Laisvydė Šalčiūtė - 2008

PROPAGANDA

On solo exhibition: Propaganda. Dream Transformations. 2008. Gallery Vartai

Like every one of us, I live in the world saturated with different mass media: television, radio, newspapers, magazines and the like. My colleagues, friends and family also communicate their thoughts and attitudes in their own way. Regardless of my intentions, these multiple messages seep into my mind and start influencing me. They provoke me take some type of an action, they become forces molding my attitudes or states of mind.

This exhibition is about this ‘external’ impact and my attempts to resist and defy it. It is also about dreams, my and these of other people and what transformations these dreams undergo under this ‘external pressure’. Dreams belong to the world both intimate and sometimes poetic, yet, on the other hand, trivial, especially when one tries to communicate dreams in words.

The Propaganda. Transformations of Dreams deals with the proliferation and imposition of the way of life through stereotyped female images, concepts of masculinity and femininity and stereotypes of moral judgment.

Text amply employed in the showcased works is necessary for the composition and also an important semantic vehicle. All these phrases are quotations of different provenance: some of them overheard in conversations, other collected from books, magazines, newspapers, even advertisements. Quite a few of them are in English or French, languages foreign to me, and I like this linguistic distance almost like a wall of glass created by the foreign text between the message and me.

The totality of the exhibition is conceived like a game. Works in it can be arranged in multiple ways. Their organization in space may and should alter the overall meaning. They appear mental pre-fabricates of sorts, like words and phrases. The situation is similar to games we played when children, when each player had to think of a sentence, all together kids would compose a funny story. Rearrange these sentences, and you come up with a different setting, different turns of events, and even a different end.

It is a ‘game’.

Speaking a very trivial language: ‘life is a game, art is a game, and love is a game.’

In this exhibition I am preoccupied with storytelling. These multiple stories merge into one, even though never explicated, but rather intuited, narrative. Once you relate something in words, it immediately gets dwarfed, looses part of its meaning and significance contained therein.

I did not manage to completely avoid subjectivity in this exhibition, because my gender and my status in society predispose me towards certain means of expression. I am a woman, an artist. I do have dreams.

Despite of that I wanted to orchestrate these complex plots into a story: the main plot and a subsidiary one, running in parallel, secondary, tertiary and even more subplots, which at certain points get intermingled or superimposed.

I want the viewer to ‘read’ his or her story into the work, and maybe a different viewer come up with a different story...

These stories are about our body, one of the key vehicles we use to express our identity. They are also about daily ‘change of dress’ in an attempt to live up to the socially ‘acceptable’. It is also about clichéd female images which ‘occupy’ our thoughts and start shaping us from inside while we remain unaware of it. They are reflected on our appearance, sometimes to the extent of turning us into toys stripped of any individuality.
These are stories about life, love, loneliness, art, games, beauty and dreams, about constantly shifting contradictions of our life.

Translated by Irena Jomantienė

Jurga Armanavičiūtė - 2008

LAISVYDĖ ŠALČIŪTĖ: I PREFER BEING SIMPLY AN ARTIST

Even though quantitative expression of artistic output is not necessarily a proof of its value, the prolific career of Laisvydė Šalčiūtė demonstrates some of the obvious virtues of intense and consistent work. One of them is the fact that her work is available to see at her solo exhibitions and as contributor’s to larger projects. Her achievement is recognized not only by the fact of her participation at most high-profile events, but also by formal awards in different fields. The artist of strong academic background and superb command of “traditional” printmaking techniques today works, with quality and finesse, across mediums and formats, like photography, objects and installations. The artist cannot and does not want to be associated with one particular medium or skill. As a true conceptual artist, she resists committing herself to one particular idea, technique or style. Her series from the recent years employ the author’s unique technique combining woodcut or linocut, hand printing and painting to create large-scale works of canvas. Joining the company of artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg or contemporary Londoner Bansky with his stencil graffiti, Laisvydė Šalčiūtė challenges the art critics to revisit the concept of painting.

The motif of female identity central to the artist’s work recurs in different mediums. The irritating female stereotypes pestering the everyday life and media are the subject-matter of her art. The theme of the female artist/intellectual/creator, her role and her self-perception informed also Šalčiūtė’s recent work: the external wall installation The Luminous Women, showed in the framework of the LUX festival ( autumn of 2007) in Vilnius and her large one-person exhibition at the Vartai Gallery in Vilnius (January 2008) entitled Propaganda. The Transformation of Dreams. Her series of photographs Pornography showed in December 2007 at Vilnius Kairė-Dešinė Gallery as part of Gintautas Trimakas project On Remark rang as another provocative and ironic comment on the theme of gender and sexuality.

