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What: City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public
Where: Žemieji Šančiai, Kaunas. Lithuania
When: November 23rd – 26th 2011

Call for Participation
We held an open call for participants in the preamble to City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public. This four day 'school' was hosted in a private house in Kaunas City, Lithuania during November 2011. Our idea was to interrogate alternative models of connectedness between the city, publicness and modes of cultural participation.

The Political Economy of Public-ness
Today public-ness is an increasingly enigmatic, provisional and contested notion, filled with contradictions and paradoxes. City (Re)Searches sets out to literally ‘look again’ at those fissures around the contemporary experience of being public and of being in public in order to examine how they might hold out possibilities for new alignments between democratic (and democratising) practices and cultural participation.

Like a spectrum, public-ness stretches from the governmental level to the broken circuits between notions of civic participation and the democratic process. It extends to the way private space often mimics public space, offering ‘free access’ based on the condition of consumption. Alternatively, the very constitution of public space can be blocked by the erection of private land notices, barriers and fences. All of these forms of encounter, and there are many other formulations, have consequences for the way public culture is organised and experienced.

So what is the contemporary political economy, both governmental and legal, and the cultural imaginary that formulates and organises our experience of being in public? The intention of City (Re)Searches is to explore and map more precisely those conditions for public-ness. Working with cultural producers we hope to identify the typologies of public-ness using the lens of engaged public art practice and its tactical know-how to effect a sort of critical cartography. Specifically, during the course of a three to four day conversational, arts-based inquiry a number of thematic strands will be examined as follows:
  • Public-ness is an act of participation nurtured by an expressive life and practices of making sense
  • Can culture re-connect with public-ness through tactics based on opening private life into a public space?
  • Does the art of public-ness hold out possibilities for re-imagining those more traditional, institution-based forms of cultural consumption and models of art education?
  • What would a blueprint for a new architectural, cultural and pedagogical space in the city look like?
  • Can forms of cultural practice in public re-invigorate the idea of the agora as ways of both speaking and being in public?

Who can participate?
City (Re)Searches invited expressions of interest from Lithuania-based cultural producers who were concerned with public space and public-ness and who were willing to invest their time and practice towards exploring the creative possibilities for new forms of engagement beyond branded, institutionalised modes of cultural production and distribution in the city. Participants included artists, philosophers, sociologists, activists, architects, curators, community organisers and educationalists.

What’s and Who's involved?
City (Re)Searches took place in Šančiai, an area of Kaunas where there is little formal structure for community or culture. It is an interesting area because it reflects many of the features and complexities of Lithuania’s recent history. This four day Practice Circle involved participants and workshop leaders (Dublin-based Vagabond Reviews). Vagabond Reviews, established in 2007 by artist and researcher Dr. Ailbhe Murphy and independent writer and researcher Dr. Ciaran Smyth, combines art interventions and research processes in order to develop interdisciplinary trajectories of critical inquiry into a range of socially situated arenas of practice. City Research: Experiences of Being Public is part of the Art and Publics programme of Kaunas Biennial and is funded by the Culture Ministry and the Embassy of Ireland in Lithuania.

The co-producers of the project are: Viktorija Rusinaitė (editor, internet portal ore.lt), Gediminas Banaitis (cultural producer and politician), Jūratė Jarulytė (artist), Veronika Urbonaitė-Barkauskienė (sociologist), Ina Žurkuvienė (editor, Miesto IQ), Maryja Šupa (sociologist) and Monika Žaltauskaitė Grašienė (artist). The project and is funded by the Republic of Lithuania, Culture Ministry and the Embassy of Ireland in Lithuania through the Department of Foreign Affairs of Ireland Cultural Grant-in-Aid.

