The exhibition Melusine’s Paradise by Laisvydė Šalčiūtė is a transfiguration. Each of her works – whether drawn, painted, engraved or animated – is in a state of transformation. Not only are characters (a woman and a snake, or a snake woman, etc.) transformed and opened up, but so also are her artworks – by coming together and diverging, by exposing their entrails and hiding behind pop visuals. In the end, the artist herself undergoes a transformation, ever more furiously attacking the mirror – blaming it for reflecting back fairy tales and herself with a Melusine’s tail. Then viewers themselves are compelled to follow the artist and examine their own transformations in the same mirror…
Even without reading Deleuze and Guattari, viewers who see Laisvydė’s work will come to understand that, in these days of hybridity, transformation into an animal and into the unfathomable is paramount. Melusine’s Paradise is an illusion, as real as a House of Horrors at an amusement park, where well-known characters become ghosts and the most precious art references are written in blood. A pornographic imagination pulsates beneath beautiful surfaces, feverishly doling out promises and disregarding the expiry date of the images. If you steal it, then steal it! From the old and the new, from paper and the interactive. With the tenacity of a recycling bin chewing away at images rubbed smooth by many fingers, to knead and press, to grind and shave the fish scales of Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid. To say that Šalčiūtė uses appropriation is to reduce her campy carnival to songs sung to her grandfather Šaltis, (did you sing to him, Laisvydė?) – or, further still, to his namesake, Santa Claus, aka Grandfather Frost (Šaltis in Lithuanian). Hers is a kind of low temperature resistant mis(s)appropriation, where a hijacked image is first frozen and then, at the start of the drawing and painting season, thawed and sliced into pieces to remove the remnants of the patriarchy. Or by preserving them and pasting them up on every corner so that their mere excess induces nausea.
“Hell is other people”, once grumbled an existentialist trudging across dunes on the Curonian Spit. “Paradise is me!”, Šalčiūtė’s Melusine responds, winking in the mirror, stretching in front of our very eyes into her endless gallery of reflection. Melusine, the snake woman, is both the promise of paradise and a deadly poison, the horror of castration and the glittering scales of vanity. She is a forked rib, entwining cold roots around simplistic creatures crafted by an almighty hand. From our childhood, we remember Hans Christian Andersen’s tale about the Little Mermaid who sacrificed her voice and aquatic powers to replace her fish tail with human legs to become an earthbound creature. The fairy tale and history tells us that such sacrifices are meaningless, so why do some singers still try to sing with their legs rather than their voices?
There are “people” and there are wives, and when “people” praise their wives’ legs, they try to steal their voice. The Little Mermaid from the Danish fairy tale is the negative of her Lithuanian mythical counterpart, Eglė, Queen of the Serpents. The former emerged from the water to go to the people, while the latter left her people for the water. Vytautas Kavolis, a Lithuanian-born American cultural historian, believed that Eglė was a mediator between the earthly and the sacred. Meanwhile, Violeta Kelertas, a Lithuanian literary critic, has described the snake curled up inside Eglė’s sleeve as a symbol of rape. In any case, the Mermaid-Eglė-Melusine embodies an intermediate state, the beginnings of a transformation, and it is for the reader/viewer to decide how she will grasp Laisvydė’s tale for adults.
“Where there is the tree of knowledge, there is always Paradise”: so say the most ancient and the most modern serpents. Neringa Abrutytė recorded these words by Friedrich Nietzsche in her first book of poetry Rojaus ruduo (Autumn of Paradise). There is an eternal Spring in the Melusine’s Paradise says Laisvydė, while paging through Paradise Papers. Here is what’s written there:
The series Melusine’s Paradise is a playful and provocative visual tale for adults based on Bayesian statistics. These statistics are based on the probability theory theorem, which determines the probability that only a portion of information is known when observing a situation. An “antispam” computer program has been created on the basis of the Bayesian theorem.
Few would probably argue that PARADISE is the happiest and most eco-friendly place one could imagine, and that “spam” is rubbish that contributes to today’s “information pollution.” Spam is not environmentally friendly. In our daily lives, we are constantly surrounded by a stream of digital information and images that “tell us stories” – transforming events into visuals, creating confusion and endless opportunities for dissemination as well as a certain amount of emotional turmoil. I perceive this visual and informational flow as nonecological and try to oppose it. That’s why I came up with a kind of “eco-friendly” creative method: I collect images that interest me and random texts found on the internet and I recycle them, like one would plastic bottles, and I rewrite them by changing contexts and meanings by way of the paradox principle. Then I use them again for my new work, creating visual fairy tales for adults that present our reality as constructed by representation. Tales and stories are also a medium. Since ancient times, humanity has expressed spiritual and life experiences by using tales as a universal language. That’s what I try to achieve with my work as well. The fictional anti-heroine Melusine features prominently in my work, speaking ironically and also metaphorically about today’s social relationships, social status and anti-status, to which she also belongs, and about theatrical mystifications of our consumerist society and the tragicomic idiocy the emerges from it, driven by the pursuit of that greatest of values in our society of consumers, a ‘happy life’. Laisvydė Šalčiūtė
Photography: B.V. Naudžiūnas