Texts and quotations resourced from women’s magazines and other advertising media appear an important part of her works, often as representation of gender stereotypes the artist attacks. Some of her recent works are “staged” as dialogues with unorthodox personalities Pablo Picasso or Gertrude Stein, the famous iconoclasts, whom she invites into her works.

Another strategy, often employed by the artist, is that of play and the related iconography – of toys. Often times she relies on “childish” transformation of forms and images throughout the entire series of works. The artist has borrowed a piece of street stick-art to cite in one of her works, calling to Play art. Play life. Play now. For her play is far from superficial activity, on the contrary, it is perhaps the sole opportunity of human relationship and continuity of artistic process.

Irena Jomantienė - 2006

FREE FROM THE TYRANNY OF STYLE

What is most striking about this artist is the rare feeling of peace and fulfilment, the self-assurance of a person who lives her calling, and makes the best of the talent she is blessed with.

Since graduating in graphic art from Vilnius Art Academy in 1989, Laisvydė Šalčiūtė has never had a regular job.
Only regular creative activity can guarantee her the command of methods and techniques that is needed for unhindered expression. In 15 years, Šalčiūtė has had 20 solo exhibitions and participated in over 50 group exhibitions, in Lithuania and abroad.

Her achievements have been recognised by many diplomas and awards. She has repeatedly been a recipient of stipends from the Ministry of Culture, and even foreign art institutions.

Old-fashioned contemporary

Her art gives hope to art lovers who feel betrayed by contemporary developments in art that apparently destroy what used to be perceived as the very fundamentals: mastery of technique, ingenuity and an appreciation of beauty. Unimpressed by the “trendy” art forms (video, body art, digital imaging) perceived by many as the easiest way to be mainstream, she relies on the oldest means of aesthetic expression known to man: line, shape, colour and texture.

In the solitude of her studio in Vilnius’ Old Town, she puts long hours of meticulous work into her pieces, each time inventing a different combination of drawing, printing, painting or assemblage, whatever is most appropriate for communication with the world.

For the viewer who is unversed in technical issues, it is almost impossible to guess how the work was created. However, the goal is not to deceive; it is exactly for this impression that her prints-paintings send such complex messages and intuitions, providing for many interpretations.

“The most diverse ways and means are appropriate to capture the contemporary sensibility, including also the ‘ancient craft of printing’,” she says. “It is only mastery of means of expression and techniques, talent and professionalism, that can express this feeling.

“Also, it is essential that an artist has something to say. Otherwise, no medium will help.”

She is free of stereotypical concepts, like contemporary versus old-fashioned. During the 15 intense years of her career, she has demonstrated an impressive dynamism, and incredible metamorphoses in her own idiom.

“Nothing seems to me more unprofessional than being an artist ‘trapped’ by her own style.”

She describes herself as thinking in visual images. Every new idea necessitates a particular solution in terms of media and method. Each new composition is a task, even a riddle, solved by the artist; and her exhibitions demonstrate her ability to reinvent herself.

Centrality of drawing

Despite the absence of a superficial uniformity of style, there is a much deeper consistency of quality. There are many factors, like subtle colour codes, and the ability to use surface quality and texture to create a particular effect. Each of these is given a different value in different works. However, there is one aspect of talent and skill that is absolutely central to her work.

Whatever the medium, all her pieces rely on superb draughtsmanship. The assuredness of the line and the knowledge of human anatomy (in realistic, deformed or abstract renderings of the human body) recall the work of the great Renaissance artists, or Dali, Picasso and Matisse.

Šalčiūtė is in the company of elite draughtsmen. Her mastery of the line is such that its very character is the key for each particular work or series. In her Nudes series from 2001, where the figure is most realistic, the line is most fluid. In the 2002 series Female (Un)happiness,featuring expressionistically distorted female sitters, it becomes nervous, chaotic and interrupted. In Laterna Magica, from 2006, the line is inverted, almost like stitching, a powerful means of characterisation.

Female figure as a theme

The subject of the female figure, and its attributes, has engaged the artist for a long time. In this respect, she is in the same category as male artists from past centuries, the great nude painters, and seems to be involved in intricate discussions with them.

Her female bodies (at least in the earlier colourful periods) have the same luminous quality that makes the nudes of Titian or Rubens so striking.

A closer look at the postures and attitudes of female figures in Šalčiūtė’s Nudes reveals some interesting parallels, for instance with Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Princesses), Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Lion), and Balthus’ Nu jouant avec un chat (in the Cat).

The artist enters into a dialogue with these male painters on the theme of female identity and the forces shaping its perception. With time, her voice in these dialogues changes from a jarring, straightforward attack and expressionistic imagery, as she attacks stereotypical female roles, to the more restrained language of understatement; even, one might say, a poetic-philosophical silence.

