The Unbody of Construction and the Memory of Placeness: socio-political pattern of Lithuanian history and contemporary cultural issues

Dr. Marija Griniuk, Sami Center for Contemporary Art


This study examines the relationship between the narrative of artwork and the sociopolitical contexts of changing public spaces. The series of artworks titled "Construction," alongside recent pieces such as "Moss," delves into the socio-political fabric of Lithuanian history and contemporary cultural issues. These works intertwine architectural remnants within the urban landscape with the nation's past, as well as explore the profound connection between the human body and its surroundings. Drawing on the reflexive approach of the "Construction" project, I explore the ways in which memory is intertwined with the body. Specifically, I investigate how constructions in public spaces embody memory and how the demolition of these constructs impacts the narrative of presence within absence. By analyzing these dynamics, this study sheds light on the interconnectedness of art, memory, and public space.


Current research connects the socio-political context of Lithuanian history and contemporary issues of Lithuanian culture and historical consciousness with the architectural traces of the cityscape that resemble the painful past. It explores how artworks can interfere with the discourse of structures that echo the Soviet past in independent Lithuania. The Soviet era, lasting from 1940 to 1991 (Vilpišauskas, 2014), has left an indelible mark on several generations, who experienced its oppressions or inherited stories of oppressed relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. As I write this exposition I am located in Sapmi, just 300 km from the Kola Peninsula, where numerous Lithuanian families were deported during the Soviet regime from 1945 to the 1970s, I cannot help but think that those families likely did not share stories of the Aurora Borealis or the beauty of Arctic sunsets. Can one embrace the beauty of Arctic nature in such inhumane conditions?

The notion of placeness embodies resistance, just as the traces of the painful past in contemporary Lithuanian cityscapes resist being forgotten. Over the last decade (2012 to present), I have immersed myself in the "Construction" project, tracing and artistically responding to public resistance towards remaining architectural objects and fragments in the Lithuanian cityscape. My artistic response has taken various forms, including video, photo, performance, printmaking, and painting, produced on-site in Lithuania and shown in Lithuania and abroad in various art events. Currently based in the Arctic North, my response continues through performance and painting, reflecting on my body's connection to the landscape where Lithuanians were deported. I draw on the concepts of "The Unbody," as a presence within absence, "Construction," as the physical construct reminding us of the past, and "Memory," as the embodied narrative. By investigating these concepts, this study sheds light on the interconnectedness of art, memory, and public space.





The key concepts of this study are following. Postmemory, which refers to the recollection formed through intergenerational narratives, becoming ingrained in subsequent generations.The concept of placeness embodies resistance against forgetting, seen through my artistic response to remaining architectural traces in the Lithuanian cityscape over the last decade, drawing on themes of presence, construction, and memory. The Unbody refers to the immaterial dimension of the Construction, which is the architectural construct carrying the aesthetic expression of the time and sociopolitical milieu.



The context of this study is bound to the architecture and sculpture from the 1950s-1980s in the public spaces of Vilnius and Kaunas carried the narrative of the Soviet occupation in Lithuania and the colonial past of Lithuania. I have been studying these public spaces since 2012. During that time, some of them had already been demolished, while others remained. I lived in close proximity to several of these public spaces in Vilnius and Kaunas, which provided me with the opportunity to develop my understanding of the subject gradually. I also have memories of these public spaces from my childhood, dating back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the post-Soviet era, starting with 1991 and stretching over the decades, national pride intertwined with the undefined future (Vilpišauskas, 2014), as well as resistance to the reminders of the painful past. Many of the public spaces reminiscent of the Soviet past were dismantled as soon as Lithuania gained independence in 1991. However, still in the period from 2012 to 2015, many such constructs were either removed or covered by decorative elements, such as copper plates. During the same period of time, I collected photo and video material of such architecture and sculpture in Kaunas and Vilnius, which simultaneously became the motives for my paintings and printmaking artworks, all titled by the same name "Construction" (2012-2016). While conducting this series of artwork, I noticed that more and more constructs, which I was documenting, were demolished and disappearing from the city landscapes. However, the demolished constructs did not demolish the memory of their situatedness in public spaces. Thus, the "Construction" as my artistic research project was an aesthetic call for dialogue, rather than forgetting, reflecting on the process of creation of the artwork in the moment of the public demolishing of the signifiers of the undesirable and unpleasant past of Lithuania. When the object of the past is no longer in its original location, it awakens the narrative about the memory of placeness of this object. In 2022, I relocated myself to the Arctic North, close to the Kola Peninsula, embedded in the multiplicities of Lithuanian narratives of the atrocities of the Soviet regime. My body, as the carrier of those narratives within the retold stories of past generations, interconnected with the landscape, stepping onto the softness of moss, cannot erase the knowledge about those Lithuanians who stepped on the same landscape during the years of deportation. One of my artistic reflections took the form of the video performance entitled "The Moss"(2022). (The artwork can be seen here


