Lithuania - the place where monumental art goes to die.
To be fair, that's factually completely wrong - the art scene seems pretty much alive, with Vilnius having been European Capital of Culture and all that - but it still was an impression I got.
Though that's mostly due to Europos Parkas, a large open-air sculpture museum near Vilnius.
I arrived there on an overcast Sunday morning - and was the only visitor at the place. (When I left three hours later, my rental car was still the only car in the parking lot, so I got the whole place all to myself.)
The setting itself is interesting - except for a central, open area around the restaurant/museum/conference place, most of the areal is woodland.
And while there are a couple of paths through the forest, there is no main 'paved path' or 'suggested round trip', so you mainly just walk around more or less at random and just happen to glimpse a statue or some other artwork from time to time.
Which gives the whole experience a bit of an exploratory element.
It feels a bit Indiana Jones-ey, walking around and stumbling over artefacts from time to time (though, admittedly, the Lithuanian woods are less filled with dangers).
And autumn time really helped as well. With all the leaves on the ground, the pathway were a little bit less obvious, less noticeable. So walking around, it was easier to pretend you stumbled onto some forgotten collection of artworks (as opposed just having walked five minute from the parking lot and ticket counter).
So it was a large outdoor museum, an interesting setting, I had it all to myself, full of artworks to seek out and explore at my own leisure - what could be wrong with this?
Well, it felt just like a graveyard.
Of course, there's the obvious thing - a place with few visitors, lots of stones and memorials around, dull November morning...
But mainly it's the fact that a lot of large statues look like they were made to stand in front of some large building and look abandoned in the woods.
There are lots of 'art in the city' programs and every new bank, industry headquarters or government building seems to come with some semi-abstract artwork.
But what do you do when you want to build an extension, need more parking space, pull down the building to make a new one.
You could just melt the statue for scrap metal, but that is likely to cause significant public backlash. And in the public perception, it puts you close to book burners.
So you just take the artwork and generously donate it to some museum. Or a sculpture park.
I didn't find any way to check this - quite possibly all of the artwork at Europos Parkas might have been specifically commissioned for that place - but that's how most of the place feels.
Like an outdoor storage place for abandoned artwork.
Of course, it doesn't help much that some of the art there is actually dying.
Well, not really die, but falling apart.
The best know exhibit is a sculpture that was made from 6000 TV sets.
It was definitely made specifically for the site, asking people all over the country to donate old TV sets. And there was tree shaped path laid out in the forest (so there is a specific thematic link to the environment) and the TVs formed the sides of the path.
But then TVs got vandalized and the structure on which they were placed started to rot. So a new metal support structure with protective Plexiglas covers has been built. But the sculpture now barely covers a 'branch' of the former tree, so most of the intended effect is lost.
And the artwork continues to fall apart.
But it's not all gloom and doom.
As there are a lot of sculptures around, there are all sorts of them, so next to the abstract behemoths of stone and metal, there are also a couple of fun works, which fit well into the environment.
Regardless on whether they are just a silly idea, scaled up...
...or re-sculpting existing elements into new arrangements...
...a still-life, not done as a painting, but as a sculpture...
...strange doorways somewhere in the woods...
...or some waggon seemingly lapping up water from a lake.
And the new visitor center had a bit of a hobbit-hole look to it.
But the best part where the ones that 'played' in some form with the environment, like the mysterious little house on a hill somewhere.
Entering that sort of took you to a 'different world', as the floor and the ceiling were on springs, so it was a bit wobbly, being in it.
There also was the head that intentionally looked like the remains of a long forgotten larger statue - a bit reminiscent of the original Planet of the Apes. (Though not quite that stature.)
There was also an interesting version of the sentiment that forests gets chopped down to make way for concrete structures - in this case concrete tree stumps.
My favourite exhibit was pretty much a non-sculpture. Just some ghostly shades among the trees.
They were simply some shapes cut into metallic netting and suspended in in thin cloth net. So it was half-lost, half-visible among the trees and from some distance it wasn't even obvious whether this was another piece of art or just patterns on the tree.
Really neat idea and making rather playful use of the environment it was in.
Quite definitely not an installation designed for some city building and then moved to that site...
