een Hand Gebonden Kunstenaarsboek '(The) Fairing(s)', the Artist's-Books Workshop,Vilnius 2009 a hand-bound Artist's-Book / le Livre d'Artist / ein handgebundenes Künstler Buch / Mahler Buch

 

Freedom

and the International Artist's-Books Workshop

'real time' 15 - 10 - 2009 / 25 - 10 - 2009
in the 'Republica Uzupis'

Some diary comments by Joseph Joh'n'
(the artist Joseph Johannes Visser from The Netherlands, who with Chang-Soo Kim from Korea, and Wayne Andrew Crothers from Australia made the team to do the different workshops and lectures)

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"

'Uzupis' = 'the other side of the river'
The river meant is the 'Vilnia'; Vilnius has been built where the River Vilnia flowes in to the River Neris.

The Academy of Arts, where the workshop took place, is on both sides of the river around the church of st. Anne (1501 / 1581, late Gothic), the belfry (19th c., neo-Gothic), the church of the ss. Francis and Berrnard (1506 - 1513 late Gothic with a reconstructed Baroque pediment), and the monument to the poet Adam Mickiewicz by Gedimas Jokubonis.

Having informed you about that I see the need to inform you about some historical aspects of this region that are, now, at the time that I cross the bridge from the 'Old Town' into 'Uzupos' every day, 'not over-exposed'.
The district Uzupis (some 0.60 square kilometer) is outside of Vilnius' Old Town walls, and on the other side of the river surrounded by steep hills. The first bridges over the Vilnia were constructed in the 16th. century.
Whereas in 1994 the district was so much left to drunks, whores, and artists that it was compared to the Paris' Montmartre, and in 1997 the 'Republic of Uzupis' was declared here, the scum of the earth together with a host of squatters from the city (the 'Old Town') so much took over that one bought houses there for 5000 / 8000 Euro. Only a visionary would do so, and is now (after a few serious private renovations) the owner of a nice property in a green and quiet historic district on the edge of the centre of a metropol, with a few drunks, whores, squatters, and as in every place on earth a few villains (poor robbers, and rich robbers, I remember to have met some 'well off' 'gentleman' round the years 1994 - 1998 doing 'real estate' in Baltic countries)
It is not pure coincidence that 'the Day of the Republic of Uzupis' is on the 1st of April, and of the constitution certainly the first Article is worth noting: "People have the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow past the people". You will find the 41 articles on a wall in Paupio street. The somewhat bourgeois replacement of the original egg (symbolizing revival and artistic freedom, and being sold for 10.200 litas at auction) by an angel (4 - 4 - 2001) tells a lot about a changing society.

The history of the place is a deeply sad one. From long before 1600 the district's inhabitants were mostly Jewish. In fact since 1400 Jews came on invitation of the Grand Dukes Augustus II and Augustus III in order to be an integral component in the developement of the country.
In 1945 this population is, together with all Lithuania's Jews practically vanished (from some 240.000 hardly a ten percent survived these years).
Vilnius had 105 synagogues and prayer houses, and six Jewish newspapers. The Vilnius' Jewish population of some 100.000, which would make it forty five percent of the city's total, made Vilnius be called 'The Jerusalem of Lithuania', and Yiddish the main language.
90 Percent of Jews in Lituania have been brutaly murdered in WWII, with unrestricted and unashamed help from the non-Jewish people of Lithuania; Vilnius is left with 1 synagogue. What once was a multi cultural society fell for the bigotry of nationalism.
Even the 'Old Jewish Cemetary' in Uzupis has been demolished.

I know it to be coincidental, but it deepens my sadness to be here and see on television the International Tribunal in The Hague having to start it's - or should I not rather say 'our' - trial against Radovan Karadzic.
It makes me again remember my student years (1964 - 1970, Amsterdam) with Yugoslav student-friends that at that time came back from a summer holiday with their families telling of their brothers doing military ('partizan' as they called it) summer camps for 10 - 16 year olds in order to do training against 'the others', and convincing me at that time that as soon as Tito would be gone trouble would get started; how very true was that, and certainly it did not come as a surprise.

Again here, all around me, I hear and see the easy escapes some people make into the dirt of nationalism, and the uncritical and sanctimonious preference of 'one's verry own believes' over any other - the cheap comments on anything unwanted, or even difficult to understand, as coming from 'the others'. The mean trouble of all that is that it does not go any further than jealousy; mostly unjustified jealousy as such.

Again I realize that an optimistic idialisme towards the freedoms of all mankind is not a luxury, it is an absolute must!
Especially as we are here in a European organized cultural event (part in the celeberations of Vilnius, Cultural Capital of Europe 2009), I should stress the need for the multi-cultural society that Europe has always been, whether some people liked it or not there simply is no other possible way. All other ways have brought desaster upon all and every one.

