by Aoife Donnellan // Aug. 6, 2021
London-based curator Lucia Pietroiusti’s work resides at the intersection of art and ecology, with a focus on creating work outside of the exhibition format. She is currently the Curator of General Ecology at Serpentine, London. Pietroiusti recently curated the operatic performance piece ‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’ by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė for the Lithuanian pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. ‘Sun & Sea’ toured to E-WERK Luckenwalde in July 2021 for a two-day performance of the work in a 1928 Bauhaus swimming pool adjacent to the site.
‘Sun & Sea’ is a combination of architecture, performance, music and spectacle. Beachgoers lounge on sand in the disused swimming pool, singing operatic tales of everything from summer holiday plans to the impending climate disaster. The climate crisis is the central message of the work both on and offstage. The performance was carbon neutral and powered entirely by renewable electricity. Seventy-five tonnes of local sand was displaced to fill the Stadtbad and was returned to its original location after the performance. The work connects interpersonal moments and realisations about travel and life with the effects of climate change.
Pietroiusti is also the guest curator of ‘POWER NIGHT: Being Mothers’ at E-WERK Luckenwalde 2021, beginning this coming September and running until May 2022. ‘POWER NIGHT’ began in 2019 when the power was switched back on for the first time in the former brown-coal power station. This year’s edition of ‘POWER NIGHT’ will be a cumulative exhibition unfolding across nine months rather than a single night, with the intention of advocating for slow curating. The topic of ‘Being Mothers’ arose from Pietroiusti’s reflections on environmental care, repair and endurance, in relation to human activities as well as nature. The exhibition series will feature performance work, film, installations and offerings by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen, Cooking Sections, Karrabing Film Collective, Isabel Lewis & Sissel Tolaas, Tabita Rezaire and Himali Singh Soin. The exhibition series begins with an immersive film installation by Karrabing Film Collective, ‘The Family (A Zombie Movie)’. Pietroiusti will also be one of the curators of the 2021 Shanghai Biennale alongside Marina Otero Verzier, Filipa Ramos, You Mi and Andrés Jaque.
Aoife Donnellan: E-WERK Luckenwalde has a number of environmental qualities that compliment a performance of ‘Sun & Sea’. How important is the carbon neutral element of this particular performance? What does this location add to the work?
Lucia Pietroiusti: Carbon neutrality, regenerative or reparative actions: these are avenues that we aspire to with the tour of ‘Sun & Sea,’ and ones that we discuss with every inviting institution. There are many ways of achieving a positive effect catalysed by the opera-performance, beyond the notion of mobilising hearts and souls towards climate action. The very principles by which E-Werk Luckenwalde exists and functions are completely attuned with the spirit of the performance, so the carbon neutrality of this presentation could only add to the work. As for the location, two years ago, when we presented the piece in Venice, we were already looking for an empty swimming pool. The Ballardian, post-apocalyptic effect of a stage at the bottom of a pool was very powerful in our minds. So it’s the realisation of a long-standing dream to have been able to see it in the Stadtbad, and indeed the feel was every bit as catastrophic as we imagined.
AD: ‘Sun & Sea’ approaches the idea of the end of the world with a peaceful distraction. How has the pandemic affected your approach to the work?
LP: From a practical point of view, the pandemic affected the tour of the work, certainly. As far as the concept goes, the work has not changed since its presentation at Venice, but I think from an audience member’s point of view, another traumatic break has been added to the baggage we walk into the performance with. There is even more of a dissonance between that easy, lazy vibe on stage and the things that come up, for us, internally.
AD: The work offers audiences a playful and moving shared imagined space. How important is the element of play and improvisation in the work?
LP: It’s interesting to think of it as “improvisation”! I have never thought of it like that. This is partly because the stage directions are very specific on some things, but actually very loose and free on most others. And the cast members, kids, dogs, volunteers, everyone who joins the beach are simply invited to do what they would normally do on a beach. Having had some experience of being on this stage over the years, often with my son, I have felt this, too: you forget very quickly that there are people watching from above. And the children don’t really find it strange at all; for my son, who was two and a half when we first presented the work in Venice, and is now nearing five, I think he thinks there are two different kinds of beaches in the world: the one where there’s no water and people sing, and the other one!
AD: You are going to be the international guest curator for ‘Power Night’ 2021 at E-WERK Luckenwalde, as well. How will your ecological background inform the program?
LP: Partly because of the pandemic, we decided to extend the programme, which will begin in mid-September with a series of installations and will then manifest some performative interventions between September and May 2022, and a finissage of performance in May. So, really, we are referring to it as “Power Nights” (plural) and we’ve given it a subtitle, ‘Being Mothers.’ Far from an essentialist concept around human motherhood, ‘Being Mothers’ brings together a series of larger, more-than-human reflections on environmental care, fertility, fertilisation, Earth and land. Primarily, this emerges out of the conversations with the artists involved, trying to sense into what threads ran throughout the practices and concerns. It also emerges from the research emerging from ‘The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish: The Understory of the Understory,’ which I co-curated with Filipa Ramos in December 2020, and that thought of land, earth, soil, dirt and ground in a more-than-human context.