“The Merge” by Joana BC
Curator: Brigita Bareikytė
Organization: Kaunas Biennial
Joana BC is an artist from Portugal, working on multidisciplinary practices including drawing, painting, sculpture, performance and installation. Joana arrived in Kaunas with a full and open heart. With an aim to understand the city from the inside, get to know the communities living here as much as possible, and feel the rhythm of the society. Those were the qualities that helped Joana experience the concept of The Merge project in the best way possible.
When a large-scale war was started in Ukraine by Russian invaders at the beginning of 2022, the Lithuanian society felt strongly affected too, as it still remembers the national trauma caused by the Soviet occupations. Therefore, the desire to support the brothers and sisters of a similar fate comes as a natural reaction. Because of this, The Merge project by MagiC Carpets was focusing on a newly established yet equally important Ukrainian community which has found refuge in the city of Kaunas. Various cultural and social institutions offered quite a wide range of activities for Ukrainian people here in Lithuania, but only a minority of them was focused on their inclusion into society. Therefore, the project’s main idea was to unite and bring together the Ukrainian community with the local citizens of Kaunas.
When investigating community centers for Ukrainian people here in Kaunas, I was surprised to find out about the non-governmental school Herojus, which is special in a few ways. It promotes beautiful values such as creativity and empathy, as well as learning based on experience and reflection. In 2022, the school opened a new branch for children from Ukraine, where they can learn from Ukrainian teachers and their work follows the curricula based on the Ukrainian education system. The issue, however, is that children from Lithuania and Ukraine who attend Herojus School have lessons in different school buildings, thus, creating not only the national and cultural, but also the physical distance between the two communities.
Joana BC joined another two artists Marija Nemčenko (Lithuania) and Barbara Gryka (Poland) for a residency in Kaunas to suggest creative methods to unite Lithuanian and Ukrainian children. They invited 12-16-year-old students from both branches of Herojus School to participate in the afterschool workshops that were implemented following the personal artistic practice of all artists, yet open for the co-creation, and cooperation processes within the community and the artists. The group was dynamic, a bit different in each workshop, with the total of 35 children who have participated in the project.
For Joana, it was important to concentrate on the children’s sensations and relationships, and also to stress the ecological and sustainable point of view of the concept. War itself destroys not only people’s personal lives or the country’s infrastructure, it heavily damages nature, and exacerbates climate change.
For the first workshop, Joana prepared hundreds of differently shaped cut-outs from colorful and glittery sheets of paper, including those which were left after the workshops with Barbara Gryka, thus, reusing materials for the second time. The shapes that Joana cropped with scissors were born intuitively and used on a regular basis in her artistic practice. During the workshop in Herojus School, all cut-outs were spread on the floor of the classroom inviting a group of students to sit around it. Joana asked everyone to close their eyes and pick 10 shapes trusting their intuition only. The children were given two white and brownish sheets of paper to glue the cut-outs on. Using them, the students created colorful collages, that can be considered as a great example of co-creation. While the narratives of the collages were created by the kids, the special cut-outs made by Joana gave the first impulse for the creation process.
The second part of the workshops gathered Ukrainian and Lithuanian children to try out another method that Joana is keen on using in her artistic projects. The group created costumes out of old, ready-to-throw-out materials such as textiles, cardboard, papers, plastics, and many other items that students and other team members of The Merge collected before the project. Dresses, skirts, jackets with wings, armor, gloves, hats, purses with fictional phones in them, and even shoes were created and decorated with colorful cut-outs. It was amazing to feel the atmosphere of the creative mess in the classroom, where children from different countries forgot about the language barrier, laughed together, and enjoyed a moment of artistic freedom.
The final result of Joana’s residency was presented as part of the CityTelling Festival, which was organized by “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022”. The aim of the festival was to highlight the multiethnic memory of Kaunas and its surroundings, to strengthen the dialogue between different communities, and, thus, offered perfect conditions for The Merge to be represented.
One part of the final event was realized as the opening of The Merge exhibition in the modernistic spaces of Herojus School. All visitors could see the colorful collages that were created during the workshops with Joana. Students were especially pleased to see their own artworks exhibited. After that, everyone was invited outside the school, to Laisvės Avenue, to see a performance by Joana BC created in collaboration with Barbara Gryka and the kids for this specific event. It was important for the artists to set a good example of working together and the merge itself. Kids showed up together with artists dressed in colorful costumes that were made during the workshops with Joana, also wearing glittery makeup. Performers “built” an imaginary city out of the future school models that were made of cardboard during the workshops with Barbara Gryka. Listening to the music created by Waldemar Tatarczuk, performers presented a composition of dance moves consisting of traditional Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian dances, thus, expressing respect to all nationalities featured in their group.
It was simple and magical at the same time. The smiles of the children and family members that came to see the event as well as those of the passers-by who stopped because it caught their eye, said it all.
This project has been realised with the generous help and assistance of:
Text written by Brigita Bareikytė