“Where are you?” I ask Aurelia Maknytė. “On Earth,” she replies. The “Earth” is a plot of about five hectares by the Širvinta River. It is hidden from passers-by by a dense fir grove, and protected by cliffs from kayakers. After completing the necessary work in Vilnius, she is now habitually there. This exhibition is mostly about what appeared, came out, surprised or otherwise emerged while on Earth. There, Aurelia films the life of badgers, grows flowers and vegetables, looks after bees, creates conditions for lizards to breed, watches the beavers, tries to grow plants from old herbarium seeds and so on. Everything takes place at the rhythm of nature, once turned on by the cosmos, rather uniform and too slow for human ambitions. But there is a lot of it; processes are parallel and develop unevenly over time. Therefore, she never knows what she will find, what will ask to be accepted into the show. Perhaps, the unexpected openwork of a radish that has been under the ground for too long. Maybe a stump, which looks like a fantastic creature. Or perhaps the simplest stick-bug that might be scary to the townspeople. From this unplanned life, the works seem to emerge as if by themselves. They are joined by collections that Maknytė has started in childhood, her discoveries accumulated from travels and wanderings. That is why the Town Hall is now filled with “the same chaos as nature”, Aurelia says.
When collecting naturalia, chaos becomes a Kunstkamera. And not just naturalia. Anyone who is familiar with Aurelia knows that she has already amassed a huge collection of prints, ego documents, videos – from feature films to the chronicles of personal life – slides, photographs, otherwise mundane but strange things. All this is the material of her works. For example, VHS Studio:tapes purchased from the closed video rental shop Elixir. Or Parents’ Room – a reflection on the changing roles in the drama of life and death based on a collection of letters written by a seamstress to her daughter. But Maknytė is also a naturalist – already as a child she would discover rare species of beetles and rescue bees who had lost their home. She learned to stuff animals, won the Biology Olympiad, and even entered university to study biology. However, she was drawn towards art where new symbioses of culture and nature could be created. Only this artist’s eyes notice that the already partially decomposed shells can be preserved as a collection of butterflies, that the stumps are a bit like fireflies, that dried palms can come to life, the flame of a candle might nurture new plants, and that beavers create sculptures.
By exploring her Earth and creating without a prior plan, the artist seems to share with nature the powers given to her by culture. The foreboding of the impending climate catastrophe leads many of us to question the “natural” right of the homo sapiens to subjugate nature for their needs. Maknytė, who observes the habits of animals invisible to others, suggests that we should look from their perspective and perceive those non-human others as creative subjects. She is particularly interested in how they constantly prevent humans from forming a perfect landscape. Beavers build dams and turn the fields cultivated by farmers into swamps inhabited by a wide variety of animal and plant species. Invasive plants or weeds germinate on the lawns of homesteads. But what is a weed? It should be weeded only from a human point of view. And the most “invasive” species is the homo sapiens.
Thus, the most human in the exhibition is the famous Maknytė’s Bunny Man who looks out the window at the cityscape as mysteriously as Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). It is uncertain whether Bunny Man is alive or not; we do not know what he is thinking. Just as we will never understand whether Friedrich’s lone wanderer admires the fog as the lord of the world, or worries that the sublime nature will destroy him. And Bunny Man, like the beavers, the badgers, the lizards and the stick bugs, does not know: to be, or not to be on the Earth changed by humans. Therefore, this exposition that reminds of a Natural History Museum is, in fact, an invasion of “pests” into the central building of the city. It invites us to question our knowledge of what is what and to reflect on the relativity of power relations and aesthetics.
The Vilnius Town Hall is a very suitable place for such an exhibition because art often encounters politics here. The latter often determines which species swill survive, which will disappear. The events taking place at the Town Hall constantly dismantle the art exposition, just as human projects destroy natural habitats, which restore themselves when humans leave – just as the elements of this installation return to their places. Natural objects that appear inside the classicist spaces of the Town Hall engage in a dialogue with the strict lines of architecture; nature discusses with culture, and they both invite the viewer to experience and recognize. Thus, Maknytė builds a bridge from the cultural central space of the city to nature and back. If the Town Hall once housed not only meeting rooms, merchants and courtrooms, but also a prison and a market, then we can remember that not so long ago in terms of Earth’s history, there was “nothing” here – only rocks, trees, grass and various creatures. Similarly, in preparation for the exhibition, Maknytė uses laser light to draw the plan of My Town Hall in an “empty” area – on her Earth – where future exhibits find their places among the nettles or ashes that have already occupied it.
The basic connection between the City and the Earth will also be revealed by Aurelija Maknytė’s tour on the banks and cliffs of the Neris River led by geographer Giedrė Godienė. Landscape will emerge as a joint creation of humans and its other inhabitants. In addition, spectators who travel less around the world this year due to the pandemic are invited to come to the aforementioned Earth to visit My Town Hall already established there. Who knows, maybe this is the first sign of a cultural-natural structure, the contours of which will be revealed in the future? Agnė Narušytė, curator.
Kultūra su LRT
Material from the infrared camera with a motion sensor. Work in progress started in 2018. The soundtrack is a collection of natural sounds recorded in nature by the sound artist Audrius Šimkūnas