Pro-test lab a space and archive of various protest forms against the corporate privatization of public space; and a case study of destruction of Lietuva – a cinema theater – the largest pavilion type building of soviet modernist architecture in Lithuania / 2005 – ongoing
project website: www.vilma.cc/LIETUVA
Since independence in 1991 Lithuania has been caught in an insane 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 a mad 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 economic development is good for everyone. Convince them that Capital is King. Remind the public that making Lithuania look like the pale shade of a Western European city is the best way to scrub the Soviet past: and make the country attractive to even more investment and development.
During Soviet times cinema played an important role in public cultural life and big movie theatres were built in central locations around Lithuanian cities. The theatres filled a crucial role as places for public meetings and gatherings. After independence, as Soviet structures rapidly crumbled in a wholesale fashion, the cinemas as shells became centers of attraction for the real estate market. Private enterprise managed in short time to take over and destroy almost every cinema in Vilnius, turning them into apartments and supermarkets.
More than 15 cinema theatres disappeared including such urban landmarks as Ausra (Dawn), Zvaigzde (Star), Spalis (October), Pionierius (Pioneer), Pergale (Victory), Tevyne (Motherland), Kronika (Newsreel), Aidas (Echo), Planeta (Planet), Neris, Vingis, Lazdynai, Vilnius, Maskva (Moscow), and LIETUVA (Lithuania). In poor replacement, and mirroring the tragedy of cities all over the world, two 2 multiplex cinema monsters were constructed: the suburban Coca Cola Plaza and exurban Akropolis Cinemas. The latter, that is part of Lithuania’s largest shopping mall, is representative of the mallification of Lithuania. With the multiplexes came multiplex Hollywood movies: so the demolition of cinematic space encoded a demolition of independent film programming.
Now in 2005 there is only one cinema standing: LIETUVA. And a battle is on to save it. Cinema Lietuva was built in 1965 and significantly is the largest cinema in Lithuania with more than 1000 seats and a screen size of 200 square meters (offering an ideal image size). It is the home of the Vilnius Film Festival and as such has played an important role in the imaginative life of a whole generation of Vilnius people. The title of the enterprise “Lietuva” (Lithuania) is also an important signifier of national identity, as its name never bore any Soviet overtones (ie. wasn’t called the Cinema of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania). To say to somebody “let’s meet at Lietuva” really meant something during the Soviet occupation.
In 2002, the Vilnius Municipal authorities quietly sold the cinema to private property developers; with a caveat that it had to operate as a cinema for a three-year period. That term is ending on 1 July 2005 and a protest to save the cinema has begun.
The former ticket office (250 square meters) at the Cinema Lietuva is being squatted and has been converted into a PRO-TEST LAB. PRO-TEST LAB is constructed as a spatial device to register the scenario of protest and generate an action. The logic of the spatial device refers to the Brothers Lumiere early model of the cinema camera that performed a twofold function both recording and projecting the action.
PRO-TEST LAB is generating and archiving all available forms of protest against the situation of the Cinema Lietuva focusing on the discourse of public space vs corporate privatization. The protest is aimed at reclaiming the now privatized space.
PRO-TEST LAB is testing the understanding of possible and/or impossible forms of protest. It is inviting participation in, and facilitating, protest from groups which as yet are unidentified and are searching for ways of making their opinions heard: and the particular activity that would best support their protest. PRO-TEST LAB is actively advertising itself as a space in which anti-establishment, or at least anti-hegemonic, opinion can flourish. The officers of the PRO-TEST LAB, and the technical support structure, will help give form to these opinions. PRO-TEST LAB will help develop a protest scenario. It is a production house of protest.
PRO-TEST LAB principally employs media apparatus to test whether protest is or is not possible. It turns the space of the cinema into a production center rather than just a receptor: in an attempt to produce meaning rather than just receive it. It turns the praxis of passive audience dynamics on its head—and in so doing invites the question: why is a Lithuanian audience passive? Why aren’t they protesting? The question is more general than the one addressed to the plight of Cinema Lietuva.
PRO-TEST LAB uses established platforms and personalities to encourage audiences to take over the reins and activate their own ideas. Well known performance artists, musicians, cultural producers and theorists, make presentations that refer to a lack of motivation of political will and the will-to-protest, reflecting various issues ranging from monuments, urban development, lifestyle, consumerism, and the dominance of labels.
PRO-TEST LAB addresses the citizens with a request to propose a possible scenario of the protest. The form of scenario is open: audio or video interview, texts, schemes, posters, performances or other expressions that represent wishes of the citizens. PRO-TEST LAB doesn’t discriminate against the development of scenarios that seem impossible; the concept is perfect protest content.
The citizens joining the PRO-TEST LAB are from different communities and social groups, young and old, students and workers, intellectuals and pensioners. The space is programmed and discussed through an Internet mailing-list forum at: firstname.lastname@example.org To date, it has been joined by over 150 people, including: architecture students, green party activists, vegans, anarchists, musicians, students from TV and cinema school, animators, film world people, theater students, social democrat party, community leaders, casual passers by and regular hangout goers. Their common desire is to cooperate in staging, performing and archiving pro-test campaigns that have congregated around the mailing-list community.
In March 2005 the former Lietuva ticket office in Vilnius was squatted and converted into a pro-test lab inviting people to propose different protest scenarios; to both inspire action and make it happen. Originally a case study of the destruction of the Lietuva movie theatre – the largest Soviet modernist pavilion-type building in Lithuania – it has developed into a space and an archive of various forms of protest (and legal proceedings) against the corporate privatisation of public space.
The pro-test lab addressed issues of collective production and participation, aiming to create a community that would activate people’s cultural and political imagination. The citizens of Vilnius who have joined the pro-test lab come from different, sometimes even antagonistic, communities and social groups – young and old, students and pensioners, intellectuals and workers – but all trying to imagine a positive kind of protest. With a bit of dash, turning “pro” and “test” into action, they have constructed a new identity for the place, as well as creating a site for testing the potential of protest.
The pro-test lab archive is an art project that organises a collection of images and props, observing the relationships they produce with the act of protest. The archive maps attempts to stage an autonomous platform for action through art projects that can penetrate reality through political acts. This develops both inside and outside the art system by simultaneously considering the tension and synergy that such a relationship produces.VA