In order to understand some things, both in the art world and in real life, you first have to detect them. To notice. Then they start to exist. Their existence depends on how much and what kind of value you grant them. An art piece emanates the sensitivity of an artist (it was so more or less always, but especially since the art gained its autonomy in the 19th century). This sensitivity is directed not only towards the discourse or form, but also our ways of being in the world. Sensitivity to the small things staves off the line which separates the known from the yet unknown. Thus the poetry unfolds even in the most unexpected places. Being at the Beatričė Mockevičiūtė’s exhibition at the House of Composers the belief that ‘Art is what makes life more interesting than art’ by Robert Fillous becomes tangibly persuasive once again.
‘Asukas’ can be seen as a site-specific exhibition which leans towards minimalism, particularly in its form of expression. The most important thing for minimalists was the experience of the viewer: it did not make sense for them to create autonomous meaningful art works that would merely migrate across white cube spaces; instead, they were drawn by the possibility of making an art work through the particular situated object’s relationship with the space, and with an embodied viewer. In other words, the spatio-temporal experience triggered by an object was considered much more valuable than the object itself. Beatričė’s exhibition operates in a similar way. Using the language of cinema, the objects in the exhibition, as the artist Laura Kaminskaitė noted, are kind of MacGuffins:1 their appearance is essential for other, more imporant, things to happen.
The objects made by Beatričė are the shapes of various reflections materialized in stainless steel. She has given the ephemeral phenomenon of light a radically opposite state of being, which is to say, durable, material bodies, and the identity of asukas. Although it sounds Lithuanian, asukas is a Finnish word. It means ‘an inhabitant’, and refers to the Scandinavian character of both the building and reflections of the light inside.2 Thus, habitual reality perception starts cracking as a status of the main inhabitant in ‘Asukas’ is provided not to a particular composer working in this building, but rather to the reflection of the light!
As the name suggests, Beatričė’s objects live in the House of Composers. They do not feel alien here. They do not compete with the space, because they were born out of it or have otherwise adapted to it. They live peacefully and quietly, creating and multiplying subsequent reflections. One of these inhabitants welcomes us on the stairs up to the entrance; others are lurking attentively on the cloakroom hangers, or sprawls across the first-floor foyer. Most objects were initially real reflections, spots of light or shadows ‘caught’ on the city’s streets, the artist’s home and studio. ‘Everything that is “put” on the Earth is like a stencil for the sun. It is important for me to think this way,’ says Beatričė. The shapes were meticulously noted in the artist’s diary over a couple of years. Thus, each of them, whether drawn or photographed, has an exact place and time of birth, like that of a newborn baby. Nevertheless, the shapes, and not the dates, are of importance.
All these shapes are typical of Vilnius, for they originated from the architecture and things located in the city. But they have changed their scale to adapt to the House of Composers: to the stairs at the entrance that suggests the sliding mode; to the cloakroom, where the multitude of shapes is unified into a single palm-sized measure (from the shadows of tall buildings to mere reflections of glass ledges). However, according to the artist, the asukas in the first-floor foyer is exceptional: he is the true and the main inhabitant of the building. This object retains the unique size and shape of the reflection that falls into the rehearsal room through the window, illuminating the piano keyboard every morning (playing it at this time is therefore rather difficult). Beatričė moves the reflection from the rehearsal room into a different space, a foyer, so that, as she puts it, ‘he does not bother anyone, and he has a chance to be noticed: this kind of daily behaviour shows him to be in need of more space and glory.’
This true inhabitant is the MacGuffin that Beatričė herself has researched and thought through: ‘When he comes here, new relationships with this space appear. It becomes obvious that this shape is only here due to the architecture of the building, that the house is merely a stencil for the reflection. The object says a lot about how shapes appearing in different places around the building are nonetheless related, and so it lets us see the autonomy of the architecture.’ To feel and understand the effect of asukas, you would have to spend at least a couple of hours, and maybe days, with him in his own home, just as when you get to know a person. Only his nature is slightly simpler, as it depends on the sun passing through the window, and on the inner silence of its observer; and only in silence will time and space start to breathe.
‘I can imagine going through the city one day and lifting my eyes up towards the sky, where a cloud is floating,’ says Beatričė. ‘I recognise it, and say “Hey!” because I remember it. It’s the same shape as it was when we met three weeks ago. It’s the same with reflections. And that explains everything I try to do.’
In an unexpected way, the temporary ‘inhabitants’ of the House of Composers do much more than animate the building’s architectural modernism; they put a spell on the experience of the everyday itself.
1 MacGuffin is a fabula technique term coined by Alfred Hitchcock that is common in films. It signifies important details (the main character’s aims, the pursued object, etc) that appear at the beginning, and determine the further development of the plot, where their importance diminishes.
2 The House of Composers building (1966) was a unique masterpiece in the context of the standardised mass construction of the time. The architect, V.E. Čekanauskas, admired and took his inspiration from Finnish architecture, particularly the work of Alvar Aalto.
A full photographic report of Beatričė Mockevičiūtė’s exhibition ‘Asukas’ can be found here.
Photography: Laurynas Skeisgiela