‘Artists Are Rethinking the Concept of Performativity’—An Interview with Vytenis Burokas, Curator of ArtVilnius’23 Exhibition The PathOctober 12, 2023
For the third year in a row, artist, exhibition curator and Head of the Sculpture Department at Vilnius Academy of Arts, Vytenis Burokas, has selected the most urgent artistic projects for The Path, the annual exhibition of sculptures, installations and performances. This year, the exhibition will feature 16 artists from Lithuania and abroad.
The International Contemporary Art Fair ArtVilnius’23 starts this Friday at the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Center LITEXPO. It will take place from October 13 to 15. This year’s The Path will offer the opportunity to meet well-known artists from Lithuania and get to know the variety of genres and materials used by the younger generation of creators.
Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, one of the most prominent creators of contemporary textiles, will present her object Meadows, Žygimantas Augustinas, the recipient of the Best Installation Prize at last year’s ArtVilnius’22, will return to the fair with a new installation The Cooling Radio, and Eglė Rakauskaitė will present a new performance based on her legendary work Trap. Expulsion from Paradise.
Dancer and choreographer Aira Naginevičiūtė’s installation exploring the endurance of the body will allow viewers to encounter others’ bodies and theirs in changing states of being. Visitors will be able to observe the changes in the encephalogram (EEG) of performance artist Marija Griniuk, as she experiences the works of other artists at the fair. Journalist Laisvė Radzevičienė met with Vytenis before the start of ArtVilnius’23 to talk about the exhibition.
Laisvė Radzevičienė: What was the keyword that helped you select the artists and artworks for this year’s exhibition?
Vytenis Burokas: The Path had an open call inviting artists to participate. This year, we received around 80 applications and selected 16 of them. I can’t say there is a keyword that binds them all together like strawberries on a skewer. The works are very diverse but in each of them, we can see some vision of performativity, in line with the theme of ArtVilnius’23.
Artists are rethinking the concept of performativity. It will be interesting to see the new version of the legendary performance Trap. Expulsion from Paradise by artist Eglė Rakauskaitė. This work will be performed live on two days and its documentation will be shown in the exhibition. The artist behind last year’s best installation, Žygimantas Augustinas, continues his experiments with sources of sound; his installation involves radio receivers and various combinations of radio frequencies intertwined in a system of organised noise, illustrating our current predicament of being flooded with and drowned by the noise of various pieces of information. I, myself, am very curious to see how the performance artist Marija Griniuk will manage to use the encephalographic headgear at the fair to show the brain’s reactions to her observation of other artists’ works. I believe we will be able to appreciate the literal transformation of the brain created by an encounter with a work of art, not only metaphorical.
LR: Why is today an appropriate time to talk about performativity? There is a lot of it around.
VB: I think performativity is always an integral part of art, it’s just that our consciousness often steps on a rake and tells us everything that is performative is performance. That’s why in The Path, we wanted to show works that in themselves, without live human action, reflect the theme of performativity using their very material. Sometimes the work consists of several stages—the live action takes place in an environment where certain materials and scenography are used for performance and in that environment, traces of the action and the affected surface remain. All of this speaks as well. As researchers, we follow these traces and use our imaginations to create images.
LR: What do you think performativity means in today’s world? Sometimes it seems all we do is showcase ourselves…
VB: Judith Butler, American post-structuralist philosopher and theorist of otherness and gender performativity says: ‘We are constantly performing ourselves.’. When it comes to social roles, none of our roles are entirely scripted by us. By taking on socio-culturally determined roles, we cast ourselves according to situations and certain actions are expected of us in those roles. Today, I was jokingly thinking about Andy Warhol’s statement that there comes a time when everyone has their 15 minutes on live television. I feel his quote needs to be flipped—one day, everyone will have the privilege of not feeling like they’re on air. We do a lot for the camera even when it’s not around. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if it coincided with our inner self. I saw a guy on the street the other day who was filming a TikTok, talking enthusiastically and smiling. As soon as he put down the selfie stick, he seemed to turn into a completely different person, sour and unhappy.
LR: If the function of the artist is to show others what they have created, does being performative make sense?
VB: Even the tools discussed before are excellent and appropriate; although, performativity is a much broader concept, more of a philosophical and linguistic category behind which lies the potential for action or a changed relationship. An example would be the sacrament of marriage. If we say at a party, in front of witnesses, that we take each other in wedlock, it will not have legal consequences. But when the marriage takes place in a communal ritual, certified by a person who has been delegated that right and topped off with the words ‘I do’, those people’s social status changes. Similarly, in art, when it comes to materials, sculpture, installations and so on, the performativity in the works is not just the performance itself. Performativity can be encoded in painting and sculpture, where meaning is created through material interactions. Philosopher Karen Barad argues we are often held hostage by language because we verbalise materials. Let’s allow the materials to speak for themselves in their own modes of expression, through their integral qualities. Let’s try to think through the materials.
LR: Some artists easily verbalise their works, while others prefer silence, inviting viewers to understand the work for themselves. Do you think it’s easier for the viewer if the artist explains their work?
VB: There are many different approaches: some artists are difficult to interrupt and others are quite tight-lipped. I’m fascinated by both; it speaks to the various ways of experiencing the art world. It is clear human language helps us share experiences and communally discuss phenomena but the act of creation is too individual and often done in solitude. It doesn’t always have to take place in a studio, it can take place on the banks of a river, exploring the various layers of earth that have been washed away and their mineral structure.
I would like to emphasise and highlight the difference between those who create certain fables, narratives, plots or a certain illusion and representational works that allow us to recognise the image. It is quite different when the content of the work is expressed through the material and when the meaning of the work is influenced by the various processes involved in working the material: the heating, moulding, pressing and perhaps even the intrinsic qualities of the material itself, which the artist sensitively brings to light. It may accentuate and highlight the relationship between the material and the maker but these works almost always invite introspection and contemplation. These are very different approaches to art, one of which will use the work as a stage to meet others, share values and call for change in the world, while the other will change the world at the material level.
LR: In your exhibition, performativity is also explored directly through performance art. What should we look forward to seeing at The Path this year?
VB: I’m very fond of the genre of performance. On one hand, it can be very energetic, screaming, dynamically activating the audience and on the other hand, it can be based on the body’s endurance and duration, it can last all day long or for three days… This year, we will see an installation of various states of the body by choreographer, dancer and teacher Aira Naginavičiūtė, which will be on display on all days of the fair, regardless of the surrounding hustle and bustle. The dancers will transport their bodies into an alternative timeline and through this contrast, we will have the opportunity to turn our eyes both outward and inward.
Performances based on the passage of time are intended for the audience but they are often not only watching with their eyes but also through their devices. Filmed images immediately enter a certain attention economy on social networks but this in no way means that if a performance is not photogenic for popular culture or not caught by algorithms, it is less valuable. For some people, the fact it is not photogenic is what makes a performance attractive.
The 14th International Contemporary Art Fair ArtVilnius’23 will take place between October 13–15. 70 art galleries, institutions and 300 artists from 18 countries will be present at the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Center LITEXPO. ArtVilnius’23 is organised by the Lithuanian Art Gallerists’ Association. The fair’s director is Diana Stomienė and the artistic director is Sonata Baliuckaitė. ArtVilnius’23 is funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture and is under the patronage of Vilnius City Municipality. The fair’s Maecenas is the law firm COBALT and the main partner is the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Centre LITEXPO.