The solo exhibition ‘Good Feeling’ by Robertas Narkus
24 August – 15 October 2023
I think about seas merging, downstream, from south to north.
About our first conversations with Robertas Narkus and our working group of three, drawing the initial sketches of the Lithuanian pavilion and the outlines of drying Undaria pinnatifida in the kitchen of the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius. It was the end of summer 2020. The first – already-receding – wave of the coronavirus allowed us to take a breath of fresh air, to meet again, and to talk about what had happened – and what we should do next. There was a certain hunch in the air, a mirage of a world that had collapsed and was being rebuilt now before our eyes, or perhaps even with our hands. A full-scale war in Ukraine was not something anyone even dreamt of.
This was when we were still writing the proposal for the Lithuanian Pavilion in Venice. Later, after we had been selected, we paused for a month until the New Year, immersing ourselves entirely in work right after.
How exactly does the English expression ‘gut feeling’ translate into other languages?
What kind of change can an artist from a small and young country make?
What does it mean to have the ambition to make a difference by participating in one of the biggest and most prestigious art events in one of the world’s most mass-tourist-flooded places, where the big races are just for survival – attention and international recognition?
You probably read when I wrote back then:
Good Feeling is a complex work balancing between an honest desire to change the world, a persistent belief in the promise of collaboration, the egocentric ambitions of the artist, and flirtation with financial structures, technological progress and humour. The term ‘gut feeling’ stands for a certain sense of intuition, a hunch which, according to old and almost-forgotten folklore and the latest scientific discoveries, closely links the activities of the gut and the brain. In collaboration with a renowned fermentation specialist, scientists, artists, locals and small businesses, Narkus creates a social sculpture in one of the last ungentrified Venetian squares in the Castello district: a surrealist cooperative fabricating a mysterious product made from seaweed harvested from the local waters. This species of algae (Undaria pinnatifida) is an invasive plant that has spread from the Far East to the rest of the world – including Venice – as a result of the globalisation process. It is one of the most nutritious and rapidly renewable sources of food, promising to solve the upcoming nutritional problems of the ever so quickly growing humanity.
When we got to Venice, it turned out that all the Undarias pinnatifida there had been contaminated with heavy metals due to human activities and were no longer edible. Our renowned fermentation specialist David Zilber proposed experimental methods of washing and cleansing – using even more toxic substances, such as uranium.
Then the war began.
What can art and artists do in the face of major global challenges?
How serious can even our most sincere promises be?
How much can cooperation and friendship endure?
The Lithuanian pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale was divided into two parts. One of the rooms was dedicated to experimentation and production, and the other to representation and distribution, thus mimicking the old structures of capitalist production. The total installation contained elements of a distorted laboratory, factory and shop, functioning together with the aforementioned futuristic fermentation experiments carried out in situ with organic materials. The work was supplemented with photographic collages, sculptures and video works.
This complex system, consisting of two parts located opposite each other in Venice, has now relocated to the shores of the Baltic Sea – in Klaipėda – and become fused together as a single entity. Meanwhile, the gut feeling tins, rattling on the constantly rotating conveyor belt – which never really leads anywhere – probably contain something else here.
When does a gut feeling become just a good feeling?
Curator Neringa Bumblienė
ROBERTAS NARKUS (b. 1983) is an artist living and working in Vilnius. He has been studying for his PhD in Arts at the Vilnius Academy of Arts since 2019. He completed his MA studies at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam in 2015 and his MA studies at the Department of Photography and Media Art at the Vilnius Academy of Arts in 2001.
Narkus represented Lithuania at the 59th Venice Art Biennale in 2022. His solo exhibitions have been held at eastcontemporary Gallery (Milan, 2023), Vartai Gallery (Vilnius, 2020), David Dale Gallery (Glasgow, 2019), Contemporary Art Centre (Vilnius, 2017), and Tenderpixel Gallery (London, 2015). The artist’s works have been presented in important international group projects, such as the 1st Vilnius Biennial of Performance Art, de Appel Art Centre in Amsterdam, the 12th Baltic Triennial, the Kaunas Biennial, the 5th Marrakech Biennial, among others. He has been artist-in-residence at Amant in Siena, Delfina Foundation in London, Iaspis in Stockholm, and Nida Art Colony. Narkus is the founder of the Vilnius Institute of Pataphysics, the Artists’ Day Centre Autarkia, the experimental engineering camp eeKūlgrinda, and the former restaurant Delta Mityba.
Curator: Neringa Bumblienė
Organiser of the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius
Organiser of the exhibition in Klaipėda: Klaipėda Culture Communication Centre
Visual identity: Nerijus Rimkus, Vytautas Volbekas
Fermentation research: David Zilber
Architectural consultants for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: Petras Išora-Lozuraitis and Ona Lozuraitytė-Išorė
Copy editing: Alexandra Bondarev, Gemma Lloyd
Translation: Alexandra Bondarev
Coordination in Klaipėda: Gabija Savickaitė
Technical implementation: Ervinas Blažys, Vaclovas Leikus
Special thanks to Milda Zabarauskaitė
Funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture and Klaipėda City Municipality
Patrons of the Lithuanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: Justas Janauskas and Gabija Grušaitė, Lewben Art Foundation, JCDecaux Lithuania