Art-o-thlon (Art-o-tlonas in Lithuanian) is the first international championship of arts planned to take place in Vilnius, Lithuanian as part of the Vilnius European Capital of Culture 2009 program.

We live among two or three generations for whom media serves as a primary representation of reality–a circumstance no artist considering herself “contemporary” has the luxury of ignoring. For the most part, however, contemporary art is being perceived as incapable of causing a wide public excitement on a magnitude of a major sporting event and is withdrawn into the very bottom of the news media hierarchy, behind almost anything, even weather. Media capitalism happens when media takes control over habits and shapes judgment, creating circumstance where consumption is primarily a habit, not an existential necessity. In an age of media, the iconographic avalanche is challenging the very role and the place of an artist, it subverses the personal rhetoric under the trappings of style and passes the scepter of collective rhetoric from auteur to a manager.

Art-o-thlon seeks to address complexity of a current cultural landscape, where “underground” and “mainstream” have an increasingly cross-referential relationship, and also, where democratization of media inevitably leads to re-formulation of criteria for judgment. Modernity is marked by an exaggerated visual and acoustic proliferation drawn together into what is known as a popular culture. This project seeks to establish an active relationship between popular media and art, avoiding the commonplace trappings of the mainstream critical rejection, which polarizes “high” culture to its lowly brethren and fosters exceptionality yet prevalent unpopularity of the cultural context. Immersion of the participants (students, artists, academics) of Art-o-thlon and the results of their work (of art) into the context of popular culture is the key element of this project. During the course of scheduled events, a unique artistic activity will take place in an open urban background.

  Art-o-thlon is intended as a cultural crucible fusing such public constructs of symbolic violence and competition, game and a fight with the predominantly solitary and introverted condition of art making—an experiment aimed at testing if  “live” art is possible under the harsh limelight of live television. The popularly assumed demarcation between artistic and non-artistic engagement is being relentlessly corrected. Mass-produced objects became valid artifacts already since the Duchamp’s readymade revolution, though artistic inauguration of these objects was conveniently performed in a gallery space. Art-o-thlon follows in this vein, attempting similar and opposite at the same time: A) engaging with a mass-produced media as a virtual readymade and B) re-contextualizing art (making) by publically exposing the very act of the birth of an artwork. 

A plunge into a hysteric whirl of the show business, marred by clichés and rapid devaluation of any genuine authenticity would serve as a structural test for the young aspiring artists. For wide audience however, it would be perhaps a first step of establishing a gentle affinity with the contemporary art. Ability to cast a vote for favourite artwork will serve as a surrogate authority, spectacular yet incommensurate to the true value of the artwork. Election of the “best” artist is a political spillover of the total democracy into the realm of subjective value such as art and is as much about the procedure-as-entertainment as it is about the shadows of the democracy of taste; and lastly, as a parallel track, it could certainly condition the participants experiencing all the social and psychological bearings of popularity or resentment.

During the Art-o-thlon a wide range of artistic and educational activities are planned to take place, culminating into a final episode as a highly charged spectacle alà reality television in such vein as “Big Brother”, or “Next Top Model”. Even though, show business is the semantic context or “artistic method” of the project, content of which is open to a wide variety of artistic methods and educational approaches.

Another way to describe this project would be: an accelerator of elementary cultural particles, pointing into the deep rift juxtaposition of popular culture and conceptual art and tuned on tracking the short-term cultural anomalies.