On Objects in Motion. Interview with Rūta Butkutė

June 24, 2018
Author Eglė Mikalajūnė
Two Bowlines(under a strain), sculptural installation, RijksakademieOPEN 2015

Two Bowlines(under a strain), sculptural installation, RijksakademieOPEN 2015

While reading descriptions of your works I discovered that you are interested in „objects that are left in the streets“. If I understood it right, it was not so much about “status of the trash“ but rather about losing original context and function and a chance for new possibilities. For me this idea works as a beautiful link to your work in general: I see objects in your installations as some shatters of everyday life that fall together into one constellation. Can you tell me more about how these objects come together?

One of my strategies is to transform one material into another in order to avoid easy recognition. I am trying to get rid of primary function and to create a chance for new, mysterious existence to emerge. In my everyday life, I am searching for objects, I recognize them in spaces around me, but the final selection takes place in my studio. This is where I choreograph objects in space, explore relationships between objects and materials and try to create a feeling of motion between them – a situation when one material leads to another. It is an intuitive process that closely relates to dance. That’s why I started to work with performance – I tried to rediscover  sculpture   in contact with human body.

It looks that you are trying avoid story-telling, symbols and narratives in your work. Objects in your installations are not easily identifiable. But still they are found objects. Are specific contexts, stories, links to specific people or spaces important to you? Or a leg of a chair is just what it is and it doesn’t matter if it’s from your home or found in a street?

In my projects „Heritage“ and „Form to Attribute“ I use object as point of focus. (They were my first projects that attracted wider interest.) However, in my later projects I am rather avoiding objects that bring “history” with them, my goal is to provide a different interpretation of an object or an installation. Important keywords in conceptions of these works are performativity and motion. My aim is that a visitor who enters a space would take a challenge to question and explore it, as he would have entered a certain „infinity“ which embraces varieties of forms.

In 2014 I created an installation „Pike Straddle Tuck“ which was installed in a photography and video studio. The context of the space turned into a subject. When you enter the space, you can recognize a studio, however it is not very obvious because all objects have become parts of an installation. By turning screens and tripods into sculptures I changed their function. I also was looking for performativity: a sculpture might influence movements of visitors because it is in movement itself.

I think that the strength of your work lies in its unintrusiveness. Next to you work, works by the others might look as sort of showmen on a stage whereas your work employ camouflage-like  tactics, they rather blend with environment to transform it than hurry up on a stage to show up. What is your attitude to exhibition spaces? How much does your work own to a space? Are you strongly selective with spaces or do you rather “take what you get” and comment on it? What spaces are your favourite? 

For installations, I prefer empty spaces that can be filled with an atmosphere of an installation. To create it I use different objects – some of them might be found and some of them are made by me. In my last projects, I was trying to create installations that would remind an outcome of a performance: as if something would have happened here before, a certain action-process. However, in one of my earlier projects, „Form to Attribute“, I was commenting on an environment. The work was created when I was an artist in residency in BijlmAir residency centre in South-East Amsterdam. People in the neighbourhood were mostly from Surinam. I commented on the environment by picking up objects left in the streets and considering them as fragments of  spaces. However, in recent years I am moving towards abstraction, I don’t want my objects to be easily identifiable, neither I want them to remind a specific space.

My performances are about relationship with space; objects created for them are geometrical shapes. They [the performances, E.M.] are inspired by Rudolf van Laban’s theories. Rudolf van Laban was a dance theorist who analysed a space surrounding an object through movement. I am interested in how body in motion creates a sculptural space around it or how can you activate forms by creating a feeling of motion in an installation.

Rūta Butkutė, Pike: Straddle: Tuck, 2014. Rijksakademie, Amsterdam

Rūta Butkutė, Pike: Straddle: Tuck, 2014. Rijksakademie, Amsterdam

How do you feel about artwork being accessible to touch or move? Does a visitor has a right to touch or move your work?

In my installation „Two Bowlines (Under a Strain)“ (2015) I was expecting that people would stumble upon objects and this would result into certain sounds or situations. It is important to me that the way people move in space or people’s reactions to objects would create certain tension. However, my invitation to participate was not very obvious, I  rather aimed to use a chance. I  considered a possibility that a contact could happen.

I think this is much more interesting than a straightforward request to participate… Do you ever watch visitors in your exhibition space?

Only when a visitor enters an installation, the installation starts to work. The visitor uses an empty space that was created for him to move. While exploring the installation he carries out a choreography in space. I feel tempted to record or to watch movements created by visitors. Sometimes I leave several even passages for a visitor to choose his direction, depending on what he wants to see and how he wishes to move. This can be interesting.

