Robertas Narkus chosen to represent Lithuania at the 59th Venice Biennale

Robertas Narkus

The Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius has been selected to commission the Lithuanian Pavilion for the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022 with artist Robertas Narkus’ solo project ‘Gut Feeling’. The pavilion will be curated by Neringa Bumblienė, with the director of the CAC, Kęstutis Kuizinas, as commissioner.

Robertas Narkus (b. 1983 in Vilnius) is one of the most promising Lithuanian artists of his generation, working with various media including performance, photography, video, collage, text and other forms that cannot be defined by a single category. Narkus’ work unfolds as an adventure that seeks to answer the broad question: is everything going according to plan? Throughout Narkus’ work, the contexts of art intertwine with other spheres and areas of interests, and it is precisely this hybridity that makes his work relevant, unique and interesting.

Robertas Narkus’ ‘Gut Feeling’, is a complex project that balances a genuine ambition to change the world and the aims of an entrepreneur. Its title refers to an intuitive hunch, and according to recent scientific discoveries, as well as traditional folklore, lies somewhere in the abdomen where the bacteria that feed on digestive products can potentially force us to behave in ways that benefit them. By collaborating with artists, scientists, local Venetian residents and small businesses, Narkus intends to establish a functioning cooperative in one of the last remaining non-gentrified districts of Venetian squares, Castello, located steps away from where the Lithuanian national pavilions used to operate. The project will integrate organically into local city life, while moving between reality and fiction through a series of planned activities.

“I used to live with an intuitive hunch that something would happen soon. To all of us. And scientifically speaking, intuition resides in our gut, and causes a certain feeling. This feeling is often responsible for the complex biochemical processes in our body, and the billions of bacteria that interact with the intestinal walls can affect our moods, wellbeing, and sometimes even our decisions. ‘Gut Feeling’ consists of three (or perhaps more) dimensions: my personal perspective, the stories of real and invented characters, and the symbiosis with the kingdom of bacteria,” comments Robertas Narkus.

Although the theme of the 59th Venice Biennale has not yet been announced, it is already clear that this will be no ordinary edition of the exhibition. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Biennale team made the historic decision to postpone the event for a year. In one of her interviews, the Biennale’s curator Cecilia Alemani expressed her hope for the opening to “mark a new celebration of togetherness, a new sense of participation and communion that we are all very much looking forward to.” Robertas Narkus’ project is undoubtedly a way of celebrating togetherness anew – complex, with multiple conflicting interests, but highly necessary and relevant in the context of this Biennale as well as the realities faced by the world.

“This summer, we worked intensively with the artist and graphic designers Nerijus Rimkus and Vytautas Volbekas to prepare the project application, so I am glad that the processes we have started can develop further. ‘Gut Feeling’ is an interesting and multi-layered project that involves not only the discourse of the field of contemporary art, but also various individuals, communities and institutions. We already have a fairly wide network of international partnerships, including arts, educational and cultural organisations in Paris, Seoul, Stockholm and Venice. And the fact that the Biennale was postponed to 2022 due to the pandemic gives us more time to prepare, which is very important for a project of this scale,” adds project curator Neringa Bumblienė.

This will be the sixth time that the Contemporary Art Centre has commissioned the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, having previously presented: Mindaugas Navakas and Eglė Rakauskaitė (1999), Deimantas Narkevičius (2001), Paulius and Svajonė Stanikas (2003), Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas (2007), Darius Mikšys (2011) and Žilvinas Landzbergas (2017). The projects by Darius Mikšys and Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas were awarded Special Mentions by the Jury of the Biennale.

Robertas Narkus describes his activities as “circumstance management in the economy of contingencies”. Using a variety of creative strategies and without avoiding humour, he explores the problems of a society obsessed with the idea of progress. Narkus is also the founder of the Vilnius Institute of Pataphysics; the artist day care centre Autarkia; the experimental engineering camp eeKūlgrinda and the restaurant Delta Mityba. Narkus began a PhD at the Vilnius Academy of Arts in 2019 and embarked on a postgraduate program at the Stocholm Royal Insititute of Arts at Collective Practice Research Course in 2020. In 2001, he was awarded a Master’s degree from the Department of Photography and Media Art of Vilnius Academy of Arts, and in 2015, a second Master’s from the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. His solo exhibitions have been held at Galerija Vartai (2020, Vilnius), David Dale Gallery (2019, Glasgow, Scotland), Contemporary Art Centre (2017, Vilnius), Tenderpixel (2015, London), among other institutions. Narkus’ works have also been presented in important international group projects at de Appel in Amsterdam, the 12th Baltic Triennial, Kaunas Biennial, the 5th Marrakech Biennale and elsewhere. He had a residency at Delfina foundation in 2018.

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