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Sensitive to Art & its Discontents
A bathroom wall at Galeria Urbana in Kaunas, Lithuania (all images courtesy Gyva Grafika)
In recent years, Soviet nostalgia has brought about some interesting and unusual trends to the former USSR, from the benign to the potentially tyrannical. A couple of years ago, Lithuanian design studio Gyva Grafika was tasked with redecorating the bathroom of a local restaurant in the city of Kaunas, about 62 miles west of Vilnius. They came up with a uniquely nostalgic idea: bathroom tiles that make the stalls take on the appearance of the panel buildings that came to represent the whole of the Eastern Bloc (and spread to other Communist countries, like Cuba).
A sample tile design by Gyva Grafika (complete with Soviet-style doily in the background)
In an email to Hyperallergic, Gyva Grafika’s Tadas Šimkus said the restaurant was looking for something unique and unusual for its bathroom, but the owners didn’t want to remove the existing tiles. “And those old brown tiles, they just resembled those façades that I grew up with,” Šimkus said. “The idea just happened. Have you noticed, that a lot of great ideas just happen when sitting on the toilet?”
The transformation was fairly simple. Using photographs of apartment block windows in Šimkus’s childhood neighborhood, Gyva Grafika created stickers to put on top of the tiles. Each tile became a concrete panel with a window, or depicting laundry hanging to dry; lined up and stacked, the tiles make the wall look just like a panel building. Every once in a while, you’ll see faces (and cats) looking out the windows, “accidentally shot with a camera,” Šimkus said, “[but] they are an inseparable part of the façade.”
The restaurant is very happy with the stickers, as is the clientele, even peeling them off the wall from time to time. In fact, the design has received so much attention that Gyva Grafika is starting to sell them. “There will be stickers and real tiles with direct UV printing available,” Šimkus said. “These façades are becoming extinct with all the EU-sponsored renovation projects, but we still have time to say a proper goodbye.”
The bathroom walls at Galeria Urbana in Kaunas, Lithuania
A sample tile design by Gyva Grafika
Gyva Grafika is selling tile and sticker versions of its “Urban Soviet” designs through its new online store.
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Elena Goukassian is an arts writer based in Brooklyn. Originally from Bulgaria, she grew up in Washington state and lived in Washington, DC before moving to New York in 2017. Her writing has also appeared…
Hyperallergic is a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today. Founded in 2009, Hyperallergic is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.


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