I am intrigued by the tactile structure and materiality of moss, along with the tenacity of its roots and its ability to thrive in the harsh climate characterized by perpetual winter darkness and enduring subzero temperatures, often reaching as low as 30 or even 40 degrees Celsius. The resilience and endurance exhibited by these plants mirror the fortitude of the human body in the face of the Arctic climate.

In a metaphorical sense, the moss's structural strength parallels the robustness required to withstand the challenges of the Arctic environment. This environment presents a stark contrast to the familiar conditions of Lithuania and to the experiences of those who were deported from Lithuania to the Arctic regions during the Soviet regime. The stark differences in climate, with its cycles of extended darkness during winters and perpetual daylight during summers, demand a certain resilience from individuals.

Path of the research: short introduction to the method

The method of the study is reflexive research, which builds on my position as the insider of the Lithuanian socio-cultural community and my experience of the studied public spaces. In my reflexive artistic research project, "Construction," I attempt to answer the question of how the Unbody of the Construction interconnects with the Memory of Placeness. In other words, I explore how the absent constructs of the unpleasant past shape the local narratives of the cityscape and how artistic work can impact the dialogue between the present and the past. Additionally, I examine the connection between the human body and the narrative of the cityscape and landscape. I create the artistic outcome in real-time, during political changes in the cityscape, and present the artwork in exhibitions in Kaunas and Vilnius for local audiences. For me, the process of creating "Construction" artworks is as important as the dialogical aspect of meeting the audiences.


During some exhibitions, I facilitate discussions and involve the audience as participants, taking on the role of a moderator. For example, during the "Construction" exhibition at Kaunas Castle in 2016. In 2023, I further explore how the narrative of the painful past, connected to concrete lands, such as the Arctic North, particularly Peninsula Kola, where numerous Lithuanians were deported, can be told through artistic means. I believe that aesthetics can be a way to talk about the unspeakable and be a call for not forgetting but rethinking the past.


Within Construction and Memory

Theoretical background for the concept “Construction” 

This research project has three pillars. Firstly, the historical context of Lithuania colonized by the Soviet regime and many Lithuanian families oppressed within the time from 1940s until 1991. The second pillar is the construct as the physical construct but as well as the signifier of the placeness of the memory. The third pillar is the memory and remembrance and embodiment of those.


The first theoretical pillar contains the study regarding Soviet occupation in the Baltics, particularly Lithuania (Butkus, 2007) and the postcolonial memory imprinted in several generations (Annus, 2016; Griniuk, 2020). There is a discourse within terminology if Lithuania was occupied or colonized (Butkus, 2007; Annus, 2016), anyway in the current research, the term of colonization is used, arguing that unlawful overtake of lands and deportation of people who were the lawful owners of their lands, oppression of culture and language is what makes the content of colonization. My standpoint within this research and art is as follows: my ancestors suffered from the Soviet oppression by losing their land to collective farming as well as the violence by the Soviet regime, and murder by the Soviet occupants of those who fought in the resistance. By creating my art, I stand with all Lithuanian families who suffered from the cruelty of the Soviet regime, as well as those suffering from the current actions of the Russian military regime. Current Lithuanian society holds to the post-colonial memory. The term post-colonial memory builds upon the study by Passerini, Trakilović, and Proglio (2020), where they describe it from the perspective of the current societal issues, reflecting on the colonial past.

