The Green Power of Art

Sculptures that make you think.

Look over there in the distance

the city is coming

home, Artūras Valionis

Old songs, good songs, sound new again today – only now they’re green.

The sculptures of Vilnius have been seen and celebrated many times; having aroused passions, they then blended into their surroundings. Like good old songs, they mature from the experience and take on a new sound as the years go by. In other words, they become green.

As far back as the history of painting and photography goes, the urban and natural ‘clothing’ of the landscape of Vilnius has been combined with the bright accoutrements arising from a love of history and nature. These accessories, which provoke debate and emotion among the city’s inhabitants, are works of art capable of reflecting or challenging the hottest issues of the moment, regardless of the passage of time.

Today, they are the loud bells, tolling the advent of unstoppable climate change.

Route map

1. ‘Čiulbantis kryžius’ [The Chirping Cross’], Gitenis Umbrasas, 2001

Together with the songs of the choir ‘Langas’ of the Bernardine Church, Gitenis Umbrasas’s ‘The Chirping Cross’ has been resounding since early spring 2001 so that the returning birds can find this safe space that awaits them. It is a real home for the birds, as the cross is made of… nesting boxes. According to the author’s idea, such nesting houses could also be waiting in Rome, Paris, and Jerusalem to connect the northern and southern routes of bird migration – a kind of pilgrimage.

Gitenis Umbrasas is a master of creating green messages. In the early 1990s, he worked with friends and students to create miniature murals in the tree hollows of the Bernardine Garden, turning the trees into shrines and helping them heal. Later, he spoke words of love to the banks of the Neris River by the Green Bridge by planting bright red flowers with his own hands, which he does every year. He came up with the idea to create granite paving stones with bare feet stamped deeply into the earth, like the markers of the Baltic Way, which are embedded in all three capitals connected by the longest human chain.

2. ‘Paukščių lizdas’ [‘The Birds’ Nest’], Gintaras Mikolaitis, 2011

The ‘Bird’s Nest’ by Gintaras Mikolaitis is located in the square of the composer Eduards Balsis. It connects many things that intersect at this crossroads: the houses of composers and the music they created in the depths of A. Mickevičius Street, the work of the folk song arranger Eduards Balsis – who used to live in these houses, the harmonies and rhythm of the music in the sculpture’s granite, and the birds nesting in the pine woods of Žvėrynas and Vingis.

The nest is in the shape of a blue globe, gently enveloped by the palms of the large sculptured hands; the eyes keep watch all around, ensuring the birds and the blue planet are safe.

In Mikolaitis’s work, birds often emerge from ice and stone, like letters to the sky.

3. ‘Puskalnis’ [‘Half-Mountain’], Robertas Antinis Jr., 2009

‘Half-Mountain’ is the most prominent example of the ‘Land Art’ movement: a natural material formation arranged according to the angles, lines, and surfaces dictated by the environment so as to become more and more absorbed into the surroundings as time passes, the seasons change, and the weather conditions influence it. This artistic movement was born out of a desire to free oneself from urban structures and bureaucratic constraints and to seek a direct and distinctive relationship with one’s surroundings – forests, fields, and rivers.

‘Half Hill’ by Robertas Antinis has been formed by filling metal constructions with stones, sand, branches, and soil, mirroring the curve of the Neris River and imitating the hills of Paneriai. When it was first raised, it was almost a blight on the landscape, disturbing the natural view, but a decade later, when viewed from different angles, it has taken on a different relationship with its surroundings. From the street, it is a softly shaped hill; from the river, it is an ominous rock. Amazingly, it continues to change and intrigue – what will it and its surroundings look like in the next decade? This seems to be an invitation to create with respect, to look for cause and effect, to see where different beginnings may lead.

