Sponges and Aliens. On Adomas Danusevičius‘ Painting at His Exhibition ‘Mud & Flowers‘

June 12, 2019
Author Danutė Gambickaitė
Published in Review from Lithuania

Yves Klein exhibited his sponge sculptures, the so-called ‘Sponge reliefs’, for the first time in 1959. The artist had a story to tell about these particular objects: “While working on my paintings in my studio, I sometimes used sponges. Evidently, they very quickly turned blue! One day I perceived the beauty of blue in the sponge; this working tool all of a sudden became a primary medium for me. The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fluid, which was naturally very seductive to me.

Thanks to the natural and living matter of sponges, I was able to make portraits of the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and traveled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges.” (Yves Klein, extract from ‘Notes on Certain Works Exhibited at the Colette Allendy Gallery’, 1957, Overcoming the problematics of Art. The writings of Yves Klein, Spring Publications, 2007)

A sponge is in fact a very accurate metaphor for conveying a person’s sensitivity, or his tendency to fall deeply into a situation both mentally and physically. The quote from Klein, therefore, fits well within the initial context of our discussion on the work of the artist Adomas Danusevičius in his solo exhibition ‘Mud & Flowers’ (Purvas ir gėlės) at the Vartai Gallery in Vilnius. I can still hear clearly in my mind how my colleague Jolanta Marcišauskytė-Jurašienė described Danusevičius at the exhibition opening: ‘He is himself an artist, a sponge.’ Indeed, and the kind of sponge which soaks in juicy, fluid stories along with all their little intricate details. The kind of sponge that doesn’t take in the residue, the pulp; only that special kind of juice instead, which is teeming with fundamental, or not so fundamental, elements of our being. It’s important to note that Karolina Rimkutė also talked about Adomas’ work and its relation to liquids in her ‘Kūno atminties asambliažai’: ‘Originally initiated by desire, the alluring bodily fluids presented in the exhibition point towards the primordial element of being, water, which is itself exhibited in a form of spherical crystal.’[1] Liquid, or to be precise, water, is important in considering the whole architecture of Adomas’ exhibition as well, for it has been planned out in accordance with such basic elements as water, earth and light. Only fire seems to have missed out. Jurašienė has already written on painting as an alchemical process, or as a kind of energical circulatory process between matter and form. Therefore, I will not repeat these ideas in this article; I will try to become a sponge myself, which, on being squeezed, gives out new links, perspectives, stories or hearsay.

‘Mud and Flowers’ Adomas Danusevičius, Vartai gallery, Vilnius, 2019. Photo: Laurynas Skeisgiela

In recent years Adomas’ work has been predominantly focused on its material form, the massive carnal layers of paint, sloughs of oil, and in particular, ceramic objects, those hybrids of plants, fungi, humans and other entities whose forms merge together within the layers of bluish, greenish pearl glaze. It is rather obvious that Adomas is no stranger to the ideas of the New Materialism, which dethrone the active, perceiving human from standing at the focus of attention, and which thus recognise the importance of other, non-human forces. However, it is more interesting to think of Adomas’ work in the context of Queer theory, while nonetheless simultaneously considering the influence of the New Materialism on it. The piece by the feminist philosopher and queer theorist Rebekah Sheldon[2] covers such links between the New Materialism and Queer theory by highlighting the theory of New Queer Particularism, which puts the emphasis on feeling instead of knowing things. Adomas has transformed, expanded and intertwined the previously developed topics of queer culture, CAMP or camouflage masculinity with new sentiments and new topics: this has manifested itself as a clear reflection of today’s Queer Particularism in the artist’s work. The more obvious cross-dressing military men, the so-called dedovshchina, are overshadowed by the flowerbearded or the flowerhaired, the fungi-penises, pumped lips, ceramic nacre glazed vaginal-coral-floral-entities, and all the other elements, colours and shapes to which the chosen materials give life. The physicist Karen Barad, quoted by Rebekah Sheldon, asks: ‘What can be more queer than an atom?’[3], allowing us to ponder upon the possible relation of queer theory to the universe and quantum physics. This makes the criticism of Adomas’ recent work, which has accused him of stepping back from sensitive social topics, doubtful, as in my opinion, the current direction of his work raises even deeper, more interesting, and more complex questions.

