AFTER LEAVING｜BEFORE ARRIVING
Exploring Kaunas Biennial, local hangouts and intriguing architecture.
TEXT & IMAGES JEZGA STUDIO
“After Leaving | Before Arriving” is the 12th biennial hosted in Kaunas - and one of Lithuania’s largest art events. It is also the perfect backdrop for exploring a city we suspect will gain much more traction in the future, but for now - we’ll let you in on the secret.
We found Kaunas to be a place of architectural wonders and quirks, as if one is somewhat travelling back in time – but also a place with wide empty streets peppered with industrial and commercial spaces. You have the huge ‘AKROPOLIS’, a frankly terrifying temple for consumerism, plonked down in the middle of nowhere - and then on the other hand, the modernist architecture of the interwar period that has been included in UNESCO's World Heritage Tentative List.
The Kaunas Picture Gallery was possibly one of our favourite buildings, representing the best of Soviet Brutalism, as well as housing one of the city’s greatest bars - ‘Kultura’. Watch the young and careless have their afternoon pints here at a slow pace, and eat some amazing gnocchi while you’re at it.
Slide the back glass doors of Kultura, and you‘ll find one of the spots for Kaunas Biennale - a spacious concrete ground floor, dark and light at the same time, charging the exceptionally affordable amount of €2 to see video installations, photography, as well as sculptural wonders made of Perspex. One of our favourite pieces was a wall of black and white photographs by Johanna Diehl, “exploring the question of memory and identity in modern-day Europe” (Kaunas Biennale).
While Kaunas offers the selection of Airbnb’s, transport, bars and galleries you’d find in any modern city, the feeling you get is still one of remoteness, in the best possible sense. The old town would normally be the centre of attention when visiting a historic city, with its cobbled streets and colourful small buildings - but in Kaunas, it’s almost like a side note, compared to what one can discover elsewhere.
However, there are a few galleries on this part of town which should not be missed - we visited Meno Parkas and were impressed by the space that stretched over three floors. Attending an opening here, with Latvian artist Alvine Bautra, there was a certain pleasure in observing the variety in the public at the event – a very busy spectacle filled with people of all ages, a lot of wine, and even more whisky (without the ice).
The next day we rounded off our visit at “Ridikas” - the best lunch place in town, serving delicious vegan dishes, that could compete with any metropolitan vegan cafe – small, very cosy, and with the best banana cheesecake we’ve ever tasted.
The train station is the perfect spot to both start and end your journey - even more so as a significant part of the biennale is set here. A long set of old train carriages hosts a variety of video and installation pieces. There is also a mirrored circle in front of the station entrance - rumoured to be the centre of a captivating live performance, which we unfortunately did not get to experience. We dare you not to sneak in a selfie, though. Kaunas might feel familiar to those who are used to Baltic cities, but it’s definitely not generic – bringing its own character, and even its own art biennale.