Review: City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public
Aesthetics and Political Criticism
Miglė Bareikytė
Vytautas Magnus University
2011 12 17

According to Heidegger, we should think of the art from the experiential perspective: what does art reveal to us? An artwork, which according to Heidegger is a thing, is a substance with attributes, a formed matter. We experience artwork only by noticing the peculiarity of a specific thing. We differ an artwork from any other thing by paying our attention to it. Hence, we can speak about doors, but only when (some) doors disclose a part of the world to us, show us some new perspective, opens some new truth, which was hidden from our experience and understanding, we might say that art did its job. Therefore, art destabilizes one as a subject, always shifts the stable ground of our understanding.[1] As Adorno notices, art challenges the way things are, shows the way how things could be better, and leaves them practically unchanged.[2]
Through the event of disclosure, art shows some part of the world, or WORLD in abstract heideggerian sense, which in our daily life is most of the time somehow naturalized.
In such a way, the foundation of a visible artwork is a surplus, which shows us in a new way that there is something hidden in the worldthat we had not noticed before. There is one big BUT: there is always something of the world what we cannot experience fully. Our understading is conceptually structured, limited, therefore, there would always remain a part of the world which we will not be able to understand, an enigma.[3]
The vision of Heidegger resembles the main concern of the interdisciplinary project I had a possibility to experience: City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public. According to Ed Carroll and Vita Geluniene, hosts and two of the organisers of the project,our concern is how cultural tactics can engage with ordinary life and real people to produce new capacities that can transform the present, for the good of others. That is why we choose our private house, hidden in Šančiai, to engage with our own neighbours in an area, that for many observers of Kaunas, is an enigma.
A similar vocabulary with a Marxist twist (can art contribute to the transformation of the world?) draws the connection between Heideggerian understanding of an artwork and aspirations of the participants of the project. The participants and organisers have chosen to investigate a part of the world which is not known or explored for many of us. Was the project able to disclose something new? Yes, but let me introduce the project step by step.
In the end of November I was able to visit and experience the effects of the project “City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public”. It is an interdisciplinary arts-based inquiry which engages with the unique Žemieji Šančiai district of Kaunas. Involving sociologists, artists, an anthropologist, cultural producer, an architect and writer this research project seeks to explore and map different typologies of being public in Šančiai.
Šančiai, or a part of it - Žemieji Šančiai, is a unique elderate of Kaunas. The name of the elderate is not an old one: it is about 200 years old, and was given by a french army in the 19th century. Now there live around 23000 people. Although so close to the Kaunas railway station, it is a place where no tourists or visitors of the city would deliberately go. After having spent one year of my life in Kaunas, I had never been there.
“City (Re)Searches: Experiences of Being Public” was a reason why I eventually did manage to visit the elderate. After getting out at the wrong bus stop (most of them have the same names, only the numbers differ), I was really amazed by the surroundings. Old small wooden houses, streets so narrow that you can shake hands with the neighbour living on the other side of the street, and never ending atmosphere of slowness. I was looking for a house in the street Kranto 18, where the presentation of the project should have taken place. Eventually I found the street and the house, where the participants were preparing their presentations and inviting visitors to take part. It was a cold day.
The project started at 23d of November and took place until 26th of November. In the period of 4 days, a group of people discussed, divided themselves into smaller units, and worked to prepare their presentations for the project. The process was divided into parts: In-Formation (which took place in the house of the hosts), Out-Formation (involved investigation of Šančiai, took place in the streets) and public reception, where the interdisciplinary group members prepared and presented the material they had gotten in various forms.
