“I still have a hope that mass production objects will be replaced by high quality design products in the near future, and that people will be more open for a discussion about new materials, technologies, and a more sustainable way of living.“
– Audronė Drungilaitė, curator of the Lithuanian collection, “Living Above the Water”
“Living Above the Water” is part of Adorno London 2021, presented during London Design Festival, 18-26 September. Visit the collection as part of Tactile Baltics, an exhibition hosted at Dray Walk Gallery – Dray Walk, off Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL – 18 September to 3 October 2021, M-F: 10.00-18.30 / S-S: 10.00-17.00. “Living Above the Water” is kindly supported by Lithuanian Culture Institute, Lithuanian Design Forum, and Lithuanian Council for Culture.
Where there once existed sprawling fields, there is now only a swamp. The water has risen, forcing those who inhabit this place to bend to nature’s will. A concrete structure rests just above the water, providing land where land no longer exists. The uniquely shaped and colourful decor gives a view into this new future; waste water dyed linen, reused sports equipment, and a multi-layered ceramic lamp, among others reflect on the needs of this captured moment in time. A staircase provides a passage to higher ground, to similar structures that have been built higher and higher, detached from the swamp below. Soon, however, they might find themselves hovering above the water once more. Lush, green hills provide a foundation on which to build upwards, offering at least a temporary sense of security.
The Lithuanian collection, “Living Above the Water”, curated by Audronė Drungilaitė, inspects a range of predicted future values, tied together and illustrated by the work of six forward-thinking designers. Topics such as upcycling, as seen in the reuse of waste waters as natural dye in Agnė Kučerenkaitė’s “Lutetia Rug”; zero-waste, represented in the lack of packaging required to transport the “shippingshade” by Martynas Kazimierėnas; and overconsumption, addressed by Mantas Lesauskas’ “Recamier Daybed”, which considers the ethical dilemma of using a byproduct of the meat industry – sheepskin. As a whole, the Lithuanian collection is robust and multidimensional, not shying away from tackling multiple, salient issues that we will face time and again as we move toward the future.
Living Above the Water
What are the main themes present in “Living Above the Water”?
The Lithuanian collection is a mix of projects, where each reflects a different topic connected with predicted future values – sustainability, overconsumption, the zero-waste movement, upcycling, new habits, and nostalgia.
Zero-waste. “Pendant Lamp” by Martynas Kazimierėnas is both the product and the package, so there is no need to wrap or pack it as the lamp itself collects all the scratches, stickers, and travel history.
Overconsumption. “Recamier” Daybed by Mantas Lesauskas is a good start for a discussion about the fur industry. Sheepskin is a by-product of the meat industry; it is long lasting and biodegradable. Synthetic sheepskins and other man-made materials are petroleum-based and can take up to three times as much energy to produce as real sheepskin.
New habits. “Sports at Home” by Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė is a creative result of the pandemic times: used basketball balls are upcycled into the rug/wall decoration. Basketball is the main religion in Lithuania and this rug will definitely last for a few generations. It can survive all of the drink spills that will happen while jumping from the sofa during an intense match.
Nostalgia. “Pink Console” by Vytautas Gečas is inspired by the complex aesthetics of the rococo period, the historical décor correlates with contemporary materials such glass fibre and aluminium and it includes features such as a structural system for complex shapes.
Upcycling. “Lutetia” Rug by Agnė Kučerenkaitė was created using yarns that were coloured using upcycled textile dyes that originate from botanical and metal waste and their by-products.
Longevity. “Layers” Stoneware Lamp by Evelina Kudabaitė showcases a long lifecycle product in an unusual form.
What is the significance of the Lithuanian swamp environment that your collection is presented in?
Lithuania is composed mostly of flat land. We don’t have large mountains, just many lakes and swamps. There is a one wet region in Lithuania – Rusnė – where people deal with yearly floods and have learned to adapt to them. Locals simply gained a habit of not establishing too strong of a connection with physical objects, because the water can take them at any moment. These people are used to always keeping food reserves and can stay at home without electricity for days, playing table games or sharing stories with their family members – as was done thousands of years ago. Such a way of living seemed a bit like the pandemic times.
How would you describe the contemporary design scene in Lithuania?
