welcome to Kaunas, 2022’s European Capital of Culture
, 2022-05-27 12:00:00,
It’s a cold Saturday night in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. A man in a silver cape, steampunk goggles and a top hat bobs along in a little rowboat towards the place where the country’s two largest rivers meet. He docks at a riverside stage, climbs out, and stands eyeing up a crowd of perhaps 50,000 people huddled on the opposite bank.
Over the next hour, fireworks erupt, boats sail past with flaming torches, and local singers fill the air with Eurovision-style power-pop. After each song, the man in the top hat calls out questions across the black water. “Past or future?” “Grass or concrete?” “What do we remember, and what do we forget?”
This is The Confluence, the central event of Kaunas’s year-long celebrations, as one of three European Capitals of Culture for 2022. The last time the eyes of the world were on Kaunas, most people didn’t realise it was Kaunas they were looking at. (It doubled for Moscow in the hit TV drama Chernobyl.) The Confluence aims to put it back on the map. Away from its pyrotechnics, though, those same questions – what to remember, what to forget? – are being asked across the city.
They are questions the South Africa-born William Kentridge has explored for decades, in his elliptical responses to Apartheid. His grandparents were Jewish Lithuanians, but never spoke to him about their lives there. That Which We Do Not Remember, which opened in Kaunas this January, is his first exhibition in Lithuania. Walking into its final room last weekend, it was the music that struck me first: two voices in harmony, one Zulu, one Yiddish. The music swirls around a huge black-and-white diorama of hand-torn paper, showing two landscapes blending together: the African veldt and the Jewish cemetery of Kaunas, its tombstones…
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