Part of the reason why the place is called 'Europos Parkas' is that it is close to the geographical center of Europe.
So I paid a visit to that.
There's a marker stone there, a monument, some flags, a small plaza.
Basically it's designed as a photo opportunity.
And as such, it's conveniently located close to a highway.
A bit too convenient, in fact.
Now there's a bit of a leeway in calculating the 'center of Europe'.
First of all, there are a number of methods to calculate the center. Do you take the center of gravity of the flat shape? Or the centre of gravity, including mountain masses? (And if you do, where is the baseline? Do bits of the Netherlands count negatively, since they are below sea level?) Do you just take the north-/east-/west-/south-most points and take the center?
And how do you define Europe? Do remote islands count? As a lot of the dividing line between Europe and Asia lies in Russia, it's more a conceptual line than a clearly defined border. And what about the lakes that divide the continents?
So the center of Europe is a vaguely defined concept anyway. (And hence there are actually a few of them.)
But even giving this variability, there has been a fairly precise calculation of the center of Europe used here. (In short: Centre of gravity of the flat shape, discounting remote islands not on the continental plate, using a reasonably common line (Ural river in a specific year) as the eastern dividing line.) And that came up with a very specific coordinate for the centre (according to that specific definition).
And that's about 6 km away. And looks like this:
As this is a bit farther from the highway and not quite as nicely located, it seems that they decided to fudge the numbers a little to have a sort of 'ceremonial centre of Europe' at a place that seemed more convenient.
As I spent a couple of hours already to look at sculptures, I thought a few more couldn't hurt.
There was a 'stone sculpture park' another 20 km away, so I went there.
Visiting that was sort of odd.
From the description, I assumed it would be some public park with a collection of statues standing around.
It turned out to be a water skiing / vacation park.
So they had a restaurant, a couple of small vacation houses and a cable skiing rig.
But, as it was early November, the whole place was closed.
The cable skiing rig was dismantled, some water ski jumps were lying on the shore, the vacation homes were boarded up, the restaurant building was deserted, the parking lot empty.
But the gate to the place was open, so I drove in and had a look.
Put I was never sure whether the 'sculpture park' was open to visitors or whether I was, essentially, trespassing on private property.
As this is mostly a 'summer vacation fun site', the sculptures were a little less monumental, a little more playful than the ones at the 'Europos Parkas'.
So there were fun ideas like a 'peeled' stone.
And even the abstract works had a more 'polished' and 'design object' look then a lot of the rough hewn works at 'Europos Parkas'.
Less abstract symbolism, more 'pleasant on the eyes'.
Less 'rust and decay', more 'shiny things'.
And, quite clearly, most sculptures have been specifically made for the environment they were in, like the child lost in the woods (which would have been a great addition to the other sculpture park)...
... the snake/dragon crawling towards the shore...
... some refugees stranded on the shore...
... odd bugs lurking in the in the reets...
...and general playing around in the water.
So, generally, there was some interesting stuff around, although it felt a bit odd not to know whether I was supposed/allowed to be there or whether I might get thrown out and shouted at any moment now.
But nobody showed up and I left the area unnoticed.
Next morning I did some walking along the Neris river and through the woods next to a little tributary brook, the Veržuva.
Not much to write about, but it was a nice morning walk.
The weather started out kind of overcast and drizzling, but some sunshine came through later that day. So it was a good opportunity to visit the local TV tower and have a look at the scenery around.
The TV tower has a revolving restaurant, so it's convenient for sitting down, ordering a coffee and some cake, and then enjoy the views all around.
There were two more things that I paid a visit to when I was in Vilnius.
One of them is the Lithuania National Stadium, or what is supposed to become one. They started working on it in 1985, ran out of money in 1993 and stopped working on it. Got some more money in 2007, started again. Ran out of money in 2010 and stopped again. But there's talk of being ready 'real soon now', supposedly to finish in 2016,
The other place I visited is the Frank Zappa statue.
The reason for this is that it's the only sculpture I know of, that depicts someone I've seen in real life. (Admittedly, just as an audience member at two concerts, but still...) So it seems to be appropriate to pay it a visit.
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