Augustas Serapinas

Augustas Serapinas was born in 1990 in Vilnius where they still live and work. They studied at the Vilnius Academy of Arts. They have had exhibitions at David Dale Gallery, Glasgow; Fogo Islands Art, Newfoundland; Kunsthalle Wien; Emalin, London; and the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

Location: Vilnius
Augustas Serapinas Sketches for Vygintas, Kirilas & Semionovas 2018 Courtesy the artist

A large round table, stenciled with radiation hazard symbols has been built to bring together environmentalists, artists, activists, engineers, scientists and nuclear industry officials. Situated in the studio of artist James Acord in Hanford, US – an area with a lengthy history of nuclear development – Roundtable (1999) was an open invitation to enter into meaningful discussion on the risks and legacies of nuclear materials, with an urgent need to discuss the long future of this matter beyond its intended use.

 

In another time, another context, the first reactor of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Lithuania came online in 1983, followed by the second in 1987. An international team of workers from across the Soviet Union came to reside in nearby Visaginas, a specially-built atomgrad, or closed city, with ‘generous accommodation, lush greenery and better social service provision’.[1] However, following the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, Lithuanians quickly rejected nuclear technology: the embodiment of Soviet oppression. The rejection was further compounded when over 6000 Lithuanians were sent to participate in the clean up. As described in the report on the problems connected with the postclosure of nuclear waste repositories, ‘In post-Soviet Lithuania nuclear sites were turned from future assets and showcases of progress into technical and social problems’.[2] After renewed independence, and as part of its accession to the European Union, reactor 1 was closed in 2004 and reactor 2 in 2009. Considering that nuclear waste material must not come into contact with living organisms for at least 100,000 years, the perpetual task of managing the waste generated by the Ignalina NPP creates a significant technical and societal challenge.

 

There is another table, this one made from concrete slabs. It stands on linoleum, edges curled up. No chairs are present. On the tabletop there is a loosely unified structure made from blocks, cut from the same concrete, and also from a heavy wood. With their playful placement it’s clear there is more than one architect at work. Though different in appearance and apparent function to Acord’s, this table also contends with nuclear legacies and communication of an unlikely sort. Made by Augustas Serapinas, the concrete and wood used in the construction of the table and building blocks came from Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and were purchased at auction. The dismantled infrastructural materials of the NPP are safe for re-use and are dispersing. Serapinas invited children from Visaginas, their family histories entwined with that of the NPP, to build with small toy-sized blocks made from its very walls. Their efforts are gestures toward possible futures, and simultaneously a dialogue with this history. A silent conversation between hand and block; between generations.

 

Serapinas’ work is not about nuclear material per se, but about the people who worked in its midst, and their families after the plant closure. An echo of Sebeok’s Atomic Priesthood can be detected. A concept advocating for a symbolic quasi-religious order as a means of communicating through generations the dangers of nuclear waste material repositories at a particular site. In this case, Serapinas’ work does not extend through deep time as a warning. It does extend to the local, intergenerational need for closure, and the seeding of personal mythologies, which find ways to continue.

 

 

[1] Rindzevičiūtė, Eglė. Assembling A Nuclear Lithuania. Published on the occasion of The Baltic Material Assemblies, exhibition at Architectural Association (AA) and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), 2018.

[2] Ibid.

Erik Martinson