As a rule, architecture is always materialized in a larger or a smaller sociocultural environment. This environment, with a hierarchy of characteristics and features along with its archetypes, almost invariably determines the cultural content of architecture as well as the ability of the public to perceive (read) it. Yet, the more simply the cultural content with its codes is expressed, the more chances are there to read it. The function of conveying the content in architecture is typically performed by symbols or landmark buildings. These are works of architecture, having stood the test of time and extant after sociocultural changes, that represent a specific period along with its narratives while themselves turning into the timemarks of those changes.
The building, to reflect on which the Norbert Tukaj‘s exhibition The Parallel is dedicated, should also be viewed as such a symbol. It is the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall, a modernist icon in the history of Independence and an indicator of today‘s sociocultural state as well as the system of values. It shows the prevailing attitude not only towards the cultural heritage but also towards the historical narrative of Independence, which is slowly growing into a written past or a myth. It is the Building of Ambiguity – the embodiment of the current social and mental state of society and the illustration of the relationship between both the denial of modernism and the failure to properly evaluate the symbolism of Independence. On the one hand, one can state that, unfortunately, sociocultural symbols are much too expensive for those who place their values in products, rather than in the very idea of Independence, which (again, unfortunately) would never pay off and has no price. It is therefore likely to be natural and symbolic for the architectural icon of such sociocultural transformation – the Concert and Sports Hall – to have been abandoned for nearly two decades and to have had the cultural attention towards it reduced to almost zero. On the other hand, such modernism (represented by this building) with its cultural codes and works is linked to the Soviet times, indisputably evaluated negatively today. Likewise, the modernist project of the post-war period and the second half of the 20th century are perceived negatively in terms of their content and cultural expression in Lithuania. The twofold denial and fierce criticism on trend (once more, unfortunately) bear more signs of cultural disorientation, rather than those of consequent criticism, in that culture is neither a physically homogenous formation that can be dissected, nor a tumour that can undergo surgery. This rigorous perception and measurement of culture tends to lead to an unreasoned destruction of its artefacts, simply referred to as an elemental public reaction – thrust-through social rage. However, it is worth noting that both the symbolism of Independence and the denial of modernism have common traits: the reflection of the past or ongoing cultural changes in social mentality, which will ever be linked to different levels of sociocultural change or even its destruction. This apparently results in a state of uncertainty or even mental stagnation on the part of the public for a longer time and, in the particular case of the Concert and Sports Hall – in ambiguity, as the building and its two cultural layers paradoxically overlap, thus expressing the uniqueness and cultural polychromy of the building and its strange anti-social nature. Anti-social nature indeed, since a building that becomes an artefact of culture or a museum, raising questions of what to do with and ‘politely’ left to decay for such a long time, gradually transforms into ruins of modernism (a famous architect Vytautas Brėdikis joked similarly about the modernist district Lazdynai). Both in their image and their condition, the ruins tend to appear dangerously anti-social, yet somehow exerting attraction for a specific viewer, who reacts with respectful fear. It is interesting to be in the vicinity of such a cultural artefact as it is to be beside a hillfort, where both people and objects become sound, sublime and gain external value. It most likely attracts those who are moved by the energy of decaying artefacts belonging to eternity. The ruins of modernism tend to symbolise an apocalypse or a revolution, basically similar subjects – a fundamental social mental change and forced or voluntary disengagement from cultural constrictions towards imaginary freedom. The paradox: the modernist buildings that once have been symbols of cultural freedom and modernity, withering and being destroyed can express the liberation from modern cultural prejudice or the past. This, apparently, is how the sociocultural phenomenon of architecture manifests itself: the withering and the collapse of the building in the background of a cheerful crowd might have much more meaning than a fundamental change in its physical existence, thus becoming symbolic. Such incidents have already occurred in Europe and Lithuania. In absolutely different sociocultural environments the collapse of the architecture of modernism is just as cheerful as the one of postmodernism, while essentially it bears the same meaning: the aforementioned social reaction or social rage concerning the phenomenon of the past… In such a way Giraitė, the Traffic Police Building in Vilnius, collapsed – and many more buildings in Lithuania will. Similarly, a number of modern architectural artefacts in Europe and the world have withered (for more information see ‘demolishing modernism’ on www.gocompare.com). The case of the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall is surprisingly different. Although, the history of the building after the restoration of Independence is full of charm, indifference, denial, dangers of withering and contradictions, which are likely not to be surprising, the fate of the building has been decided. The artefact will not only remain on the cultural map of Lithuanian architecture, but will also fit today’s needs and social expectations. One might, therefore, at least assume that the threat of Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall withering has likely been reduced. Thus, one should probably bear in mind that with the changing generations of political decision-makers and their systems of values, the existence of modernist ruins is a serious problem of image and economics, which, if well publicised, cannot easily be ‘cut out from’ or ‘undergo surgery’ in the cultural reality. Therefore, while this is not a fact yet, we wait…
The Parallel exhibition reflects both the concept and the content of the aforementioned ambiguities, expressed in the visual juxtaposition between the organisation of space and the modernist ‘Cathedral’ of meta-reality. The greater depth in structural and visual tensions of the exhibition is achieved through an interview (conducted by Aida Štelbienė) with the author and the image architect, where his personal story about the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall can be heard. On that occasion, Norbert Tukaj, as both an architect and a photographer, conveys his relationship with the building by revealing important emotional landmarks for its perception. The scenes created and captured by the author, large-format iconic photographs, show two different identities of the building. The first is monumentally symbolic, almost in a Shulman‘s manner, where space is captured with no human or visual noise, and where the emotional tension is expressed through the void in it, is seemingly revealing the brutal purity of the building through a reference image keeping with the canons of the portrayal of modern architecture. And the second shows social time, where the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall becomes the object of the Pilgrimage of architectural culture and a festive attribute at least for a moment. It is interesting how one may notice only after a while that the echo of the festive modernist everyday life in the building has weakened and turned into long-lasting sadness. And even though the visual moment seems to be surprising, cheerful and full of people, when the building transcends the perpetual time limit, the hustle of the celebration around it appears to be untimely and controversial. Thus again one faces duality – ambiguity, but this time it is of the realities of identity when at the same time the Vilnius Concert and Sports Hall is both a highly functional and brutal modernist Cathedral and the Mecca of architectural culture… This third ambiguity is precisely the fundamental metaphor for the exhibition – the Parallel.
Architecture hence emerges and collapses in different sociocultural environments. The condition and turn of landmark cultural buildings towards the nonexistence or cosmetic novelty reflect the cultural state of society or its decision-makers and the relationship of the society with larger sociocultural phenomena. Architecture essentially embodies the social mentality, its slower or faster transformation and indicates its cracks. Only an emancipated and educated society, recognising trauma and mental schism, is able to recognise the value even of that, which provokes negative emotions and bad memories, even if it is a Soviet nightmare or the post-communist economic poverty that befell almost together with the idea of freedom, and political disorder. Architecture participated in what is already the past, which was symbolised and changed by it. This is the reality where parallel opportunities have come to an end along with the real events, and the architecture associated with them has remained in an ambiguous situation where much room is still left for the reflection and questioning.
Tomas Grunskis, Curator
Poster design: “AEXN”
Photo: “Nulinis laipsnis” ir Gintautas Trimakas