Žilvinas Kempinas’ plaster mask workshop restored after 27 years in the MO Museum

MO muziejus Inspirations & news
Žilvinas Kempinas | Portretai-fosilijos | MO muziejus

In the last month of winter, the lobby of the MO Museum will become a workshop space where visitors will also be able to take a peek – after 27 years, the New York-based artist Žilvinas Kempinas will continue his project “Portraits-Fossils” here.

From 1-25 February, for five days a week, plaster masks will be cast in workshops and later will become exhibits in a new exhibition in March. This is the first time in the history of the MO Museum that almost all the exhibits will be specially designed and produced in the museum’s premises.

Žilvinas Kempinas | Portretai-fosilijos | MO muziejus
Žilvinas Kempinas | Portretai-fosilijos | MO muziejus

The project “Portraits-Fossils” was first implemented by Kempinas in 1996. It was one of the artist’s last projects in Lithuania before leaving for New York. At the workshop in the Old Town of Vilnius, organised by Kempinas, plaster masks were modelled by friends, colleagues, and associates, who met and were invited for an adventure right there on the street. Most of them are now well-known representatives of theatre, dance, and art world.

According to Kempinas, these gatherings, conversations, and the casting process itself were an essential part of the project, and the masks were the sculptural result. At that time, the artist cast about seventy masks, which were presented in the gallery Jutempus (now Kablys) in the former Railway Workers’ Cultural Centre. Unfortunately, not all of them were destined to survive. Today, four masks are known to have been preserved – three of them have already been on display in the major MO Museum exhibition “The Origin of Species: 1990s DNA” in 2019.

Kempinas had the idea of reviving the “Portraits-Fossils” project in the future as early as 1996, and the discovery of the surviving masks and their presentation in the MO Museum’s exhibition became the impetus for him to go back to this idea. Now, 27 years later, a small bohemian apartment in the Old Town of Vilnius will be replaced by a workshop in an art institution – the MO Museum, where visitors will have a unique opportunity to see the creative process with their own eyes. The reconstructed workshop will be used to cast plaster masks of the people who took part in the project in the past, as well as their children, old and new associates of Kempinas.

Žilvinas Kempinas | Rūšių atsiradimas. 90-ųjų DNR | MO muziejus

After almost three decades, the revival of the project is not an attempt to revisit or recreate the passage of time, but rather a way to witness and commemorate change. The genre of the portrait (or self-portrait), which was dismissed by creators in the 1990s, has now become a part of everyone’s daily routine: the thousands of selfies in the repositories of smartphone cameras create an ever-changing self-image that is subject to manipulation. Kempinas’ plaster casts, on the other hand, offer a glimpse of the authentic image, the true self.

“I was 27 at the time, in 1996, which means that my whole life was contained in that elapsed time. Since then, the same number of years have passed. How have those years changed our minds, our faces, our behaviour? Where will we be, what will we be doing, after this many more years? How many portraits-fossils will reach the year 2050? These and many more questions arise from this project, which is inherently experimental, open to individual experiences, interpretations and all possible contingencies,” says Kempinas.

The portraits-fossils created at the MO Museum in February will continue their journey in the spaces of the MO Museum, with an exhibition in the Small Hall from 2 March. It will feature not only the masks cast during the 1996 and this year’s workshops, but also documentation of the process itself. The process of casting masks, captured 27 years ago by director Gintas Smilga’s video camera, will be complemented by new documentary footage from the current workshop.

Žilvinas Kempinas | Rūšių atsiradimas. 90-ųjų DNR | MO muziejus

Visitors of the MO Museum will have the opportunity to take a closer look at the creative process by purchasing a ticket – a specially constructed workshop space will allow them to watch the casting of the masks without disturbing the artist.

Kempinas’s Mask Workshop in the MO Museum lobby is open 1-25 February 15:00-20:00. On Tuesdays and Sundays the workshop is closed. More about the workshop: https://mo.lt/en/ivykiai/zilvinas-kempinas-workshop/

Kempinas’s exhibition “Portraits-Fossils 2023” will be open in the Small Hall from 2 March. More about the exhibition: https://mo.lt/en/ivykiai/portraits-fossils/

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