– Autumn/Winter 2015

‘The Diagnosis is Naïvety’: Artūras Raila’s Journey into the Woods

Travis Jeppesen

Artūras Raila, Upė (River), 2006, chromogenic colour print, 125 × 186cm, from the series Žemės galia (Power of the Earth), 2005—12. Courtesy the artist

It is perhaps impossible to fully separate Artūras Raila from the historical events that shaped Lithuania in the past half-century. Born in a small village in 1962 when the country’s art scene was in the midst of a ‘thaw’, or relaxation from the dictates of socialist realism (and also the year that Fluxus ‘invaded’ Lithuania via musicologist Vytautas Landsbergis’s correspondence with George Maciunas), Raila would finish his studies in sculpture in the capital’s fine arts academy in 1989. Two years later, the Soviet system collapsed. What followed was a period of uncertainty, not merely for Raila, but for society at large. Old vocabularies and systems of knowledge had been discarded; a new language had yet to emerge. There was a sense of searching in Lithuania, as well as in the other countries that had formed the Eastern bloc. Out of the collapse came a florid period of experimentation and speculation. It was in the 1990s that Raila went from making abstract sculptures out of tough, sharp, aggressive materials — his best-known work from this period is Lopšys, garantuojantis pragmatišką infantilumą (A Cradle Guaranteeing a Pragmatic Infantility, 1994), a beautiful and frightening baby cradle made out of barbed wire and steel — to exploring wholly new artistic languages employing the

  1. 'Dimensija 0' ('Dimension 0'), Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), Vilnius, 5 September—5 October 1997, curated by Džiugas Katinas and Linas Liandzbergis.

  2. 'Cool Places: 7th Triennial of the Baltic States', CAC, Vilnius, 2 October—1 November 1998, curated by Kęstutis Kuizinas.

  3. All quotations are from the author's conversation with the artist, Vilnius, 24 May 2015.

  4. 'Walls for NATO', CAC, Vilnius, 21 May—15 April 2001, curated by K. Kuizinas and Evaldas Stankevičius.

  5. See K. Kuizinas, ‘Walls for NATO’ (press release), CAC, Vilnius, available at http://www.cac.lt/en/ exhibitions/past/01/1551 (last accessed on 7 July 2015).

  6. 'Power of the Earth', Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt a.M., 27 September—26 November 2006; 'Power of the Earth / Berlin', Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, 10—26 November 2006; 'Power of the Earth / Final chapter', Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Northumberland, 3—12 July and 27 September— 4 October 2007; 'Power of the Earth / Mythological Vilnius', CAC, Vilnius, 12 September—22 October 2008; 'Copenhagen Art Festival: Beyond Good and Evil', Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, 25 August—30 September 2012.

  7. 'The Welfare State', Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA), Antwerp, 29 May— 27 September 2015, curated by Afterall editor Anders Kreuger, with works by Francisco Camacho Herrera, Josef Dabernig, Kajsa Dahlberg, Róza El-Hassan, Donna Kukama, Artūras Raila, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven and Stephen Willats, as well as archival displays.