In her later works, the female figure tends to be substituted by laconic ideograms (reminiscent of Klee) representing female attributes: lips, breasts or legs that are assigned the highest value by a culture usurped by the cult of flesh, sex and youth.

Beyond feminism

It is tempting to label the artist’s efforts to expose female role stratagems as a feminist agenda. It might seem that the artist herself supports such assumptions.

“I’m interested in the trivial, feminine perspective of the stage, in the feminine way of ‘enacting life’, and in the employment of magic props and techniques. They have an impact on the specific audience for whom the performance is put on.

“These techniques are make-believe tenderness, fragility and infantilism. The visual arsenal includes, of course, the dress code, gestures, legs and gesticulations.”

This is what the artist says in her opening words to her 2006 exhibition Laterna Magica. She goes on: “It is employed in the desire to impress upon the viewer and, maybe, to avoid solitude in this way, to foster a feeling of security, and to hide existential anxiety.”

This feeling of solitude and anxiety is brought to the extreme in the black and white Laterna Magica. Indeed, it speaks of the human condition beyond divisions along gender lines.

Are not masquerade and make-believe techniques also part of male strategies? Also, is not the audience the artist refers to contributing as much to the pathetic masquerading relationships as the performers: women-clowns putting on a show?

Besides the female figure and its attributes, there is one other important pictogram in her iconographic system: a toy, most specifically, a teddy bear. This clumsy character appearing in her melancholic, lyrical works lends poignancy to the themes of alienation, longing and the impossibility of tenderness and human contact.

Childhood as a paradise regained

It is hard to believe that the artist, performing an autopsy on the proxy identities of the adult world, can so easily assume a child’s perspective on the world in order to create children’s books. She is the author and illustrator of three books for children, and her A Red Ball won a 2002 competition for illustration and book projects in Venice.

The artist says she has never lost her child’s eyes, which look at the world anticipating wonders and miracles. She recalls her childhood, and her grandmother reading fairy tales to her as a little girl, and the fantastic images that these tales evoked. These memories and her child’s belief in positive things are still with her, like a precious inheritance that lends sustenance to her life and art.

“My child-self continues living in me, alongside the adult-self,” she says. She adds that writing and illustrating children’s books is a kind of emotional holiday for her (despite the incredibly meticulous work involved) and a time for regaining her strength. The ability to hold such radically different views of the world is indeed the source of her large output.

“Miracles always exist next to us; but not everybody notices them, so overwhelmed are we by the hectic tempo and consumption fever.”

Šalčiūtė is convinced that books supporting the world of miracles are necessary for children.

The dialogue goes on

Her new series expands even further her field of communication. Although she has never written real graffiti (in contrast to Basquiat, one of her favourite artists), her new series has all the features of graffiti. The canvas surface looks like a rough wall, and the black and white image looks as if it was stencilled.

“I’m intrigued by some of the images and messages I see on walls around the town, and I want to enter into a dialogue with them. I try to expand the thematic field of communication and introduce a more diverse imagery. This format allows me to introduce more lettering, and even poetry.”

Filled with dry-eyed poetry, seizing the feeling of loneliness and alienation characteristic of so many contemporary urban spaces, her new works also have the aura of anonymity, an indispensable attribute of graffiti.

From the article in „Lithuania in the World“ ( No 6. 2006)