In the time of the public reception I noticed the emotional map of Šančiai, made by a group of sociologists, who literally haddrawn a big map of the suburb, and attached various stories and emotions tospecific streets, houses, etc. Another interesting and emotional part of the project were video interviews with the inhabitants, spoke about their lives and beauty, art and community: topics which were obviously new to them; visualinstallations made in the yard of the house where the presentation took place; old photo albums of the people who were living in Šančiai.
According to one of the organizers, Ed, when you peel back the utter emptiness of so called powerful space, i.e. public space - democratic space, political space, consumer space - you have nothing. Only robots. And that is a cultural phenomena of today. <…> Now as someone who works in the area of culture I have to acknowledge that culture is also part of the broken circuitry in the field of connectivity between people, culture and the political process. And it seems to me that City (Re)Searches is a first, fledgling attempt around the idea of public-ness needs and how it can be re-imagined through a cultural process todevelopnew forms of equality, solidarity, subsidiarity and subjectivity. From where I am working it is about also marking out a space whereby culture can be more permeable for its responsibility in this field of re-setting local society; to try understand what capacities it brings that create and sustain public value.
In my opinion, it should be difficult to make some material product of the topic, concerning publicness. How does one speak with people? Where will it lead? And what for - what is the motivation? One should be really concerned with our contemporary condition of connectivity in order to start gathering the people and tackling the issue of publicness, going outside, speaking with people. I find it very interesting. But the problem of such projects is always the funding and the ability to engage more people.This time, it seemed, it worked fine: the participants, who worked for free, were taking their activities seriously. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Šančiai did not take part at the presentation, which would have brought more narratives of the live in the elderate, and direct connection. Hopefully, it is only the first step of searching for a new form of publicness, and the project will go on.
To sum up, utopian it might sound, City (Re)Searches has a goal to show something, what we have not cared about, dig in the part of the world, Šančiai, where almost no person would go there consciously to have a nice walk. Today it is a dead, unexplored area of Kaunas: although close to the centre of the city of Kaunas, far in the minds of its inhabitants. Therefore, it is possible to see the connection between heideggerian thought and City (Re)Searches: both speak about search for a new. In Heidegger’s case it is more abstract, in the case of City (Re)Searches, it is a search of a new idea of being together.
According to Virno, micro-collectives, research teams and other, are half-productive, half-political structures, which are looking for a social cooperation without visible value-gain logic. In this case, such collectives socialize the entrepreneurial function: living labor is used for social cooperation.[4] And although Virno states, that a public sphere might subverse capitalist relations, it is still an ambivalent form of a long waited exodus. For example, City (Re)Searches is still dependent on the money they get from the state: the project was funded by Lithuanian Culture Ministry and Embassy of Ireland in Lithuania through the Department of Foreign Affairs of Ireland Cultural Grant-in-Aid respectively.
All in all, the project did show an unknown part of Šančiai, but not only through visual representations of the streets, people and various narratives, but also through conversations with the participants and visitors in the time of presentation. House of Ed and Vita was an incubator for conversations about the disctrict nobody would care in the public discourse: here you could show your interest in Šančiai, speak about other marginal suburbs (for example, we had a long discussion about gypsies there) and do not be afraid that you speak about the issues nobody is interested in. The whole presentation was a very cozy event and with such a beginning, it could develop to a bigger project, invite more possible participants. What I did miss though were the participation of the inhabitants of Šančiai: I was told some people were invited to come, but they did not, which shows that there is a lot of space to move, many different relations to be build, in order for the project to go out of the borders of artistic/academia community.
Migle Bareikyte - currently studying "Social and Political Critical Studies" at Vytautas Magnus University. Research interests: migration, affect, immaterial labor. She can be contacted here: miglemigloj(at)gmail.com

