An Apocalyptic Beach Opera at an Abandoned Bauhaus Swimming Pool

Sun & Sea (Marina), which addressed climate change through a surreal beach performance, won the prestigious Golden Lion prize for Lithuania at the 2019 Venice Biennale. It returns in May at an abandoned Bauhaus swimming pool outside Berlin.

Sun & Sea (Marina) at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Photography by Andrej Vasilenko

One of the major highlights from the 2019 Venice Biennale came from Lithuania’s pavilion, which featured a surreal indoor beach replete with carefree day-trippers partaking in commonplace beach activities—walking on the sand, lounging on chairs and towels, and playing frisbee. Though Sun & Sea (Marina) appears to forge a scene of leisurely harmony, each the 24 performers gently sung solo and group arias portending imminent ecological doom wrought by climate change. No topics were off limits: the sun, the tides, ocean pollution, threats to the Great Barrier Reef, and extreme weather events were all addressed, sealing an apocalyptic fate if humankind fails to mollify its destructive behavior.

Conceived by the Lithuanian trio Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė for Vilnius’s National Gallery of Art in 2017, Sun & Sea (Marina) captivated curators, critics, and collectors alike and received the Biennale’s prestigious Golden Lion prize. If you couldn’t brave the two-hour queues to view the performance last year, fear not—it’s popping up again next spring at an abandoned Bauhaus swimming pool next to E-Werk Luckenwalde, a former coal power station outside Berlin that was recently repurposed into an environmentally friendly contemporary arts center.

Much like in Venice, audiences will view the performance from the pool’s uppermost balconies. “The Luckenwalde presentation will essentially be the same work as Venice, except for the qualities that the venue brings to the piece when experiencing it,” Lucia Pietroiusti, who curated the Venice installation and also serves as curator of general ecology at Serpentine Galleries, tells The Art Newspaper. “An empty swimming pool comes with a whole different kind of underlying catastrophe, at least for me.” She further notes that in the age of the coronavirus, the installation takes on an entirely new significance: “This idea of the ‘outside’ being manifested ‘inside’—the beach in a building, so the outside in a box—and all the emotional experiences of that after many months in and out of lockdown.”

Regardless, Sun & Sea’s primary concern remains spreading awareness about climate change, which E-Werk artistic director Helen Turner considers humanity’s greatest long-term threat. “After a challenging year, in which we’ve been intensely confronted with our own mortality, it’s important to continue championing change and remember that that our greatest long-term threat to humanity still remains climate change,” she tells Artnet News. “Sun & Sea exists as a stark reminder why we must continue to fight for change, to our industry and society as a whole.” And E-Werk, which seeks to remain carbon-neutral, is doing its part—production will be powered entirely by Kunststrom, a type of 100 percent renewable electricity produced by Performance Electrics, the German artist Pablo Wendel’s nonprofit art project and energy provider.

Helen Turner and Pablo Wendel, artistic directors of E-Werk Luckenwalde, at the site of the performance. Photography by Lukas Korschan

E-Werk Luckenwalde will stage the first edition of Sun & Sea (Marina) on May 1. A crowdfunding campaign to raise the $47,000 to pay for the sand, beach chairs, and performer salaries is scheduled to launch in January.

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