Neringa Černiauskaitė - 2006

NEW RULES OF THE GAME

What is the best way to disorientate the observer? First of all, to present him or her with something they have never expected. Laisvydė Šalčiūtė has done precisely this: she has shown such ‘angles’ of her work, which an observer familiar with this artist has never expected to see. Šalčiūtė has refused colours and she tells about the mysterious Laterna Magica, the unnoticeable, mysterious side of everydayness through the opposition of black and white (grey, to be more precise). This marginal space contains everything that is carefully being covered over with masks, costumes, light eff ects and bijouterie. It includes everything that is behind/under the fetishes of everyday life: salacity, greed, infantilism or anxiety. This space in Šalčiūtė’s works becomes something that lies under the external mask: nothing, emptiness. Upon transferring all these latent feelings onto fetishes, the feelings themselves are lost; only the fetish remains: an object that acts instead of me, feels instead of me – another who has become me. And those elaborate ‘amulets’, objects of veneration, which I play the game of life with, remain to me like a small performance. Šalčiūtė plays in her works. This is a personal game, but its characters are known painfully well to everybody, like the characters of The Red Hood. Teddy bears, butterfl ies, hares and mermaids act in the series Children’s Games, Childish Stories. It would seem there is nothing special to illustrate such cute, soft characters of games. Here, however, Šalčiūtė starts the second stage of disorientating the observer: at a closer inspection these childish characters are ‘decorated’ with breasts, framed in quadrangles of female laces and are far from being infantile. They are like certain statues in primitive cultures: small, naively shaped, however, imbued with a huge inner totemic charge. Armed with such childish ‘totems’ women try to accept the role of naïve, gentle creatures thrust on them. Finally, they start using this by revealing the most characteristic features of their roles. Thus, they successfully navigate on the stage of life without disturbing; only manipulating the ‘performers of the great roles’. Šalčiūtė has been successfully playing with cliché images of women, withdrawing them from the usual context and placing them into the grey emptiness lit by Laterna Magica. This is how any integral narrative disappears and only isolated fragments of the body, phrases and details of clothes emerge. As if these were postmodern dramas; the artist does not develop coherent characteristics of her heroes and constructs her own games, her own players and rules, out of the images of the disintegrated consciousness. However, the artist chooses these fragments extremely carefully, checking the solidity and logic of their inner relationships. Thus a man’s head with refi ned moustache appears above a female corset, a beautiful woman’s hand holds an inscription: NO MEANS NO, and separate body parts are strangled by the ‘sizes’ of impossible slenderness. Šalčiūtė tells snappily about the constant change of women’s roles in the attempt to adapt to the new ‘director’ or a new interpretation of the play of life every time. The third stage of disorientating the observer is the technique of realisation. Šalčiūtė ‘plays’ perfectly at this stage: her woodcuts, printed on canvas and painted over with acrylic prevent from any technical classifi cation.

Laisvydė Šalčiūtė plays according to the rules she has invented herself, and they mystify every observer who sees them for the fi rst time. In the meantime, it is possible to indulge in this purposeless activity, to move to another reality – that of a game – and try to solve new riddles that the artist is asking.

From the article in ‘7 meno dienos‘ No. 16(705)

Dovilė Tumpytė - 2002

FROM THE ARTICLE "IRONIC IDENTITIES"

(...)Laisvydė Šalčiūtė is interested in issues of completely different kind. The subject of her focus is the woman and everything that is connected to woman's experience. The light and elegant linear drawing spreading over the vast spaces of the canvas and reminiscent of the work of E. Schiele, is combined with motley and colourful ornamentation allusive to the Moor patterns and primitive drawings.

In her nude paintings, the artist creates optimistic, paradoxically, ironically happy comic narratives revealing women's desires, passions and tragic fates. Similar in every work, but still different narrative attracts by the virtuosity of unique expression, richness of colours and characters' metamorphoses.

On L. Šalčiūtė's characters. The artist calls the very women she draws and paints "comitragic" (and not "tragicomic"!). She reveals the absurdity of the woman's fate (?) or helplessness. Her works create a type of the woman-clown: the body has been deformed, the characters seem to be heaved by inner convulsions, they are portrayed in voluptuous poses. Only women "act" in the paintings: single or in couples, mingling with the world of their dreams. The world contains motifs (sweet roses, boats, squirrels) expressed in intentionally childish manner; they create a mixture of dreams, naivety, desire and ecstasy.


From the article "Ironic Identities", in ‚‘7 meno dienos‘, October 25, 2002

Agnė Narušytė - 2002

WOMEN'S (UN)HAPPINESS

"Nudes. Smiling" is the graphic artist Laisvydė Šalčiūtė's (who is in her thirties) diversion to painting.
Naked women arranged in sexual poses are smiling among colourful things and animals, sometimes alone, sometimes (almost like lesbians) in couples. This is exactly how the models painted by Rembrandt, Rubens or Manet lied or sat - demonstrating their bodies for the viewer's pleasure, longing for mythical creatures' love. Only the colours in Šalčiūtė's nudes are especially bright and courageously combined, stars, swans and hearts are especially unrealistic, the space is especially flat and smiles are especially large, really spilling over the edges, women are like grinning nutcrackers.

It is those exaggerated smiles that sharpen one's ears. Joyful combinations of colours might be painful, the light layer of paint might highlight lines so that wrinkles on women's bodies become as if incised with a knife. Comfortable poses are distorted in such a way that bodies become overstretched and the faces, arms, legs and bellies become mutilated. Fingers are especially nervous - there are more than ten of them, it seems, they look like wrenched by arthritis, although the women's age seems to be too young for this disease.

Thus the smile is self-ironical here, denying all superficial happinesses offered by women's magazines, advertisement and beauticians. These are the women, according to the author, "torn by inner contradictions", in other words, contradictions to oneself, self-sacrifice, exhaustion - the woman's permanent daily experience, it destroys the body tended by beauty industry. Although for a superficial view, the paintings leave an impression of expensive, colourful and joyful decorations.

From the article "Under the Surface of Painting" - "Po tapybos paviršiumi" in Verslo žinios, 2002 spalio 25 d.