The second pillar is the construct, both as a physical structure and as a signifier of the placeness of memory. Placeness is a foundational concept for understanding the nuanced nature of place and its implications and refers to the unique and meaningful attributes of specific locations, highlighting their distinctiveness (Seamon, 2008). The idea for "Construction" goes hand in hand with the idea of the artist "wandering nomadically in the knowledge that new cracks will appear" (Brindley, 2014, p.4), not isolated as an individual, but as a part of an ongoing thought process, generating and creating what might be considered necessary at this very moment in this very geographical location. According to Lazzarato's statement, the flow must be interrupted by a stage on which a new type of meaning can be enacted (2015). This interruption opens up a new mode of temporality, and this new temporality begins a creative process. Thus, artists are placed in a cycle of temporalities that shape their artistic practices. These temporalities are the immediate reflexive responses by the artist in times of change. Everything is temporary, and everything is an element in the ongoing process of the present, shaping the future (M. Lazzarato, 2015).

The architectural constructions and sculptures in Lithuania from the 1950s-1980s were of value in the time of their creation and installation in public spaces, and their authors received awards from cultural institutions. In the time of Lithuania gaining independence and later, in 2012-2015, these earlier valued works of art and architecture became narrators of the painful past. My artworks "Construction" reflexively inscribed through painting and printmaking these constructs that were disappearing from the landscape into the new narrative about their disappearance, demolition. Thus, my artworks became the placeness of memory about these constructs. What is the memory that becomes the narrative? Benjamin's definition of genuine memory must include an image of the person who remembers - you cannot remember further than the existence of your body (1932 in 2005). Memory includes your own image. Narrative is multilayered memories, a collection of different memories without your image. They are the belongings of others collected around one body, one construct.


The third pillar of this research is concerned with memory, remembrance, and embodiment, particularly within the concrete human body. As an artist, I work from the perspective of a Lithuanian and view my performances and artwork through that lens. When discussing colonial issues, constructs, and memory, I speak as the narrator, an embodiment of my Lithuanian heritage. For example, when creating artwork about deportations of Lithuanians to Peninsula Kola while residing in the Arctic North, I carry the story of my ancestors and talk from the perspective of my human body in that landscape.

Hirsch's concept of postmemory (2012) describes the memory built on trans-generational narrations, which becomes embodied in the next generation. This relationship between the "generation after" and the personal, collective, and cultural contentions of those who came before is essential to understanding memory. These stories and experiences are transmitted through anecdotes, recollections, images, and events that one grows up with, and are absorbed so deeply that they seem to become lived and felt moments in their own right, an epigenetic inheritance.

Postmemory is transmitted in intimate settings such as the home or family, and memory is history from below. Collective or cultural memory brings forth the stories and experiences of those who are left out of grand historical narratives, contesting, complicating, and disseminating those narratives and their hegemony. Small stories that are affectively felt and transmitted add up to more textured, more granular, and more inclusive visions of the past. Memory must be supplemented with other sources, such as written, visual, aural, and oral accounts. Memories lived and reanimated in family or group contexts become the bases of group identity and belonging.

According to Kuhn's research (2020), memory is built on the narratives of parents and grandparents, and this complex construction navigates from the deeply personal to the societal. In my interpretation, memory is embodied in the concrete body, similar to how I embody my artwork into the authorship of an artist. Through the artistic action, like the touch of an artist, community and history on behalf of which she speaks make the resistance within the artwork embodied (Lannen, 2020) into one artistic authorship, speaking on behalf of many.

The socio-political context in Lithuania is built on past stories, told from parents and grandparents, to my generation, where we still remember some glimpses of the Soviet regime times. For example, I remember the red scarfs that schoolchildren belonging to pioneers would wear, and then their disappearance as I started first grade in 1991. Younger generations will not remember this, but they will have stories told and retold to them. These stories become part of the memory and something one holds onto as a part of their identity and national belonging. Now, as I am in the Arctic North, I am a Lithuanian who connects the softness of the Arctic moss to the stories about the deportations of Lithuanians by the Soviet regime.

