an artistic inquiry into unresolved historical debates and cultural diplomacy

Villa Lituania is an artistic inquiry into unresolved historical debates behind the occupied territory through a series of public interventions, featuring a pigeon race, the development of pavilion architecture, and a poetic video archive of traumatic encounters and acts of disobedience.

Invited to represent Lithuania in Venice Biennale (in 2007) Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas conceived this work to engage the spatial politics of colonization investigated within an anarchitectural project that is reclaiming diplomacy for the public interest associated with the occupied territory. The project borrows its title from “Villa Lituania” – the former Lithuanian Embassy in Rome – generating new discussions about its predicament, the traumatic history of colonization, and the implications they continuously produce for the current socio-political situation.

The project was prompted by the fact that Lithuania, along with other formerly colonized countries, does not have a presence on the map of turn-of-the-century geopolitics that is the Giardini, the traditional site of the Venice Biennale, where mainly Western countries have had pavilions for national art exhibitions since the biennale started in 1895. Thus Villa Lituania was a proposal for a pavilion in flight. As a way to poetically reclaim colonized space, the project connected the absence of national representation in the Giardini with Villa Lituania, which, as a result of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, was given by the Italian fascists to the Soviets in 1940. It remains Lithuania’s last occupied territory.

A piece of artistic diplomacy, the Urbonases’s project connected pigeon fanciers in Lithuania, Russia, Poland, and Italy in an international pigeon race that awarded a Villa Lituania trophy as the prize. After 1,200 pigeons were dispatched from Venice to different countries and regions, the model of the villa was installed as a pigeon loft and adorned with posters, trophy models, and other paraphernalia of the race.

After sixteen years of flight the Villa Lituania returns to Rome in 2024 for a launch of the year of diplomacy dedicated to Lozoraitis family. Kazys Lozoraitis, the ambassador in exile, shares his story of civil disobedience and resistance to Soviet occupation in the film featured in Villa Lituania installed in Sala delle Colonne at the Museo delle Civiltà. Situated in the center of E.U.R., area of Rome developed during fascist era, the Museo delle Civiltà is the stage where Villa Lituania engages the audience with the decolonization effort. As Matteo Lucchetti, the exhibition curator says, “The Villa Lituania installation… brings witness to the art’s power of diplomacy in mediating complex conflicts and legacies, here, through the creation of an interspecies embassy that offers an artist’s hypothesis of cultural reparation. The exhibition itself embodies the homecoming spirit innate to carrier pigeons, finally bringing the pigeon loft imagined by the artists to Rome, just footsteps from “La Nuvola” Convention Hall and a few kilometers from where Villa Lituania still stands at Via Nomentana 116.”

The project connects architects, municipal bureaucrats, diplomats, fashion designers, and pigeon fanciers to render public discursiveness that is currently divorced from contemporary politics and a sense of commons in general. In this project artists examine the strategies of negotiations between spaces (both private and public), methodologies of reversing already existing perspectives, and tactics for invading the spatial arrangements of the occupied territory.

According to Andrea Viliani, the director of the Museo delle Civiltà, “In the installation’s multiple junctures and layers, it takes responsibility for a historical reconstruction that by also welcoming the possibilities inherent in interspecies dialogue between birds and humans transforms the Villa into an entity in movement between nature and culture, a matrix of a renewed freedom that arises from the possibility of inhabiting spaces and times in ways other than those conveyed by official History in order to bring its own version of History to life outside its original (walls) vicissitudes.”

“Villa Lituania holds high significance not only for Lithuania and its role in the nation’s story but also in the events the world has witnessed in the Russian aggression against Ukraine in February, 2022.” – Daina Lozoraitis

Villa Lituania was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania in 2007 for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 52nd Biennale di Venezia. The project was awarded the jury’s special mention for “an insightful and subtly humorous investigation into the notion of the pavilion and the meaning of national identity, engaging the spectator with a compelling narrative.”

Villa Lituania was featured at ARCOS museum Italy (2007), MACBA museum Barcelona (2008), MO museum in Vilnius (2019), and published in The Global Work of Art (The University of Chicago Press) and in the Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern. Europe: A Critical Anthology (MoMA). It is included in the collection of MO Museum in Lithuania and at FRAC – Nord-Pas de Calais in Dunkerque.

Villa Lituania, Museo delle Civiltà, Rome, 2023-2024

General supervision: Andrea Viliani

Curator: Matteo Lucchetti

RUP: Gaia Delpino

Layout design: Jonas Žukauskas, Dolores Lettieri

Editorial coordinator: Vittoria Pavesi

Graphic design: Andrea Pizzalis

Audio-video consultant: Edoardo Pietrogrande

Installation: Antanas Gerlikas, Articolarte

Traslations: Craig Allen

Photo: Cristina Crippa, Nomeda Urbonas

This exhibition has been realized in collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Rome, Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania to the Holy See and Sovereign Order of Malta,
Lithuanian Culture Institute, Mo Museum of Modern Art, Vilnius

Special thanks to: Algirdas Baniulis, Eros Carboni, Liučija Čarneckytė-Jasiulevičienė, Julija Fomina, Giedrius Ilgūnas, a. a. Gorelov Vladimir Albertovitch, Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, Saulius Kubilius, Kęstutis Kuizinas, a. a. Kazys Lozoraitis, Lithuanian Pigeon Sports Federation, Sondra Litvaitytė, Petras Mazūras, Gediminas Meiliūnas, Vytautas Narbutas, NODE Berlin Oslo, Simon Rees, Gailė Pranckūnaitė, Julija Reklaitė, Vytautas Sabaliauskas, Gediminas Stoškus, Sandra Straukaitė, Saulius Švirmickas, Dalius Žižys

Archival material from: Kazys Lozoraitis family archive, Lithuanian Central State Archives, Lithuanian National Radio and Television Archive

Villa Lituania, 2023 Brochure .pdf