Do you always invite only professional dancers to perform in your works?

Yes, I invite people who have mastered their own bodies, because my sculptures require more flexible, stronger people, I need people who know how to deal with space and how to explore possibilities of my sculpture to the maximum. But I am also interested in everyday-like relation with an object. I consider possibilities to work in this field.

Do you ever participate in your own performances as a performer?

My performances can be compared to a process of creating a sculpture in space, so naturally I want to see the process. A performer takes a similar role as that of a visitor [exploring the installation, E.M.] and me, I want to be a watcher and a choreographer of a space and an object. If I would be a participant, I would lose the possibility to watch. Well, during a creative process I do try the object, however I rather concentrate on its function.  I just try to see if it works.

Rūta Butkutė, Form to Attribute, 2011

Rūta Butkutė, Form to Attribute, 2011

I sometimes attend contact improvisation jams and I see a very big difference between being in the process and watching yourself in a video record. If honestly, I usually don’t even try to watch video recordings because I don’t want to become alienated from my own body or to transform my bodily experience into a picture.

I understand your point and I agree that by not performing myself, I lose certain experience. However, at the same time I know that I would never be as good as an experienced performer in fulfilling the task.

People in your works communicate with objects, but they never communicate between themselves. What is a role of  an object in your work? Is it a mediator between people or is it rather an independent body that refers to itself as a matter and form?

Object sizes in my installation often refer to human proportions. I like to choose proportions which remind that of furniture. I play with the situation by choosing larger or heavier objects, objects that need more space or objects of different size: bigger and smaller volumes next to each other. All of it works to create a certain tension between people and objects.

Human to human relationship comes out when an installation is already installed and visitors can enter it. Visitors form a mutual relationship between themselves in a space. It is not simulated, it’s is more of an exchange between objects and people. My aim is that everyone would find an individual physical contact with objects in space. However, it could be interesting to have a physical contact between people in a performance as well.

I sometimes think about a fact that a large part of contemporary artists who don’t work with a single media, have started their artistic career by choosing one specific media for their studies. In this interview, I came back to this question because for me your work relates to something what I personally find important in ceramic art. Initially, I wasn’t interested in ceramic art, however a couple of encounters with pre-historical and modernist ceramic objects in museums made a big impact on me. After these experiences I think of ceramic art as one of the most “organic”, even „animal-like“ classical art forms. How does your early interest in ceramic art relate with what you are doing these days?

My parents are ceramic craftsmen, so for me it was quite a simple choice. However, I also tried to find my own approach to it. Clay for me is one of these materials that are easy to manipulate, it is organic and you can work with it by using your physical force. There is a physical relationship to the material and it gives a feeling of something animal-like. If you comprehend the material well, you can feel its sensitivity and to develop your own sensitivity to create shapes. You can make clay to look like textile, plastic, metal or wood. It is also an ecological material that is able to come back to its primary state. It has many sculptural possibilities and you can always rediscover them. In one of my last projects, I worked with porcelain.

What techniques are employed to work with porcelain?

I used liquid porcelain that can be poured into plaster molds. It is also possible to shape porcelain with your hands, however it is quite a difficult technique requiring mastership – porcelain is a very fragile material.

I started to work with porcelain in a residency in Japan. The residency centre was in Arita town where kaolin clay is mined (kaolin is used in the making of porcelain). A work I created there was connected to the ritual of tea ceremony. I made a video that shows a choreography in space that paraphrases tea ceremony. In Japan, I presented my work in several locations, including Tokyo and Osaka. Local people were surprised by my dysfunctional objects because they tend to see everything through the prism of function. It was very interesting to employ their material, the porcelain they use to make crockery, and to make a dysfunctional object they would wonder about.

How much does your creative work influence your relation to space and objects in your everyday life?

I am always in a process of looking for materials for my own projects and it has turned into a habit in my everyday life. Before buying clothes or before throwing away stuff I always think if I could  use it in my artistic practice. However, in my everyday life I need as much empty space as possible. I neither want to have art nor any other objects in my living space. Emptiness brings more potential for creative ideas. If you bring one new object into space, it will bring you much more inspiration than piles of “history”. Every situation can lead to creation of a new artwork, but it’s natural. I have a constant need to refresh my living space, to have things only temporarily. Instead of an effort to preserve, I choose a constant movement. Probably you can compare life with a life in studio where you always change things because you look for inspiration. Creative process takes place when you are in movement.