The European Capital of Culture scheme has been such a roaring success that even when the United Kingdom left the European Union, they adopted the concept to create a UK City of Culture every year.
This year the honour goes to Kaunas in Lithuania. It used to be the capital of the country from 1843 to 1915 and is often seen as a rival to the current capital, Vilnius. The city has a rich architectural history embracing modernism, and gothic designs and has a medieval fortress. With such a cultural tapestry, it was particularly befitting for the city to be bestowed with such an accolade.
This year there will be over 4000 cultural events in Kaunas from international and local artists. Recently, they completed "Confluence", the second act of the Contemporary Kaunas Myth Trilogy. A weekend of multifaceted cultural celebrations that included a massive seated street meal on the spectacular Laisvės Alėja as part of the Courtyard Festival. It's all about communities coming together and neighbourly love.
With the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris rivers being a focal point of the city, it is no surprise that part of the programme is "Let's celebrate Rivers!". Participants were allowed to travel along the rivers on canoes, boats and even makeshift rafts. There were various uniquely Lithuanian sauna experiences along the shores and educational events to appreciate the importance of water.
The highlight of the weekend was the "Confluence" multimedia show held at Santaka Park by the riverside. This unique spectacle included fantastic light projections, fireworks, drones and incredible musical accompaniments including an orchestra, choir and the best of the Lithuanian music industry. On the river, there was a cast of dozens sailing past on kayaks, motorised boats, jet skis and the most thrilling of flyboard performances.
You might be wondering what you can do now to experience the cultural extravaganza in Kaunas? They have some ongoing blockbuster exhibitions such as Marina Abramović's “Memory of Being” and William Kentridge's "That Which We Do Not Remember". Marina is the master of performance art and you do wonder if video installations of her classic works will be as emotive as watching her live. The answer is a definitive YES, as you see her work from the 1960s to the present day. The earlier works highlight the inseparable nature of Abramović and her partner, Ulay but it moves to the bittersweet ending where they walked from the opposite side of the Great Wall of China and ultimately separated when they met in the middle. She never shy away from the difficult subjects such as the genocidal violence of the Yugoslav Wars (She was born in Serbia).
William Kentridge might be a South African artist, but his ancestors are from Lithuania so it's hugely fitting for him to be exhibiting at their national museum of art. The exhibition curiously examines the selective nature of memory. His creation of animated film using a series of drawings is genre-defining. His video installation "The Refusal of Time" has the most impressive soundscape you will ever come across using four steel megaphones and a breathing machine.
There are countless other exhibitions and events to look forward to for the rest of the year including an exhibition by Yoko Ono, East East Festival and the Kaunas Design Festival. There are great classical concerts from the likes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to experimental and electronic music at the Audra Festival. And let's not forget the closing event 3rd Art: The Contract at the end of November.
You might wonder what else Kaunas has to offer? The city is steeped in history with the likes of the 14th Century Kaunas Castle, which is reputedly the oldest stone castle in Lithuania to an eclectic mix of cosy restaurants and cafes in the old town. They are particularly fond of Asian cuisine with dozens of sushi restaurants as well as Taiwanese bubble tea shops.
Having only visited picturesque Kaunas for a few days to celebrate the Confluence weekend, I'll be booking a return for The Contract. Hopefully, you will be joining me on this Lithuanian adventure.
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