In 1969, the American writer Ursula K. Le Guin wrote her sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness. As one of the first pieces of feminist science fiction, the novel received a fair bit of criticism, even from feminists themselves; however, at the same time, it was praised for questioning the concept of gender in general. Le Guin’s novel, just like any other sci-fi novel of a similar kind, takes place on another planet, in space, where the characters are either aliens, semi-aliens, or future humans. Their otherworldliness is accurately represented by their lack of predetermined genders. And similarly, the aliens in Adomas’ exhibition find their place somewhere amongst the flowerbeards, the fungi, flowers, mud, reptiles and reptiloids, or to be more precise, they find their place in the second hall. Here, after the first hall full of mud, one encounters two creatures, dazzling with reflections of yellowish sun rays. In a conversation once, Adomas mentioned John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’, a B movie in which the main character, a virtually homeless man called Nada, receives a pair of glasses that allows him to see the hidden reality. He can thus see through the disguise of the aliens that steal the Earth’s resources and bribe politicians and other influential people. The simplicity of the message of ‘They Live’ shines like a light in the maze of Neoliberal ideas. Indeed, the filming locations and lighting were very important in the making of the film: most of its scenes were filmed at night, without proper lighting, and in rather dangerous neighbourhoods. Dim lighting is essential in Adomas’ exhibition as well, especially in the first mud hall, which is not only unlit, the light is purposely blocked from filling the hall by a myriad of earthy mud entities, flowers, plants, abstractions, reptiloids, flowerheads, amphibians, aliens and other creatures from the folklore of modern conspiracy theories. The main hall is filled with Baroque nacre objects, ‘Mother of pearls’, while elsewhere the windowsills are lined with pastel-glaze-splattered figures; all of them look as if they’ve come straight out of Donna Haraway’s Chtulucene. Here, as in the Eastern tradition, everything is connected and intertwined in an indivisible unity, which eventually eliminates the dichotomy between good and evil.

‘Mud and Flowers’ Adomas Danusevičius, Vartai gallery, Vilnius, 2019. Photo: Laurynas Skeisgiela

The sponges of Yves Klein mentioned at the beginning, or a sponge in general, are made from an extremely interesting material, which undoubtedly also works well as a metaphor: it soaks in liquid, or it lets it out, depending on the action of squeezing or releasing. It is fascinating to observe this, and to perceive how the liquid itself changes as it travels from one sponge to another; how it eventually becomes a text-cocktail of different impressions, emotions or insights, where maybe some things are overstated, while others are not mentioned enough, like the Baroque, which is so important in this exhibition, or maybe some links with the American painter Forrest Bess, or with Keith Jarrett’s style of improvisation. But bearing in mind the multitude and the universality of the ingredients offered by Adomas himself, we must pick some ingredients and leave others out, not unlike a perfumer mixing the right notes for a scent. In other words, Adomas Danusevičius’ work in the exhibition ‘Flowers & Mud’ seems vastly spacious, saturated, and enticing, as well as encouraging us to discover the underlying network of ideas and insights. Good luck in not sinking in!

[1] Karolina Rimkutė.

[2] https://www.e-flux.com/journal/73/60456/queer-universal/

[3] Karen Barad, ‘Nature’s Queer Performativity’, Kvinder, Køn & Forskning NR 1–2 (2012): 39.

‘Mud and Flowers’ Adomas Danusevičius, Vartai gallery, Vilnius, 2019. Photo: Laurynas Skeisgiela

‘Mud and Flowers’ Adomas Danusevičius, Vartai gallery, Vilnius, 2019. Photo: Laurynas Skeisgiela

See photographs of Adomas Danusevičius’ exhibition  here