4. ‘Dviaukštis’ ‘Double Decker’, Mindaugas Navakas, 2009

Nestled between the Neris and the sprawling buildings of urban Vilnius, ‘Dviaukštis’ is infinitely ambiguous, perhaps reminiscent of Stonehenge. It is both a building and a rock, with fragments of Vilnius architecture and pure stone. It is simultaneously the dome of a Christian church, the altar of a pagan temple, and a rain shelter, providing protection against evil forces. Its naive openness may hold a terrifying secret, combining the notion of modernity breaking traditions while preserving the oldest customs.

The sculpture is made entirely of stone, but each of its surfaces is different, either chiselled, fire-baked, or smoothed with modern tools. This raises other issues – by refining and through development, are we becoming more ruthless; are we moving away from our origins and authenticity?

Mindaugas Navakas’ works show that it is possible to talk and agree when different time periods and worldviews collide. Such collisions provoke unexpected and memorable formations. In this way, Navakas’ ‘Hook’ sculpture, which dominates the front of the former Railway Palace, changed the name of the building and injected a creative spirit into it.

5. ‘Fantastinis žvėris’ [‘Fantastic Beast’], Mindaugas Navakas, 1978

A mythological creature might seem out of place here, but this sculpture depicting a gryphon  appeared in a rather strange place as a decoration of the newly built Turistas Hotel (now the Best Western) because, in the late Soviet era, two per cent of the building’s estimated value was earmarked for artistic accents. Like a dandelion sprouting through the asphalt, the ‘Fantastic Beast’ pushes its way into the sun from the ever-growing structures of Soviet and modern urban growth.

In this vein, there is a subtly coded historical link to Navakas’ work in Old Town – the pediment of the Gates of Dawn depicts a gryphon holding another gryphon. Here, Navakas’ work is supplemented with green messages as the winds change and the city grows.

Like ‘Double Decker’, ‘Fantastic Beast’ is a unity of opposites. The lion and the vulture represent earth and sky, nature and mythology. The two stones that make up the sculpture are clearly different, both in their natural geological patterns and in the tools and lines chosen by the sculptor.

Navakas created ‘Fantastic Beast’, his diploma work, by taming his favourite material – granite. It was at that time that Vladas Vildžiūnas, the founder of the Sculpture Garden in Jeruzalė district and legendary creator of traditionally modern sculpture, invited him to join the society of talented sculptors. The garden was a dream to create an environment of space and time for unrestricted creativity in his own yard. Indeed, in that garden, a whole generation of courageous, unmistakable sculptors has grown up and matured, whose works are inspired and enriched by nature.

6. ‘Antenų sodas’ [‘Antenna Garden’], Rafalas Piesliakas, 2020

Planted in such a way that the city’s largest antenna, the Vilnius TV Tower, which looms in the distance, blends naturally into the play of metallic antenna shapes, this ‘Garden’ sends a green call not to drown out the city’s natural sounds. The Garden is ‘green’ across the street from the Sakura cherry blossom orchard between the business buildings, where the information transmitted by the antennas is most intense – such a reminder to embrace nature seems particularly relevant.

According to Rafał Piesliakas, a single antenna is lost among the city’s pillars, and only their totality forms a new sensory experience for the observer. In the same way, a single green message can get drowned out amid the constant stream of information; its repetition through different emotional experiences cultivates an environmentally sensitive person.

  1. Piesliakas is a creator of conceptual spatial installations and sculptures, exploring the human relationship with the environment and using it to create new human experiences. According to the artist, every environment has a unique story; it is interesting to disturb it with subtle accents and to observe how they change the usual rhythm and create new relationships.

7. ‘Krantinės arka’, [‘Quay’s Arch’ also known as ‘Waterfront Arch’ or ‘The Pipe’] Vladas Urbanavičius, 2009

A champion of public passions, the so-called Pipe represents the post-modernist art movement of pipe aesthetics and is the most prominent example of ‘site specific’ art in Vilnius. Welded from the waste of the Druzhba oil pipeline (Russian: Friendship), the work’s angles and curves echo the slope of the Hill of Gediminas and the bend of the Neris River at Mindaugas Bridge. It frames the symbol of Vilnius’ durability, the Tower of Gediminas, and the eternal Neris River, the provider of the city.