The contemporary Lithuanian design scene is quite conservative, but it is beginning to become more and more vibrant. Lithuania did not have a very strong period of Art Deco; owning unique, classy, fancy things did not correlate with the ideology of the Soviet Era; high quality handmade furniture pieces were simply burned on the streets, so we don’t find many collectable design objects from the past. Sometimes, I see that Lithuanian designers don’t feel very confident compared to designers from countries with stronger design traditions. Lithuanians care too much about what others will think about an object. Will people believe it is worth the price? What if others find it too simple? What if the product looks too easy to make? What if the object will look uncomfortable or be too provocative?
“Living Above the Water” reflects on the issue of climate change and how the larger design industry has affected/affects the planet. What approaches are contemporary designers in Lithuania using to challenge or change these effects for a better future?
Design is a wonderful platform to present circular economic benefits for a wider audience, to start a discussion with the industry and with politicians. Lithuania has never been rich to the point that people could afford to purchase items in large quantities. Many designers – regardless of if they are working in interior, product, or graphic design – are following current trends and attempting to create timeless designs that are ethical, aesthetic, functional, and long-lasting. Step by step, industrial companies are finding their design path, thanks to these stubborn and picky designers!
Last year’s Lithuanian collection, “Race with Nature”, similarly explored the relationship between humanity and nature. Why do you think it is important to explore this relationship specifically through design?
Design objects are the result of human activity and have a strong impact on nature. Creating new objects without a sense of belonging might be very harmful for future generations, so it’s very important not to lose a connection with the environment. Moreover, design is a wonderful tool to raise awareness of different issues nowadays.
How do the pieces in your collection relate to the theme of Adorno London 2021, “Designing Futures”?
This year’s ADORNO theme is all about learning from the past and predicting the future. “Living Above the Water” might become a more and more common topic if water levels continue to rise at their current pace due to global warming. The [virtual] environment is quite futuristic itself, while the objects reflect current trends that are strongly connected with humanities impact [on the earth] for the future generations. I still have hope that mass produced objects will be replaced with high-quality design products in the near future and that people will be more open to discussions about new materials, technologies, and a more sustainable way of life.
What do you think the future has in store for contemporary design in Lithuania?
I have a feeling that the new generation of designers is becoming braver every year. The economy is improving compared to where it was decades ago. Due to this, designers have more freedom and larger budgets to buy more unusual materials, use fancier techniques, and have a chance to be involved in less commercial projects, which causes a boom in collectable design pieces starting from the academy of arts and ending with professionals. Even art galleries are finding collectable design more interesting and that looks very promising!
Meet Audronė Drungilaitė, curator of “Living Above the Water”
Audrone Drungilaite is a Creative Director at EMKO – a place where simply smart design meets its seekers and creators. She’s a former Executive Director of the Lithuanian Design Forum which is a non-governmental design promotion organization bridging designers with the industry. Audrone had been responsible for the management of Design Week Lithuania, the biggest design festival in the Baltics happening from 2006 in six cities at the same time. A graduate of Vilnius Academy of Arts with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design and a Master’s in Cultural Management and Policy, Audrone works there as a visiting lecturer. She is an enthusiastic promoter of Lithuanian design around the world, chairs a few boards, and sometimes curates Lithuanian design exhibitions abroad.
Can you give a bit of insight into your approach to curating this collection?
As the 2020 collection, “Race with Nature”, was quite organic – featuring sandy dunes and natural colours – this year, my goal was to present a more futuristic view (metal, rubber, glass fibre), questioning how the future nature, interiors, and design scene might look like. The multi-level concrete structure invites us to rethink the past, present, and future. The elevation symbolises a connection between human actions and consequences that have a massive impact on the future. Will future generations have a chance to see glaciers? Will they live without drastic temperature changes and the catastrophes that follow? I believe we still have a chance to look back, learn from the past, and make a better future.
If the viewers of “Living Above the Water” could take one concept or piece of information away from it, what would you want that to be and why?
Recycling is not the only way to create a more sustainable future. Collectable design pieces that don’t need extra packaging for transportation, are made from upcycled materials, or are by-products have not only a high aesthetic value and good stories behind them, but will also be more and more prominent in the future. Why not invest now?
“Living Above the Water” is kindly supported by: