Art

Inside the Indoor Beach Opera That’s the Talk of the Venice Biennale

Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

By Friday afternoon of the Venice Biennale’s opening week, word had spread that the most impressive national pavilion in the city was not in the Giardini, nor the Arsenale, but on a quiet street deep in the Castello neighborhood. The Lithuanian Pavilion began attracting droves of visitors keen to see the Instagram sensation that is best described as an indoor beach opera.
Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

The Lithuanian Pavilion was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion prize on Saturday. But even before that, two-hour-long queues were forming; by Sunday morning, in the rain, rumors put the wait at twice that. The piece, called Sun & Sea (Marina) (2019), was created by a trio of highly creative women: filmmaker and theater director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė; writer, poet, and playwright Vaiva Grainytė; and artist, musician, and composer . From within Venice’s Marina Militare, the opera’s set is a faux beach, complete with lounge chairs, inflatables, and sand. A troupe of two-dozen performers from Lithuania and Italy sing sweetly and harmoniously, enacting dark humor that reflects on the decaying Earth, through the guise of a lazy, frolicsome beach day.
Sun & Sea (Marina) was originally shown in Lithuanian at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius in 2017. It was rewritten in English for the Biennale. The performance was ongoing throughout the Biennale’s opening week, and will now be on view on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through the rest of the exhibition.
Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

This past Saturday, as afternoon turned to evening, I waited in a queue for 90 minutes to see Sun & Sea (Marina). When I finally got inside the large brick building, I was hit by the balmy heat of the space. Then I climbed the stairs to a balcony, the viewing platform, where some 70 people huddled around bannisters, looking down. Below, the beach was surreal. We watched as the swimsuit-clad performers lounged and cavorted across the sand, their angelic voices filling the room.
In one corner, four small children played tug-of-war; toward the center, a pair of identical twins, with matching pigtails and mint-green bikinis, sunned side by side; elsewhere an elderly couple napped and did crosswords. Others, from single men to young couples, sipped on water bottles, played frisbee, knitted, checked their phones, ate salad. There were even two well-behaved dogs. The scene could take place at any beach, lending a sense of universality to the scene. That universality is furthered through the libretto.
Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

Installation view of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė, “Sun & Sea (Marina),” 2019, for the Lithuania Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019. Photo © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of Miles Evans PR.

The performers took turns on arias and joined together for harmonies to reflect on causes and effects of climate change. They sing grievances about the blistering sun, unusual weather patterns, the polluted ocean. They wistfully describe a dangerous tide causing a man to drown, the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, and the carbon footprint of bananas.
Within the context of the Biennale, where videos addressing climate change and other pressing issues of the moment are on full view, the live performance resonates loudly. Beyond being visually and aurally stunning, the piece poses an urgent warning. The beach, the warm, sunny place we associate with joy and freedom, could one day be too dangerous to host human life. Instead, we might have to seek out an artificial beach, not unlike this very one.
Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Lead Editor, Contemporary Art and Creativity.