Interview by Loukia Richards

Metalofonas 2022 exhibition view. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite.

Jurgita Ludavičienė, curator of the Vilnius Biennale of contemporary jewelry Metallophone, talks about Lithuanian jewellery, the group exhibition Memory of a Place and how remembering shapes human destinies, ideas – and jewelry.

LR: What is traditional Lithuanian jewelry and what is its cultural meaning?

JL: Lithuanians have a special connection to amber, which has been considered sacred in a way, and we have legends about its origin. In the first half of the 20th century, amber became part of the national costume and has remained so ever since. However, over time, at the end of the 20th century, it accumulated a symbolic capital that encompassed not only a sacred aura and nationalism, but also a national and mass-produced kitsch. That symbolic capital has become the perfect material for contemporary jewelers to exploit in their own creations.

Metalofonas 2022 exhibition view. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite.

LR: National Archaeological Museum of Athens exhibits document the trade between Copper Age Greece and the Baltic. Even the name Electra/Amber, the daughter of Agamemnon who led the Greeks in the Trojan War, attests to these cultural and commercial ties. How can jewelry establish similar connections between distinctive cultures today?

JL: Indeed, we can look back to the Amber Road that linked the Baltic tribes to the Roman Empire, when cultural influences came to our territories through amber. But when I think about the present, I see that contemporary jewelry artists in all countries are following similar paths – creating very personal, idea-based pieces, trying to express the things they care about, which then move onto the wearers' bodies and carry the message further.

LR: Briefly describe the Lithuanian jewelry scene.

JL: The Biennale started in 2011 as an artists' initiative, with 25 participants. The organizers are currently the Lithuanian National Museum of Art and the Vilnensis Gallery. This is the fourth time that I am responsible for the concept of the Biennale.

Metalofonas 2022 exhibition view (detail). Photo: Gintare Grigenaite.

'Metallophone' in Lithuanian is a metal musical instrument that most of us had as children. But when you break the word down, it also means metal background. I really like this double meaning; it implies to me that when life is going on in Lithuania, when people are doing their daily chores, when children are going to school, there is always metal in the background somewhere.
There is not currently a gallery in Vilnius that exhibits contemporary author jewelry; artists work in their studios and rarely have solo shows, and there is a severe lack of critical discourse in this field. The Metallophone Biennial is therefore the most important event in this field in Lithuania. This year it will be held at the Museum of Applied Arts and Design, a division of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. The museum is prestigious and its acceptance of jewelers shows a serious approach to this field.