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The Map was an interactive installation in Šančiai, Kaunas, Lithuania. The map depicts The Lower Šančiai neighbourhood in Kaunas.
  • On both sides of the map there are pictures of places and short stories told by people during the researchers field trip made on November 25th, 2011. The pictures and stories are linked to their places on the map with the red thread.
  • Visitors during the reception were supplied with a toolkit:
    • green paper - positive emotions
    • orange paper - negative emotions
    • pink stickies - I believe it
    • yellow stickies - I don’t believe it
Therefore green spaces on the map represent places associated with positive emotions, orange spaces on the map represent places associated with negative emotions.
  • The Map was exhibited in Šančiai, Kaunas on 26th of November.

  1. friendlyzone
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The stories The Map gathered during the public reception on November 26th, 2011.

  1. friendlyzone
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Participant Reflection
City (Re)Searches – An Interdisciplinary Adventure Kaunas, Žemieji Šančiai, November 23 – 26, 2011 was hosted by Vida Gelūnienė and Ed Carroll, led by Ailbhe Murphy and Ciaran Smyth. Retrospectively, the idea of the Šančiai project was simple: work on a tight timeframe, engage with space and people, gather material and produce a visual result. Three days, characterised by ambiguity, fascination, fieldwork, handwork and socialisation. The approach was informal, not institutional, thus allowing for fluid boundaries between social research and art.
  • The fact that the project’s headquarters was a very authentic local private space – the hosts’ home – inspired the project. It has helped get into the spirit of the neighborhood and „go native“ in a quicker and more natural manner. In addition, eating together contributed another two factors to the project. First, as primitive as it may sound, not having to worry about food saves time and inspiration for getting things done. Second, dining together is an old, tried and trusty way of human bonding, which is quite important for a group when most members haven’t met each other before. Sitting at the table gave us the chance for small talk, getting to know each other better and (re)discussing ideas in a more relaxed manner than in the field. Vita and Ed, thank you very much once again!
  • Being the hosts, Vita, Ed and Una have also worked on the project together and shared a lot of secret insider information – urban legends of the neighborhood, neighbor stories, albums from time of black and white photography, walking routes and other knowledge that provided the right amount of inspiration and fascination for the dive into the streets.
  • Last but not least, having arrived from Vilnius, two of us (Veronika and Maryja) also stayed at Ed’s and Vita’s home (incredibly hospitable), which gave us a chance for night walks through Šančiai on the way back from the city centre, very quiet nights and waking up actually in the field.
  • Interdisciplinarity was one of the crucial aspects of the projects. It is only too easy to fall into the trap of disciplinary solitude, practicing the known routines without ever leaving the comfort zone (which is precisely where the unexpected and adventurous has all the chances to start). Thus, mixing artists and scientists (and in the end, which is which, really?) encouraged us to talk, share ideas, discuss the problems and everyday life of the different disciplines. The range of subjects went far beyond the project itself, which is always a very healthy experience for anybody whose occupation is their way of life.
  • The Mento, Ailbhe and Ciaran supported the project team from the first to the very last minute. One of the prerequisites for interdisciplinary projects to work is for the team members to actually be proactively talking to each other, instead of each insisting on their own truth. That’s one of the reasons why it was so important to have facilitators – the people who are always intently listening, summarizing, connecting different ideas and sometimes helping us understand each other. Talking was much easier than it might have been without Ailbhe’s and Ciaran’s help.
  • Ailbhe and Ciaran haven’t just taken on the „teaching“ role but also actively took part in the project itself and worked side by side with the others. That has helped create a very friendly and encouraging relationship inside the team. Being able to learn by example, as well as by spoken or written word, is a rich experience.
  • Architect Linas Tuleikis contributed by showing an open and non-judgemental approach towards architectural developments.
  • Ideas and suggestions: Something that might have accelerated coming to grips with Šančiai even further is for each team member to have some kind of homework to complete before the beginning of the project, like gathering certain kinds of knowledge and then presenting it to the rest of the team. E. g. one team member might have made a short review of the neighborhood’s history, another of it’s architectural or social specifics, etc. Thus, without having everybody spend a lot of time looking for the information on their own, everybody would have a good knowledge of the basics prior to starting their own work.
  • Another suggestion could be the involvement not only people with art or research background, but also of media / communication specialists (or a communication „division“ within the existing team) who would spend their time on coming up with creative ways to spread info about the project around the neighborhood (something that hasn’t been done not because of a lack of initiative but simply because there wasn’t enough time, a problem that could be solved by having specially dedicated people).

Post project reflection by Vagabond Reviews



The final documentary production was made possible by funding from Creative Europe as part of the City (Re)Searches Project.
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