The Lithuanian visual artist and filmmaker Emilija Škarnulytė decided to clear a personal path for her project Aldona. In this short film, the viewer follows the artist’s grandmother, Aldona, through a daily walk through the Grūtas Park, an open-air museum near the small town of Druskininkai, in Lithuania.

As in many other countries and former satellite states of the Soviet Union, and the ex-Yugoslavia, this sculptural theme park contains a large collection of monuments, sculptures, Soviet-era statues, and an exposition of other period ideological relics.

The fragility of the monument, the strength of the witness

The film opens with a moon that plunges into a forest. It’s dawn. Now the landscape is seen enveloped in mist. The road appears blurred, reproduced in slow motion. Nature becomes a shadow cast on a surface. The intro almost anticipates the protagonist’s experience of blindness. In 1986, Aldona lost her sight. The doctors claimed that this probably happened because of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion.

Courtesy of the artist Emilija Škarnulytė.

Aldona’s slowness and care in gestures make the artwork remarkably sensory. Around Aldona, there is the monumentality of history against the greatness of nature, its cyclicality. The sounds of nature intersect with a Soviet chant from a megaphone.

Around her, Aldona gently gropes the stone surface, rediscovering the past under her touch. Caressing both the past and the present history. Aldona touches what appears to be the bark of immense trees. These turn out to be the Monument to Soviet Partisans and Underground Workers.

The material risk of physical memory

On March 11, 1990, Lithuania became the first of the three Baltic republics to declare its independence, partially triggering the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, various Soviet statues were taken down and dumped in different places.

Courtesy of the artist Emilija Škarnulytė.

In the chirping of birds, Aldona meets the monument to Vladimir Lenin. She reaches his face set in the stone. She holds it by his nose, mouth, chin. In an alternation of scales, she becomes a small element of this gathered history.

Courtesy of the artist Emilija Škarnulytė.

The film proceeds from a public space to a private, more intimate one. Aldona is in her kitchen. In front of her, a voice emerges from a radio that tells in Russian a story about a fisherman and a princess. The camera’s gaze is now very close to her eyes, which contains all its delicacy. Aldona collects the peel of an apple from the table, which she will plant under a tree as fertilizer. The musicality of her voice crystallizes the image of rebirth.