The concept “Construction” 

The theoretical innovation in this study involves intertwining the socio-political context of Lithuania's history, especially its colonial past under the Soviet regime, with key theoretical concepts like "postmemory," "placeness," and "The Unbody" to explore how the interplay between memory, art, and public space contributes to a nuanced understanding of the past and present societal issues. The key aspect of this research is the examination of the role of art in processes of remembering and forgetting. The concept of "Construction" is founded on the aforementioned three pillars intricately intertwined with practice-based artistic knowledge. The artworks not only offer insights into socio-political history and current realities but are also intimately linked with reflexivity and the techniques of artistic printmaking and painting production. The resulting experience for audiences and viewers is a fusion of memory, personal experience, artistic aesthetics, and reflective processes of the artist, all intertwined with the slow, evolving nature of the creative journey spanning over eleven years of project development. Art has the power to evoke emotions, challenge perspectives, and engage with memory in ways that are unique from other forms of communication. As such, it can be a powerful tool in the construction of collective memory and in shaping public discourse. By using artistic means to explore the connections between place, memory, and identity, this research seeks to contribute to a broader understanding of the potential of art to foster dialogue and understanding around difficult histories.


Reflexive artistic research

The method used in this research is reflexive artistic research, which combines reflexive research (Weber, 2013) and artistic research (Jones, 2009) under a single methodological approach. Reflexive research is used for developing meta-theories and interpretive acts and is focused on acknowledging the researcher as a whole "persona-artist-researcher" who is actively and subjectively involved in the choices made during the research project  (Weber, 2003). In this study, my concrete steps involved living in Lithuania and frequently visiting and photographing public places connected to the Soviet time in Lithuania. Part of my interest in these places arose from the disappearance of these sites. I also visited places connected to my family, such as the location of the house where my ancestors lived and where some of my relatives were murdered due to their connection to the Lithuanian resistance against the Soviet regime. Initially, the investigations into the connectedness of narrative and placeness were intuitive and early. In 2012, I started systematic video and photo documentation of the disappearing sites, as well as the performative actions (Griniuk, 2020) connected to some of those sites.

As I revisited these places, my body would touch and connect with them, and I would create painting and printmaking artworks in the studio. This process reactivated the memory by bringing the construction back into the studio environment, creating new memories and visualizations. The objective of the "Construction" project, which is the artistic research, was to embody the Memory of Placeness and to question the possibility of dialogue instead of the desire to forget through aesthetic means. In my interpretation, the specificity of reflexive artistic research is that the artist creates and presents artworks in real-time, changing public places, seeking to engage in an aesthetic dialogue with the audience. This dialogue takes the form of the new artworks, which address the importance of having a dialogue about the past instead of attempting to forget it. The materials for this study were the photo and video material that I captured during my visits to the sites. I created new artworks based on my embodied experience of being in those locations, and the materials were analyzed as artistic research data using reflexive analysis.

In order to facilitate engagement with the audience and promote dialogue around the themes of Memory of Placeness, the artworks created as part of this research were exhibited in a series of public spaces. These exhibitions were intentionally curated to include a diverse range of viewers, from those with personal connections to the sites depicted to those with no prior knowledge of the history being explored. Through these exhibitions, the artworks were able to enter into a larger public discourse and serve as a catalyst for dialogue and reflection. Additionally, feedback from viewers was incorporated into the ongoing process of artistic creation and analysis, further contributing to the reflexive and iterative nature of this research methodology.

The physical construct

I will explain the relation between the Unbody and the Body through Time, Memory, and Construction, and the potential consequences of this relation on the development of the Unbody concept. The Body is a constructed system of abilities and limits, and the Unbody's inseparability from the Body is its limitation. Starting with the triangular shape of the Unbody-The Body-Time, I propose a mirrored relationship between the Unbody, Memory, and Construction. By Construction, I refer to the architectural constructs in a given city, which represent the bodily presence of a particular style and aesthetic and allude directly to the time of their architectural design. Similar to how the Unbody cannot exist without the Body, Memory is shaped by and linked to Construction, while Construction hosts the narrative of Memory.

The Memory and Remembrance

The narrative of narratives is built up on a generational scale, where the story is connected to the construct, receiving extra layers through its narration. The narrative of narratives shapes mainstream cultural attitudes and defines the expected response from the public towards constructs, objects, and acts. Construction has a direct relationship to Memory. Constructs built in Lithuania during the 1950s-1980s carry a visual connection to the aesthetics of that time, and public buildings and elements of the public city area are generally considered undesirable and incompatible with contemporary aesthetics, cultural values, and functional needs. These constructs have a direct link to the memory or the narrative of the period when they were built, and many have been demolished lately for various reasons. Place plays a crucial role, as narratives are tied to concrete cityscape fragments or landscapes. By working with Construction and presenting artworks in Lithuania, I appeal to the viewer's relationship with these constructs and their position on the generational scale of attitudes.

