Vilnius Light Festival Brings Gediminas Castle Tower to Space

One of the twenty light artists from Lithuania and other European countries participating in the Vilnius Light Festival on 25-28 January is artist Rimas Sakalauskas with his video installation Vilnius 700 – Cosmic Vilnius (Vilnius 700 – Kosmoso Vilnius), honouring the city’s birthday. The installation will take the audience on a visual journey through outer space, featuring some of the capital’s most famous buildings.

Prof. Alfredas Bumblauskas contributed to the development of the idea.

The topic of space, recently gaining increasing interest among scientists and the public, will also appear at the Vilnius Light Festival. The video installation Vilnius 700 – Cosmic Vilnius will be screened in the courtyard of the capital’s Jesuit Gymnasium, illustrating the history of Lithuania and exploring the themes of celestial expanses.

The author of this video installation is Rimas Sakalauskas whose body of work includes video films, installations, art objects, holographic sculpture, and video projections for theatre and music performances. The artist regularly collaborates with stage directors to create video projections for theatre plays by Gintaras Varnas, Oskaras Koršunovas, Artūras Areima, Dalia Ibelhauptaitė, Agnija Šeiko and others, as well as for theatres abroad. In 2010, he was awarded the Sidabrinė Gervė (Silver Crane) for his short film Synchronisation (2009) and the Golden Stage Cross in 2015, 2016 (as part of a creative group) and 2017.

The idea of a cosmic Vilnius came to the author rather suddenly, but it was the historian Prof. Alfredas Bumblauskas who helped refine it to its full potential. It was from him that the artist heard the words engraved on the façade of the Vilnius University Astronomical Observatory, better illuminating the vision of his Cosmic Vilnius: ‘This is Urania’s, go away niggling worries! The paltry Earth is disdained here, here we rise to the stars’.

The quote is by Martynas Počobutas, a famous astronomer, poet, Vilnius University lecturer and head of the Observatory. The Jesuit professors of Vilnius Academic College taught their students to emulate and learn from ancient poets, and they often borrowed a phrase or expression to give it a new meaning, to weave it into their own work, which is also what happened on this occasion.

‘We were gradually working on the concept of Vilnius on the Moon, and it was only when I met with the Professor and heard him say the words inscribed on the façade of the Observatory, that the idea truly came into its own. These words served as the foundation for the concept of the installation. The projection, therefore, looks to the cosmos to try and translate the future of Vilnius within its vastness,’ says Sakalauskas.

Concept Assisted by Artificial Intelligence

Vilnius residents are quite familiar with the genre of projection: Christmas stories have been projected on the walls of the Vilnius Cathedral on several occasions, and the Autumn Equinox saw a projection on one of the banks of the Neris River. This time, however, Sakalauskas believes that the audience will experience an entirely different projection, both in terms of content and delivery.

‘While projections are usually limited to graphic elements, this project will also feature clips from documentaries. The projection will convey the history of Vilnius and its relationship with space, from the founding of the University to the present day. We will also look into the imagined future and explore what the capital of Lithuania may look like 100 years from now. Without sidelining the cosmos, we will highlight Lithuania’s major achievements in this field both during the reign of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and since. We will also introduce parallel, hidden elements into the projection, and the story will be told by two fictional characters. The projection will culminate with a story by Prof. Bumblauskas about the capital and its quest for the expanses of space,’ says the author.

The artist’s projection uses unique spaces to depict iconic symbols of Vilnius. Some of them, hints Sakalauskas, will be transformed with the help of artificial intelligence.

‘Artificial intelligence came into play for this projection with a view to generating utopian images of what some of the city’s symbols would look like in space. One of them is the Gediminas Castle Tower, now rendered on the Moon. This was our way of conveying the idea that Vilnius could exist not only on Earth, but also on another celestial body. When we saw the precision with which artificial intelligence reproduces objects, we decided to continue drawing from it in our own work,’ enthuses the projection artist.

In total, 15 installations and five additional exhibits will feature in this year’s main programme of the Vilnius Light Festival. Vilnius residents will enjoy the colourful illumination of the city’s landmarks, churches, galleries, squares and courtyards.