What Makes You Stronger: The Sculpture of Rytas Jakimavicius

By Stellaccio, Anthony | Ceramics Art & Perception, June 2012 | Go to article overview
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What Makes You Stronger: The Sculpture of Rytas Jakimavicius


Stellaccio, Anthony, Ceramics Art & Perception


DO YOU WANT TO REMEMBER? IN THE POETRY OF the abstract sculptures and figurative narratives that comprise Rytas Jakimavicius' installation Remembrances, memory is tenacious and unyielding. The only exceptions are the occasions when the artist becomes a revisionist, dealing out images of a past that was not and memories as they should have been.

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MEMORIES AS THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN: In 1948, 40,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia. That was one half of the deportations in all of the Soviet Union. In 1959, when Jakimavicius was born into the era of Lithuania's Soviet occupation, there had already been 16 years to try to eradicate the collective memory of a resilient nation and to dictate a new, Sovietized past. For those who survived the genocide, public amnesia became a forced social agreement. Socialist Realism, the glorification of Soviet achievement in art, was the visual manifestation of that agreement between oppressed and oppressor. Socialist Realism did not merely construct the present, but gave corpus to a reshaped history.

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A RESHAPED HISTORY: In Remembrances, Jakimavicius confronts the typology of Socialist Realism--the poised soldier, the farmer, the woman at work and other propagandised idealisations. But Jakimavicius' figures are nuanced. They are muted in colour, texture and in being brought to description without excessive detail. The figures are slightly askew and contorted, imperfect and hideous in ways that contrast the tenderness of their modelling and reveal the tremulous agony of real people who have been trapped inside caricatures of utopia. Subversive and haunting, a barely perceptible reality peeks through these adeptly rendered figures and catches the unprepared viewer off-guard.

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A BARELY PERCEPTIBLE REALITY: Also caught off-guard are the figures themselves, most of whom stand frozen in a moment of surprise, cocking their heads back, upsetting their labours and thrusting their views towards the sky. These people await a moment of rescue, the moment when the rhetoric of democracy and the promise of 'the West' would become thunderous action. These people await a moment that never came. The figures' paradox is thus a painful one, for in reliving the past as it should have been, the reality that was and the lingering agony of lost hope become more excruciating.

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AND THE LINGERING AGONY OF LOST HOPE? In Lithuania, primarily in the time between its occupation in 1944 and the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, a little known war was waged against Soviet rule by Lithuanian partisans. It was the world's longest guerilla war, a war fought by all of those Lithuanian men and women who absconded to the forest and came to be known as "Forest Brothers". In that fight, death in the battlefield as well as capture, horrific torture--the removal of testicles, fingernails and eyes from the living and, finally, execution took nearly 30,000 Lithuanian lives. In that fight, the forest, long held as the spiritual epicentre of Lithuanian culture, was stained with the blood and memory of Lithuania's martyrs.

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In Jakimavicius' Remembrances, trees and hillsides described in clay become entire forests and emblems of the earth. Dappled ceramic tiles are also earth. These are the places where Lithuania's collective memory resides.

THE PLACES WHERE COLLECTIVE MEMORY RESIDES: In a linear fashion reminiscent of the horizon, the artist has arranged a series of portraits, photo-decals fired on to clay, above the trees and hillsides. In another instance, similar portraits appear as inserts in two compositions of tiles where they are repeated rhythmically like plots in a graveyard. The portraits on clay immortalise the dead, the named and nameless victims of a methodical and heartless extermination, they also bear resemblance to the mortuary practice of placing ceramic cemetery pictures, plaques and medallions, upon tombstones.

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