Artists for the Earth

A beach opera about climate change at the Venice Biennale

EDN Artists for the Earthtm Spotlight: Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte, and Lina Lapelyte. Although it means standing in a long line for hours in the Castello neighborhood of Venice, thousands of people patiently wait to see the sensation of the 58th Annual Biennale at the Lithuanian Pavilion, the opera entitled Sun & Sea (Marina). With 90 installations competing in 2019, the Pavilion won the prestigious and coveted Golden Lion Prize for best national participation. Described as an “in-door opera”, Sun & Sea (Marina) is the conception of 3 women artists who have known and worked with each other in Lithuania for years: theatre director Rugile Barzdziukaite, playwright Vaiva Grainyte, and composer Lina Lapelyte. Sun & Sea (Marina) takes place on a faux beach with roughly 20 performers clad in bathing costumes. The set features lounge chairs, blankets and inflatables with children playing, dogs barking, and beachgoers of all ages singly or in couples behaving naturally as they would on a seaside holiday. They sun themselves, sip from bottled water, play frisbee, knit, read, talk on phones and eat as they rest on top of a virtual beach made of tons of imported sand from Lithuania. Visitors to the installation climb stairs to a mezzanine gallery where they look down on the beach scene below. As they watch, the assembled performers sing and the opera unfolds. At first, the lyrics express the characters’ individual preoccupations with their lives – their job, a vacation, an ex-spouse – or about the petty inconveniences that annoy them – sunburn, running out of their water, trash left on the beach. But as the opera proceeds, the words reflect ever more emphatically and plaintively their underlying anxiety. The libretto shifts, giving way to the beachgoers’ nagging fears about the frightening changes in the environment they have witnessed and its effects: the overbearing heat, pollution, unnatural weather patterns, unhealthy tides, the death of the Great Barrier Reef, extinctions. The light music of the performance piece and the scenario complete with sound effects of waves and seagulls paint a lazy, idyllic day at the beach. But the warnings on the beach about the rip tides and undertows are about bigger dangers, laziness is a metaphor for inaction, and to the degree the opera reflects what is universal and normal, it is also powerfully disturbing. In a quiet, beautiful way it resonates loudly about the casual, myopic carelessness of man. Whereas the beach is a place where human beings experience comfort, relaxation and joyful pleasures, it may one day be too hot and too polluted to enjoy. Photograph above: © Andrej Vasilenko Sun & Sea (Marina), opera-performance, Biennale Arte 2019, Venice.