The search for this harmony between the sculpture and the environment was most interesting for Vladas Urbanavičius, who left all ideas and codes to be deciphered by those passing by on the quay. Sandwiched between the oldest power station in Vilnius (now the Museum of Energy and Technology) and the Neris, ‘The Pipe’ stops us in our tracks and reminds us:

  • how rich we are in the history of freedom and clean nature
  • how complex the city’s ‘blood flow’ is underground through buried pipelines, and how important it is to keep it healthy and running smoothly
  • how temporary we are, just like our cities and their rusting pipelines.
  • how we avoid uncomfortable openness, and how we hide our, often unaesthetic, domesticity behind beautiful facades.

This is how we create an open, uncomfortable, necessary dialogue with ourselves and our environment.

Vladas Urbanavičius came from the tradition of the Sculpture Garden of Jeruzalė. Breaking the rules, swimming against the tide, and listening to criticism were commonplace for the community created by Vildžiūnas. Both during the Soviet period and later, Urbanavičius stood apart from his peers through his experiments on environment, form, and materials; he was completely unburdened by deep meanings. His solo exhibition in 1988, the year of the historical turning point, with twelve bronze objects, marked with the inventory numbers Sculpture No. 1, Sculpture No. 2, etc., is considered to be a turning point in the development of modernist sculpture throughout Lithuania.

8. ‘Lietuviška baladė’ [‘Lithuanian Ballad’], Vladas Vildžiūnas, 1973

The city’s quietest sculpture, ‘Lithuanian Ballad,’ consists of three pillars carved with a master axe out of a centuries-old oak tree, ritualistically arranged in a circle and adorned with the faces of wise men and ‘Rūpintojėliai’ – known as the pensive, worried, or contemplative depictions of Christ from Lithuanian folk iconography.

It was created in 1973 on the occasion of the 650th birthday of Vilnius and seems to mark the starting point of Vilnius at the foot of the Hill of Gediminas and the mythical burial place of Duke Šventaragis. Three rather stern-looking faces gaze protectively in different directions away from the mound-shaped hill, overseeing the city’s development. This trio is open to the most varied interpretations by Vladas Vildžiūnas. They could be the three core figures of Lithuanian statehood: Mindaugas, Gediminas, and Vytautas. Or perhaps the three kings who visited the newly born Christ (seen as our city), or perhaps the link between the past, present, and future (it seems likely that the figure representing the future is the one with the mischievously wry smile of the Mona Lisa). Another theory is that the sculpture represents the sons of Eglė Queen of Snakes – the Oak tree, the Ash tree, and the Birch tree, or perhaps the sculptor intended to depict the ideologically safe symbolic figures of a warrior, a ploughman, and a poet in the Soviet period.

Vildžiūnas’ deep lines, as if carved out of wood, are recognisable in many places of Vilnius: ‘Barbora’ on Vokiečių Street, ‘Laurynas Gucevičius’ at the Church of the Holy Cross, tombstones in Antakalnis and Rasai cemeteries, and most of all, in the Sculpture Garden of Jeruzalė.

The family of Vildžiūnas and the graphic artist M. Ladygaitė settled in the far reaches of Jeruzalė in the 1960s so that they could freely transport stones and oaks, experiment with sizes, shapes and technologies, and assemble and create. The cosy surroundings of the garden of their childhood and the homestead attracted those weary of Soviet restrictions, and a generation of rebellious artists grew up here. We have tried to understand the raw messages of three of them today.

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Legend

  • Section with heavy traffic
  • The route is on a walking or cycling path
  • Cyclocity bicycle rental point
  • Dangerous place
  • Drinking water station
  • Grill spot
  • Picnic spot

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Bakery “Tie kepėjai”

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