Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas’ essay about their Pro-test Lab was published at The Drouth, a website and magazine on literature, film, politics, visual culture, music, and architecture, produced in Glasgow, Scotland.
The Pro-test Lab is a project that started as a call to reclaim public space in Lithuania and, in particular, to save the largest cinema theater in Vilnius from being demolished. With overlapping artistic and social components, this artistic experiment was developed into a multi-layered and multi-year organizational structure. Addressing memory, trauma, and emotion attached to public space, while combining public discussions, exhibitions, media channel, performances, an educational program, a series of petitions and even several legal cases aiming to question existing policies, the Pro-test Lab culminated in the rewriting of laws in territorial planning and of creating a collective definition of public space.
An excerpt from the essay is below:
Since independence in 1990, Lithuania has been caught up in a mad period of privatization, property development and demolition. Like a Wild West land-grab or a gold rush, speculators and real-estate tycoons have joined forces with corrupt municipal bureaucrats to redevelop the country at an insane pace. Profit has been their only motive. Public space, landmark buildings, cultural life and public opinion have been the principal victims. Their method is simple: Tell the population that market economy is good for everything. Convince them that capital is king. Remind the public that making Lithuania look like Shanghai, Rio or Bilbao is the best way to erase the Soviet past – and to make the country attractive for even more investment and development.
Cultural and political change shattered Lithuania as all of post-Soviet space was hit unexpectedly by the ultra-rapid implementation of a shock doctrine. The transformation from the Soviet planned economy to capitalism mixed neo-liberalist privatization with the affects of globalization with the potency of a Molotov cocktail. Today, all would agree that “independence did not bring freedom.” Freedom and modernisation in post-Soviet space is uniquely understood as the free market and privatisation. The concept of a free market serves, here, as an imperative which guarantees that one’s “Western tutors will not be disappointed.” Put simply: The totality of one regime has been exchanged for another. This totality became a natural law implemented by a new ideological institution: the notorious Free Market Institute – which exerts undue influence over government.
Under this rubric, public space, landmark buildings, cultural life, and public opinion have been the main victims. What is the need of a municipal park, an alee of trees, an ancient woods in the light of wild capitalism? Under the former Soviet regime the idea of public space was introduced via notions of modernist architecture and urban planning that captured the contemporaneity of the moment during the period of ‘Socialism with a human face.’ Cultural entities, facilities for recreation and sports, and premises for gathering and socializing used to be planned in the centre of the city. Despite their modernist heritage (aesthetic) value, and utility, soviet architecture is now considered to be derelict monuments of the past, memorials to Soviet ideology.
There were those who hated Soviet architecture, hated modernism, longed for the multiplex experience, those who claimed that public squares were a deformation affecting the old (bourgeois) parts of the city.
The full essay can be found at The Drouth.