For its third season, from October 3, 2023, to June 30, 2024, FOROF – a space dedicated to the dialogue between contemporary art and archaeology founded by Giovanna Caruso Fendi - presents BALTIC ADVENTURE, a site-specific project by Lithuanian artist Augustas Serapinas (Vilnius – Lituania, 1990), who recreates an alarming future, the result of the devastating effects of global warming.
Curated by Ilaria Gianni, the exhibition BALTIC ADVENTURE, made of evocations and connections, aims to be a warning about the problem of climatic instability and an invitation to act in favor of the environment.
Serapinas recontextualizes his work Mudmen in relation to FOROF’s archaeological site: figures similar to snowmen - however, made of straw and mud - will inhabit the ancient Roman Forum, like presences that warn us about a dystopian future more likely than we imagine.
Voices of ruins
Critical text by Ilaria Gianni
Baltic Adventure is a site-specific solo exhibition by artist Augustas Serapinas (Vilnius, 1990), in dialogue with the history of Rome and conceived for the apse of Basilica Ulpia, a portion of which is situated below Palazzo Roccagiovane, the current headquarters of FOROF - a project that makes the conversation between archaeology and contemporary art the core of its program.
The artist's practice, which usually always closely relates with the spaces he investigates and with those who have inhabited it, develops works grafted onto past histories, capable of activating reflections on the present through a shift in spatial and conceptual perspectives. On this specific occasion, Serapinas set out to listen to Trajan's Forums, a meeting point not only for the civic life of the Romans, but where the ceremonies of manumissio of slaves took place, with the idea of recovering its traditional function as a living public space. For Baltic Adventure, the apse of the Basilica Ulpia comes back to life, populated by a group of new subjects coming from undetermined time and space. An assembly of Mudmen, figures made of straw and mud, seem to have convened to discuss a political urgency, as was the case among citizens in the second century AD. By their silent presence among the columns and marbles, they are trying to warn us of something. Their disturbing, shapeless bodies stand as emblematic witnesses of the catastrophic consequences which global warming, from which they themselves were generated, is leading us to. Originally intended to be Snowmen sculptures, made by children in Riga's parks, and rescued by the artist to be displayed at the Riga Biennial, they instead become mud puppets, when in January 2020, the snow in the Latvian capital does not fall. The unusually warm conditions not only deprive Serapinas of material to work with, but also confront him with the tangible manifestation of abrupt and threatening climate change. The subjects born from this unusual and alarming situation, who seem to have materialized among the ruins as if in a science fiction scenario, observe us and, with their grotesque and tender being, urge us to take a position, to concretely act as responsible citizens. As symbolic, surreal bodies, and ruins themselves interacting with the remains of a time that once was, the groups of Mudmen affirm how a critical and profound relationship with the past, with archaeology and its ancient sites of political confrontation, can remind us that the present must be confronted and the future preserved.
In dialogue with the ruins of Basilica Ulpia are Part of the House from Rūdninkai (2023) and Part of the House from Skirgiškės (2023), an ongoing series of works. Ruins of wooden houses from the Baltic countries, removed from their environment and subjected to a process of transformation, take the form of installations conceived specifically for the spaces of FOROF, along with Window Glasses from Jonas house (2023), small glass sculptures, made from the windows of the houses, fused together with a pigment manufactured by the artist using metal parts of the habitation itself, in an almost alchemical process. The structure of the domestic space is thus recovered as a whole and altered with the aim of developing a new system of perception and knowledge. These old buildings, which are part of the Baltic architectural landscape, fabricated with an artisanal expertise bound to oblivion, and preserved only in historic city centers, have for years been demolished and sold as firewood. By saving these discarded houses, the artist reclaims what has been removed, conserving its presence.
Although Serapinas strips them of their original form, fragmenting them, reducing them to roofs, wall pieces, beams and windows, these houses, freed from their function, become objects that declare their value as artistic artifacts, as well as the technical knowledge from which they derive. Ruins themselves, the artist uses the fragments in terms of what they tell, staging them as a new sculptural constellation. His intent is not simply to preserve a local tradition, but to construct a discussion on the political and social fragility that belongs to the historical object and its narratives, demonstrating the transience of all systems of knowledge, destined to be interrupted, but always capable of being brought back to life by disclosing new angles.
The question Augustas Serapinas asks is ultimately what is possible to learn on our past if we allow fragments of history to perform in contexts and situations other than their original ones. Through his works, the artist reminds us that ruins are not neutral objects but rather thresholds. Although they seem to tell the story of their own time, what they subtly reveal to us - whether belonging to ancient Rome or to Baltic modernity - is their function of being interstices in which to instill a critique of the contemporary, commenting on history with the intention of constructing a new vision, acknowledging the revolutionary cultural power that the creative act still retains.
Reimagining and restaging spaces complicates and problematizes the assumptions that circumscribe them – not
only in the context of the art institution but also in respect to the more general systematic infrastructures that bind
them. Such considerations constitute the fundamental tenets of Augustas Serapinas’ practice. On the one hand,
recomposing spaces as saturated and self-referential portraits of the art institution’s inner workings, questions
the order, organization and agenda of conventional displays of art. Frequently, the museum itself is put on
display in a gesture that embroils the institution’s naturalized function and exposes it as an enigmatic structure
that belies its white-walled transparency.
On the other hand, inverting the customary functions of architectural structures allows Serapinas to restage
physical expanses in a way that troubles the hierarchical systems by which we confer meaning upon them.
Granting the public access to such reinvented and manipulated caveats effects not only social commentary or an account of institutional norm, but articulates a complex site for the reformulation of subjectivity itself. In
excavating obscure spaces, Serapinas repositions us in our relationality to the spaces we inhabit. Our
naturalized perceptions and expectations of architectural structure and space are uprooted by this new
positionality, allowing the artist to orchestrate these spaces as pockets of subjectivity that question not only how
we orient ourselves within and towards them but also how this engenders or stops up social interactions.
Interested in the relational and non-material practices of the early 1990s, Serapinas interrogates spatiality as a
means of exploring the notion of the encounter – as opportunity, act or phenomenon – and its implications for
processes of identity-formation. In revealing previously undisclosed, overlooked or unoccupied spaces as
curious intermediaries that, in their revelation, assume new purposes and functionality, the viewer is encouraged
to consider novel possibilities of identifying oneself vis-à-vis those who also populate these areas.
Augustas Serapinas (b. 1990 in Vilnius, Lithuania) lives and works in Vilnius. He studied at the Vilnius Academy
of Arts (Vilnius, LT). Exhibitions include 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, RU, 2015; How To
Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, AT, 2017; Four Sheds, Fogo Islands Art, Newfoundland, Canada, 2017;
Everything Was Forever, Until it Was No More, RIBOCA1, Riga Biennial of Contemporary Art, Riga, LV, 2018;
Give Up The Ghost, Baltic Triennial 13, Vilnius, LT, 2018; Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, DE, 2018; May You Live
in Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff, 58th Venice Biennale, Venezia, IT, 2019, RIBOCA2: Riga
International Biennial of Contemporary Art curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, Riga, LV, 2020, Diana, CCA
Tel Aviv, IL, 2021, Art Basel: Parcours, Basel, CH, 2021; Toronto Biennal, 2022; Re-apprearing Imagineries Misk
Art Institute, Ryadh, Saudi Arabia, 2022.