My project 'Construction' is deeply rooted in the specific cultural and historical context of Lithuania, and therefore its significance may be diminished outside of this context. As such, the artwork's impact and value may vary depending on the viewer's familiarity with the history and narratives associated with the cityscape constructs in Lithuania. 


It is also rooted in my personal experiences of place, being born in Kaunas and having my family house in the village of Ilgakiemis. With later connections to Garliava, from my earliest years, I crossed Aleksotas bridge into Kaunas city. The bridge bore Soviet symbolism, including stars on its columns that piqued my curiosity as a child. These symbols later sparked intense media discussions after Lithuania gained independence, leaving a lasting impact. While these symbols are now concealed beneath copper plates, I am aware they still exist.


In the artworks, stories like these can easily fade unless explicitly conveyed through written or performative formats. Therefore, alongside my printmaking and painting production, I have deeply engaged in performance work, where the artwork is narrative-based, for example "Transcorporeal Site and Action" (2023) (The artwork can be seen here )

Any new generation alienates the previous ones with their own genuine memories of Construction. As mentioned, genuine memory includes the image-figure of the person remembering and the image of the act. Thus, the narrative carries a different meaning to the Body and Construction, present or demolished, that is incomplete without the individual's image, their own Body. However, although Memory becomes Narrative/s over time, the variations of individual Narratives do not disappear, even with the demolished Construction. The Memory of a demolished physical Construction is still anchored bodily, becoming the Unbody, with a specific path in neurons shaped by the multilayered experience.

In conclusion, the concept of the Unbody provides a framework for exploring the relationship between memory, time, and physical construction. By examining this relationship, we can gain insights into how our understanding of the past shapes our perception of the present and our expectations for the future. The Unbody challenges us to consider the ways in which physical constructs and cultural narratives influence each other and how our individual experiences and memories are intertwined with broader social and historical contexts. Through art and creative expression, we can explore these themes and engage with them in new and meaningful ways. The Unbody invites us to think critically about the role of memory and construction in shaping our understanding of the world and our place within it.

Singular and repetitive images

The series of artworks titled "Construction" has spanned several years and various mediums, with the primary results being printmaking pieces in lithography and photogravure techniques, as well as paintings. Throughout this process, it was crucial for me to align my work with the technical nuances of each medium. Leveraging the capabilities of photogravure for digital image manipulation, I incorporated fragments of materials collected from public spaces and architecture.


The integration of multiple images to create a single composition served as an extension of this image manipulation. Consequently, the series comprises both individual and recurring images, illustrating the range of my artistic exploration.


The series of artworks "Construction" served as a way to address the aesthetic approach of discussing the possibility of the past constructs, rather than forgetting them. The artworks were created as part of a reflexive artistic research into the Unbody of Construction, as constructs from the past were being demolished from the Lithuanian cityscapes. The artworks were produced in parallel to the process of removing elements of the past aesthetic and political expression on bridges, architecture and sculptures from the period 1950s-1980s in Lithuania. Through painting and printmaking media, these artworks interpreted the Memory of Placeness. It was found that such a local narrative requires a local audience to fully appreciate its significance. When presented in different contexts, these artworks become detached from the context of their creation, and are reduced to mere aesthetic artifacts. The Memory is inextricably linked to the Body, and the Construct is the embodied Memory. Therefore, the absent construct becomes the Unbody, whose presence is strong within its absence.

Based on the discussion presented, it is clear that the relationship between the Unbody, Body, Memory, and Construction is complex and multifaceted. The Unbody is inseparable from the Body and its limitations, and the Memory and Construction are bound to each other in a mirrored relationship. Through the process of artistic research and the creation of the "Construction" series, the Memory of Placeness was explored through painting and printmaking media. It became apparent that local narration needs a local meeting with the audience, as the presentation of these artworks in different contexts detached them from the context of their creation. The findings suggest that the Construct is the embodied Memory and its absence becomes the Unbody, whose presence is still strong. In conclusion, the Unbody, Body, Memory, and Construction are all interconnected, and their relationship shapes our cultural attitudes and expectations towards the physical constructs that make up our surroundings.


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