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Eglė Rakauskaitė
About the Author
  • Born 1967 in Vilnius.
  • 1987 - 1993 Studied Painting at Vilniaus Art Academy.
  • Her art includes painting, performances, video performances, video instaliatons etc.
About the Artworks
In the years around 2000 Eglė Rakauskaitė, along with Deimantas Narkevičius and Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, was one of the best known contemporary Lithuanian artists, participant of Istanbul and Venice biennales as well as other international exhibitions, whose reputation was growing world-wide.
A graduate of Vilnius Academy of Arts, Rakauskaitė has created paintings and colour linocuts and exhibited several collections of clothes, sewed by herself, at the first fashion festivals in Lithuania. When Contemporary Art Centre and Soros Center for Contemporary Arts were established in Vilnius and the country saw demand for novel art emerge, her work switched from portrayal to sensory experiences and presentation of altered physical reality. For some time her calling card was organic materials and foodstuff: hair, petals, honey, chocolate, fats, as well as her own body.
Rakauskaitė's works include several tops and dresses dotted with dried jasmine petals that she sewed from women's hair (For Virginia, 1994–1998) as well as a Fur coat for a child (1996); she also glued artificial hair to her body, leaving out only androgenic areas of the body (Hairy, 1994). As part of her participation in site-specific art project “Mundane Language” (1995), Rakauskaitė hung a net made from plaits of human hair decorated with ribbons in one of the streets of former Vilnius ghetto  (For Guilty without Guilt. Net). She also created an impressive live sculpture For Guilty without Guilt. Trap. Expulsion from Paradise where a handful of young ladies in white (wedding?) dresses and black unbuttoned coats stood in silence with their heads down, their long plaits woven together into a net. These works expressed the artist's view to ruthless and inevitable power of historical memory.
In 1996, for a duo exhibition of her and Gintaras Makarevičius' work, Rakauskaitė composed a large ornament of chocolate crucifix figurines made in a sweets factory pinned onto the wall (Chocolate Crucifixes, 1996); the work can be related to catholic liturgy, ecclesiastical art and sensory baroque aesthetics. The waste of expensive food was like a farewell to shortages of the Soviet era and this time it was not met with public outrage, unlike the first exhibition of “Post ars” group in Kaunas in 1990 when Aleksas Andriuškevičius nailed loafs of bread to the wall.
In the same exhibition in Contemporary Art Centre's lower hall Rakauskaitė also presented an unusual sculpture entitled Honey: more than one hundred litres of honey from Alpine meadows (that she had purchased in Austria with the funds of an art scholarship) undulating in a white sheet stretched between four pillars. Visitors of the exhibition had no clue they were witnessing an object of what would become a historic performance. The performance, consisting of the artist's bathing in honey, took place late at night with the participation of only a few of the artist's relatives, friends and CAC staff working as filming crew. Using special breathing equipment, she tried to dive into the honey in order to look like an insect, a sort of inclusion in a piece of amber, but this was difficult since the human body is lighter than honey. At some point she felt bad as her whole body was covered with resin that prevented the skin from breathing. A film made from audiovisual documentation of the performance, with the camera hovering over a woman lying in honey and panting loudly, was shown at the Venice Biennale when Lithuania participated there for the first time in 1999.
A year later the artist created a similar work, a video installation In Fat (1997–1998). Today her work is exhibited in the permanent exhibition at the Lithuanian National Gallery of Art. Here, three screens display three separate synchronous camera-shot images: fragments of a floating woman's body. Spaces between them are easily filled with the viewer's imagination. Technical complexity of the video installation is just one of its components. The other is the artist's bathing at the Schloss Solitude art residency in Stuttgart that took place without spectators. Breathing through the tube, she was completely absorbed into molten animal fat that once was living tissue of another being. At first, crystal clear hot fat highlighted the contours of the body, but as it solidified, it began to hide, disguise and imprison it. The artist later admitted she was afraid that once the fat would be completely solid it would be impossible for her to get out of this glass coffin without the help of others.
In the 1960s and 1970s, pain, risk and threats to health or even life were characteristic of body art (its actions and performances) in Western Europe and USA. In the case of Rakauskaitė's work, the aspect of sensory experience is most important in terms of the creative stage and in understanding the work, but it can be interpreted in multiple contexts. In culture, the lying, horizontal body, in contrast to the statue, is first and foremost associated with death, but a woman submerged in fat can also be linked to feminism, veganism and critique of various bio-ideologies or even spa advertisements.
Soon afterwards, the artist directed her camera to the faces of others and, like many of her colleagues, began working on projects based on collaboration and social research. The 1999 Venice Biennale also showcased her Faces (1998–1999), a video installation made from two projections, wherein a lot of people from the art world look at the viewer, close their eyes, then disappear. With the help of photographers she immortalized homeless people wearing clothes from second-hand clothes shops (The Homeless of Vilnius, 2000). Her attention focused on peculiar and marginal areas that are Vilnius marketplaces (Gariūnai, 2002). Other Breathing (2000–2003), a work consisting of several screens showing black and white video, features elderly people in old people's homes in Lithuania, Germany, Russia and even Alaska responding to her existential questions on whether they feel lonely, happy, or are afraid of death. Having cared for disabled people in USA in 2003, she went on to create a film on this experience entitled My America.
The protagonist of her film Father (2006) is the artist's father Romualdas Rakauskas, a prominent representative of the Lithuanian photography school, made famous by his photography cycle Flowering. Father and daughter's conversation takes place in a red-lit photography lab, as she tells that she recalls herself as a child only from photographs made by her father. On the paper soaking in a developing tray, the artist's face emerges. As she herself soaks in a bath, Rakauskaitė confesses to the audience the insurmountable abyss, of space and time, that separates her and her father. Still, a close link can be observed between the photographers of the 1960s who made reportage photography artistic, and contemporary artists of the 1990s who utilized audiovisual media for anthropological purposes.
Erika Grigoravičienė
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