and the eastern, where a sculpture is merged into the space, nearly melts in it, and the environment becomes an inseparable part of it (Yoni: Homage to Marija Gimbutas by Japanese Tei Kobayashi, three pillars of stone around the pond are nearly hidden among the trunks of birches). Later, in sculpture landscape formation, application of both exhibition types, i.e. open, panoramic and integrating, “chamber” (more closed and restricted) would be used, taking into consideration the specific character of a concrete piece of art. Yet, in each separate case, some particular features of location and landscape should be taken into account. In the park, a piece of art is not “put in its right place”, like a monument in the center of a square. It becomes the right place itself. Gintaras Karosas has refused the idea of traditional landscape architecture, as it seemed too formal to him.

It was clear from the very beginning that in order to transform this remote corner into a live space generating different practices of art, one would make a lot of new paths. Not only in the woods surrounding the household. One would need to change the old sculpture and space formation concepts that functioned perfectly some 20 years ago, but now can no longer cover the diversity of modern art processes. According to Rosalind Krauss, the famous modern art theoretician, the term “sculpture” can no longer be used for describing contemporary artistic practices within the space, they can only be described by the way of negation: what is not nature, and what is not architecture. It is rather a complex formation of the environment.

The development of Europos Parkas is achieved through seeking harmony between the pieces of art and nature. Any drastic intervention is avoided as it can emphasize the opposition between culture and nature. Sculptures, even if created by the most famous artists, are by no means raised “above” or made more important than the surrounding landscape. Each piece of art and environment are formed as unified space of experience. Such unity is only possible to attain if one is listening attentively to and living in the location. You need to walk through the woods hundreds of times in order to intuitively choose new spaces and paths without unnecessary clearing, so that you can instinctively find suitable places for ponds, so that you can predict which works need to be reflected in the water, and for which works the thick of the forest or an oak grove would be the best. Karosas avoids formal planning. If a preplanned scheme were implemented, it might allow for the development of certain logical combinations to arrange the pieces of art and be more convenient to spectators, but then the whole park would become artificially decorative. You need to grow into, listen to and live in the place to let your imagination form the space, in the same way a bird shapes a nest with its body.

Karosas makes sculptures himself. One can observe a successive development of his work from symbolic marking to repetition of scattered forms (For Your Convenience) and social action, a maze made of old TV sets. It functions as a metaphor of the enslaved mind and reveals the connection between ideology and images transmitted through different channels. Square boxes with the insides thrown out and dark screens look like the sculls of television mutants. The sculptor has some more urgent ideas to respond to the existing situation, yet he considers it to be more important to create a polyphonic and constantly regenerating artistic space rather than simply seek immortal fame through never changing form.

Realizing ambitious projects in Europos Parkas, Karosas relies on his intuition and creativity and even more so on the experience he has obtained while studying the world-famous samples of sculpture parks and landscape formation. In 1995, elected to the Top-Twenty young people carrying out significant changes in Central and Eastern Europe by the Wall Street Journal, Karosas received the USIA scholarship for training at the most famous USA museums. The sculptor visited the prestigious Modern Art Museum, the National Gallery, and was also introduced to outdoor collections of huge industrial corporations (Pepsi Co), alternative artist-created spaces (Mark di Suvero Socrates Park close to New York), visited the sculpture garden made by Noguchi and of course Storm King Art Center in Mountainville near New York, one of the biggest and most impressive modern sculpture open-air museums. The severe landscape and vast open spaces of the Center made a tremendous impression on him. Other well-known museums with outdoor collections such as Kröller-Müller in Holland, Hakone and Usukushi-Ga-Hara in Japan and Louisiana, Denmark, began to invite Gintaras Karosas because they were interested in the idea of Europos Parkas. The above-mentioned collections were started some decades ago by acquiring the works of the world-renowned artists and/or organizing international competitions (Auguste Rodine’s and Henry Moore’s awards in Japan). Not having any of these possibilities, Europos Parkas has been implementing new projects of modernism classics made especially for this location (Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Space of Unknown Growth, the works of Sol Le Witt and Dennis Oppenheim) through its own efforts.

There are several places in Lithuania with open-air sculptures. The oldest and most famous among these is Martynas Mažvydas’ Sculpture Park in Klaipėda. In 1977, the organization of sculpture symposia was begun in Smiltynė under the initiative of and financed by Klaipdėda town authorities. Young graduates, such as Ksenija Jaroševaitė, Vladas Urbanavičius, Mindaugas Navakas and others, were invited to the symposia. The potential was created there for making sculptures from sustainable materials and placement of such sculptures within a natural environment. However, what was that environment? It was a neglected park, once a cemetery, close to the Bus and Railway Stations. The principle for its formation was spontaneous. The sculptures were simply put in the places chosen by the authors. Of course, each of them was only concerned for the visibility of his or her own piece of art. Nobody can deny the significance of the Smiltynė symposia to the modernization of Lithuanian sculpture, yet it is useless to speak about a vision of Martynas Mažvydas’ Park as a whole and conceptual space formation. Only sculptures created by separate authors were the most interesting and mature in the context of Lithuanian sculpture of that time. Because the idea of the symposium was given “from above”, it eventually lost its experimental character and became an “official event”: well-known sculptors from Lithuania and “the brotherly countries” were invited to it. A lively exchange of ideas among artists was “suppressed” by schemes of the representative authorities. Once a shelter for one of the best collection of modern Lithuanian sculptures, Klaipėda Park is now dying: unprotected sculptures are decaying in abandoned surroundings and the cemetery is slowly taking back over.

The sculpture park in Alytus was also started “from above”, in the town park. It is not as gloomy and neglected as the sculpture park in Klaipėda, and is willingly visited by the town dwellers, but it also lacks variety in the relationship between sculptures and space. The sculptures are simply scattered throughout the park at approximately similar intervals. Their basic function is decorative. As the symposia have not been organized for some time, the Sculpture Park has become a stagnant recreational area.

Yet contemporary museums by no means remind one of a collection of butterflies forever pinned to a particular place. The vitality of such museums lies in their continuous renewal, their search for new methods and ways of communication with the audience. The generation equipped with computers, which writes billions of e-mail messages, would never go to see something ordinary and boring. But Europos Parkas welcomes excursions from all over Lithuania. Over 40,000 people visit the park annually. This year, a record: 60,000 people came. The park has been mentioned in international publications devoted to sculpture. For example, in the Sculpture magazine, Joyce Ellen Weinstein, telling the story of how Europos Parkas was founded, quotes Michael Brenson, the art critic: “Europos Parkas is a bridge joining different cultures”. And she adds that its founder is trying to convert the park into a bridge toward art for the audience at large. Modern landscape formed by Gintaras Karosas has already become an important segment of our culture.

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