Poetical Courtyards of Šilainiai
Edita Niciūtė and Arnis Aleinikovas
In Year 3 of “MagiC Carpets” platform, Kaunas Biennial launched an open call through which projects of 5 local artists were selected for implementation. “Poetical Courtyards of Šilainiai” was conceived by the actors Edita Niciūtė and Arnis Aleinikovas. What drew me to this project was the use of language to express the history, experiences and feelings of a particular community. I must admit that I take pride in my use of language – Lithuanian and English – to convey other people’s (usual artists’) ideas, but this project in particular made me a strong believer in the power of words.
The main action took place in the Kaunas suburb of Šilainiai, which is characterised by its high-rise grey concrete building blocks built in the 1980s. Here, a large number of inhabitants live in highly concentrated environment and the community is very actively involved in everyday life, social and cultural activities. The community of poets, who reside in Šilainiai, are particularly active in the cultural life – they are open and willing to share their creations with the rest of the community by participating in various events. The actor Edita Niciūtė has been working with the poets of Šilainiai since 2019, when a poetry performance directed by the actor was performed. This event confirmed the need and relevance of poetry for the community and Edita decided to submit an application to Kaunas Biennial’s open call. In her practice, Edita is interested in innovative participatory forms of community engagement and has already established a strong creative relationship with the community of local poets both professional and amateur.
The project “Poetical Courtyards of Šilainiai” combines the documentaries of social and cultural life of the community. It is a reminder that everyone’s creativity and contribution is important regardless of their age, gender, experience, profession and social status. The aim of the project was to create a platform of sharing, and encourage the residents of Šilainiai to express themselves through creative writing and poetry. Even though the project was mainly aimed at seniors, which are pushed back to the margins of our society, children, youth and adults were also invited to join in. Through a public open call, the residents were invited to share their classical and modern poetical writings, which were selected, sorted and recorded by professional actors Edita Niciūtė and Arnis Aleinikovas.
The open call was a great success and attracted quite a few poets, some of whom ripped pages out of their personal diaries and others, who shared the only text they wrote in their lives about the love lost. One local poet brought as many as two of her own poetry books(!). It was evident that the Šilainiai community is very sensitive and poetical despite its harsh surroundings. In the poems submitted, the main predominant theme was love, usually one-sided and described from the female perspective. Another striking theme was the depiction of nature – forests and meadows as well as the seaside landscape. Images of nature were entwined with spirituality, myths and legends. Some poems stood out for their originality – poet Irena wrote all her poems about pilots and by doing so, she compiled the entire history of Lithuanian aviation(!).
For the poetry recordings, the actors extended the invitation to the poets themselves in order to share the experience of the process. A few curious poets decided that they will welcome this challenge and embraced the experience of recording. In the process, the poets were guided by the recording studio manager and the actors. My most memorable part about the recording was the reading by the poets themselves, because the poems sounded very organic and sincere. This showed that to use your own voice to communicate your history, experiences and feelings, is much more powerful than allowing someone else to speak for you.
The final event with the poets and actors involved in the project took place on the last day of July in the middle of the suburb of Šilainiai under a big willow tree. The atmosphere and mood were absolutely ‘on spot’ and while the poets voiced their creations to the gathered audience, warm summer rain fell on everyone creating an atmosphere of romance and authenticity.
“Poetical Courtyards of Šilainiai” project was presented on 31 July 2020 to the local community in Santarvės park and during the “Fluxus Festival” organised by the “European Capital of Culture – Kaunas 2022” on 12 September 2020.
This project has been realised with the generous help and assistance of:
Curator Neringa Kulik