art 2004/2

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Juozas Lebednykas. Paminklas 1863 m. sukilimo dalyviams atminti. 1998, grafitas, 280x176x120. Panevėžys, Sukilėlių aikštė

The Shifts in the Marking of Public Squares  

by Audrius Novickas

Over the years of independence, numerous changes have taken place in the character and marking of public spaces in Lithuania. The trends in these changes reflect some intense dialogue between tradition on one hand, and contemporary needs and values on the other.
Perceived as potentially dangerous zones in the soviet times, all the public spaces represented fragmented layout, dominated by a sizable monument. The independence movement turned the central town squares into political arenas. They became the stage for outpouring of the long pent-up national sentiment. Before long, the powerful wave of the liberated feeling was to sweep away the idols of the regime from public spaces. Immediately, the building of new monuments commenced with extraordinary zeal. The Lithuanian nation wanted to recompense for not being able to use its public spaces to memorialize the national history and culture. The absolute majority of the Lithuanian commemorative monuments built in the last decade follow the conservative precedents. In the West, collective memory and social sentiment increasingly seldom find expression in the vertically oriented monument. The latter is historically associated with the military leader, the concept rather controversial, if not disrepute, after the two drastic wars of the last century. The second half of the 20th century saw a new type of memorial with the horizontal emphasis to emerge. Of the few examples of innovative tendencies in Lithuania are Romas Kalanta’s memorial in Kaunas and the Tuskulėnai Peacefulness Park in Vilnius. The monument to Kalanta (a youth who set himself to fire on the public square protesting against the Soviet regime) appears like a sarcophagus of frozen lava. The concept of the artist, Robertas Antinis, in this case was to memorialize the site, not the hero.  
Of importance is the fact that some squares stayed empty after the Soviet monuments were gone. In Molėtai, the citizens opted to plant a Christmas tree as the highlight of the main town square. In Vilnius, the beauty of Town Hall Square was only discovered after pulling down the statue of the party leader. The proportions of the open space and the height of the surrounding structures were found to be so harmonious that the decision was made to leave the square empty. The newly designed squares and plazas are increasingly demonstrating more democratic and multifunctional approach. Europos Square in Vilnius (architect A. Ambrasas) or the redesigned Šventaragis Square bear witness of the architects’ efforts to meet the need to the community, for play and recreation, for relaxation and informal meetings. The interventions of alternative art into public spaces often times strike as a parody on the formal, representational character of these; occasionally the goal of the artists is, on the contrary, to bring to the light the obliterated aspects of a given public space.

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