Italians, reading walls of Vilnius

Writing on walls – vandalism or art? Walls – private or ours? These kinds of questions are brought up by Italian theater company Ateliersi, which is interested in an unusual object – writings on the city walls. A team of musician, director and dramaturge arrived from Bologna to Vilnius and together with a Lithuanian actress Monika Poderytė researched Vilnius wall writings. While taking part in the Arts Printing House international residency program Print Art On Stage, artists made wall writings into poetry and presented it to the audience together with music. We talked with Ateliersi art director Andrea Mochi Sismondi about the results of their creative research.

How did you start working with wall writings and project Urban Spray Lexicon?
Florenza and I started this with the analysis of wall writings of several different countries. We wanted to explore not only the present wall writings, but the ones from the past ages as well. So we started with the wall writings that appeared in France during the student’s protests of 1968. Then we analyzed writings from the 1977 protests in our hometown Bologna. We collected both historic and present wall writings and started thinking how to put it all to lines of a poem. We started working with musicians and dramaturges and began to look deeper into the connection of public and private spaces that are connected by this public skin of city walls that is tattooed with these wall writings. We decided to look deeper into that moment, that one second when a person decides to go to the street and write what he thinks. In that little moment he feels so full, so overfilled with the feeling or ideas that he cannot take it anymore and must do something drastic – write on walls.

How do you collect all these writings that are scattered in a big city?
We got the old writings form various books and photography albums. At first we started to collect the present wall writings by ourselves by taking pictures of them, but when our friends and colleagues found out about our project, they started sending us a lot of the pictures that they took do that really facilitated our work.

Wall writings usually are considered as vandalism. How do you feel about them?
This will be a strange question, but who can say when vandalism becomes art? Art is a market so when someone decides that something is art, they present it as art. We are focused on wall writings, not on graffiti or other graphics. We love wall writings even though they make us angry sometimes like sports or political writings, but it is still interesting, because we see it as a way of street being lived as a public place. A wall can be an external part of the building so if I am the owner of that building – for me the wall its private, but when I go out to the street, I can say that I am a city user and that walls are in the space in which we live so it belongs to everyone. So we cannot consider wall writings a 100 percent vandalism.

You didn’t have much time in Vilnius. How did your work go?
We only had a few days in Vilnius, but it was very interesting. We noticed that you can find more wall writings here in Vilnius at the city center, ant the old town, rather than in suburbs. This shows that people consider city center more of a public and common space, that center is for living and suburbs is for sleeping. It is different than what happens in Italy. Another reason is provocation – your writing will talked about more if it’s written on the UNESCO building than somewhere in the ‘sleeping’ district.

Did you notice any mutual theme of Vilnius wall writings?
We found a lot of philosophical and existential wall writings in Vilnius. Also a lot of peculiar, ironic writings. But most of them seemed to be questioning the meaning of life. So Vilnius wall wittings in general ask what is the meaning of people here. If compare to Italy, there we have way more political writings supporting some party or opposing some party. There is not that much of this kind of writings on Vilnius. Philosophical and auto reflective writings take more space here. Also we noticed some wall writings that encourage dialogue and even give some answers to choose for the written question. A pretty unusual thing for us was repetitive phrases - we saw “Vilnius full of space” a few times. I think it’s a sign of some sort of a movement.

You mentioned you have done this project in other countries. What kind of writings did you notice there? What differences can you see between the countries?
We are working on the same project in Milan and Marcel. The writings there are more direct. Lots of writings there are a form of some kind of protest – sayings against the politicians or the police. We also see a lot of simple nametags like “Marcus was here”. There the writings are more instant, from the instant emotion. In Vilnius they are more thought of - we were even joking that it’s very cold here so you have a lot of time to think before going out to the cold street.