In the evening's talks with other artists and students we argue on 'an artist's responsibility' and what artists should do.
I myself do not see much in artists (in general - and if ever such thing exists) 'having' to do anything; as such I like the articles in the Constitution of the Republic of Uzupis numbered 5:
"Man has the right to individuality",
and 16 paired with 17:
"People have the right to be happy" and "People have the right to be unhappy".
Then again there is some right down disturbing number 37:
"People have the right to have no rights",
in a place like this,
what unbelievably ignorant twit, with a mind of a death-trap has come up with a threatening stupidity like that!
Indeed
- after all,
and coming to think of it -
artists have a responsibility.
Artists must, like it or not, do everything that is in their power to have insight, to be aware, to look in to, and to study in order to make their works reflect on never ending nuances and the complications that come with these nuances. An artist, as an intellectual, must 'help' his art-work in such a way that this work of art truely never stops having a pro- and (at the same time) counter-impact on himself, and the lives of those who 'enjoy' / I would rather say 'use' it.
Just as there is no uncomplexed 'one on one' thought (such as simple rights and wrongs), there is no 'one on one' art that shows you what it must or should say. A true art-work has more to say than any artist can think of. The artist is the helper in the most demanding artistic process of the making of art, that usually is far beyond his individual capacities.
The world is a far to complex a place even to begin and think that it is possible to have a crystallized thought; 'thought' as such could not possibly be 'crystallized' (it would be dead by then), it should be a fuel to life, it should be like the milk for a newly born. And being 'milk' it could be sour, miserable and bitter, if not consumed before it's gone off / become acidulous.

That 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' once again gets to me in the understanding of the (thoughtless) colourful autumnal beauty on the borders of the (uninterested) serpentining river, and the brutality and intracacy of racism and nationalism.

 

Facts; I love facts!:

As a town 'Vilnius' is first mentioned in the 12th century. It gets fame when German merchants come - on invitation of Gediminas - in 1316. Wladyslaw II Jagietto (of Poland and Lithuania) grants the place the rights-of-town. 1569 till late in the 18th century there was the 'Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth'. 1579 Stefanus Barthory is the founder of the university - later to grow into an international centre for science and arts. Vilnius, just as the whole of Lithuania, would for long be an international place for all peoples.
History would bring the country no more trouble than any other country, but every group of inhabitants would in that history always find an excuse for hating 'the others'. I must say that this seems more and more to be a hobby amongst many Europeans, a pastime that is of great concern to me.

Numbers: (percentages in the entire country)

 1897 (languages)  40 Jiddish  30,1 Polish  20,9 Russian  4,3 Belarussian  2,1 Lithuanian  2.6 others
 1931 (languages)  28 Jiddish  65 Polish  3,8 Russian  0,9 Belarussian  0,8 Lithuanian  0,4 others
 2001 (nationality)    18,7 Polish  14 Russian  4 Belarussian  57,8 Lithuanian 1,3 Ukranian
1,4 others

Official figures state that in 1919 Vilnius had some 200.000 inhabitants, two-thirds Poles, 28 percent Jews, the rest Belarussians.. A strange figure is the 38 percent Belarussians living around Vilnius in the province.
The ideas of the independant movement about national identity / self-determination were (when later established) mainly based on the American president's, Woodrow Wilson, 'Fourteen Points Speech' in January 1918. The first, 1917, 'elected' Council of Lithuania had, in 20 members, six priests. The 2 dissatisfied Social Democratic members made two priests to do 'the honourable thing'.

Being in Lithuania in October, poppies being worn on many a British dress and jacket, my mind wanders of to Hardy's:
"Christmas: 1924"
'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

There is not one group that has not been brutally mocked, terrorised and murdered by one of the others; none seem to have learned much of that, and if it were not for Europe's laws the place would be like Yugoslavia in recent years, with 'partisans' and 'police' of God knows whatever sort. One of the difficult aspects emerging from that is the gereral distrust the normal police-force encounters every day - not that I would not believe some of the induvidual policemen to be just as corrupt as most of all others in an 'old boys network', but I do not at all envie those that try to help this society away from the path along the abyss it seems to love to walk on.
Lithuanians like to complain about inhabitants of Lithuania not speaking the Lithuanian language, with the figures above (in which the 57,8 nationals may not all speak the language) it seems that there is legal right to some friction in arguments on this.
Of the 38.8 percent of the population of Vilnius that was Jewish, 95 percent has been murdered during the German occupation.

 

Somehow I feel obliged to mention the following text as a memory to the black pages in the history of this place.

zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.
kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
s'vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,
un vu gefaln iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!

s'vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,
un der nekht vet farshvindn mit dem faynt,
nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in der kayor ­
vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

dos lid geshribn iz mit blut, un nit mit blay,
s'iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray,
dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent
dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.

to zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.
kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho ­
es vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

 

Never say this is the final road for you,
Though leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!

From lands so green with palms to lands all white with snow.
We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,
And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
There are courage and our spirit have rebirth!

The early morning sun will brighten our day,
And yesterday with our foe will fade away,
But if the sun delays and in the east remains ­
This song as password generations must remain.

This song was written with our blood and not with lead,
It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,
With pistols in hand they heeded to the call.

Therefore never say the road now ends for you,
Though leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!

This poem is by Hirsch Glick
(1922 Vilna, then Poland - 1944 Estonia)
The poem became, with the music by Dmitri Pokrass, the anthem of the Jewish and partisan movement.
It was inspired by the news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The English translation from wikipedia

I am well aware that much of this is not the concern of todays students, but as it is in every corner of this city, in every corner of this country, and trying in every European country to surface from its squalid waters, it could not be avoided. My generation (I am 63) may never let go of the ideals we have for that Europe of mixed cultures, that always was a mix from the very start, and still is so, whatever is tried in the past by those, that try now again to keep men from men in a never ending discourse.

When working with the students here, I am under the impression that they walk a path that leads them happily around there 'masters' (sadly I do not see too much inspiration coming from them), and I seem to see some 'sixties' movement, without much of the nonsense of that time. Students seem to have a healthy interest in the international developements in the arts to day, and seem to be able and leave the narrow bounderies of a nationalist, or for that matter the 'old' and traditional academy-based, art behind - eventhough it seems to give shelter for the time being.

 

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