Former unofficial artist Ceslovas Lukenskas is currently the Dean of undergraduate studies at the Vilnius Academy of Art. Trained as a musician, he was part of one of the first performance art groups in Lithuania, “Post Ars,” and, together with two other colleagues, Robertas Antinis and Aleksas Andriuskevicius, created some of the first actions on the border of land art and performance in Lithuania.
Post Ars was formed in 1989 and based in Kaunas, where the three artists are from. Their name refers to the Lithuanian artistic group ARS, which was formed in 1933, and was focused on bringing modern art to Lithuania. This group call themselves Post Ars, since theirs is a postmodern approach, combining elements of installation art, action and performance, as well as land art.
In 1990, they created a massive and intricate outdoor performance in the Zatysiai Quarry. Each individual was responsible for organizing his own part of the event, and each act took place separately, although next to one another. Ceslovas told me that while some elements of the action were symbolic, others were purely visual – for example, the colors of some of the pieces of cloth used, violet and green, were chosen to provide contrast, not for any symbolic meaning. The entire event was filmed, and the artists took consideration of how the piece would look from where it was being filmed above, formally. The piece involved the unrolling of sheets of paper in the landscape, the lifting of sheets of paper to reveal bodies lying underneath, and the wrapping of figures like mummies. At the end, when the people left the field, they left behind a mound of paper next to a series of paper-bodies that were burning. While the performance has elements of ritual and sacrifice, there is also the element of leaving something behind in the landscape that Ceslovas continues to explore in his individual work.
The Thrown Out Man or Eliminated Man is a trope that the artist returns to numerous times in his oeuvre. In 1989, the first Thrown Out Man appeared, a photographic performance that documents a naked man in the landscape on the banks of the river Nemunas near Kaunas, lying among other bits of rubbish and waste. The man is the artist himself, and he is covered with a loincloth, reminiscent of Christ, and his body appears somewhat mangled. With this piece the artist explores the notions of waste and excess, and the human being that becomes unnecessary, discarded and ignored in everyday society.
When I met with Ceslovas I asked him about his knowledge of things such as land art and performance, Fluxus and George Maciunas, who is originally from Lithuania. He said that he knew a little about these them when he began working with Post Ars, but the real impetus behind creating performances in the landscape was as a way to have complete and total freedom over one’s creation. For example, in one performance, documented by photographs, the three artists carried quadrangle-shaped pieces of cardboard around the countryside with themselves. They arranged them in the landscape, and photographed them, forming their own abstract compositions with the land as their canvas. At the end of the performance, the quadrangles were burned. Since the performance took place out in the middle of nowhere, no one knew about it, and no one bothered the artists. Such experimental work would be less feasible in the crowded city center. While by the late-1980s such an event might have been allowed, it would certainly have attracted attention and scrutiny. Out in nature, the artists were free from such interruptions.
In addition to these more subtle interventions in the landscape, some of their work was met with controversy, especially that which was on view to the public. A 1990 exhibition of their work at the Kaunas Architects’ House featured an installation of loaves of bread nailed to the wall by Aleksas Andriuskevicius and five-pointed stars made from pigs’ heads by Ceslovas. Incidentally, after a few days, the pigs’ heads began to rot and stink. The blasphemous treatment of this staple of life (bread) was perhaps more scandalous than the irreverent treatment of the symbol of the Soviet Union (the red star), especially in the waning days of its rule.
In 2000, as part of a symposium entitled Subscription for a Sculpture, Ceslovas proposed replacing the empty pedestals upon which the statues and busts of Soviet leaders and heroes once stood with “live sculptures,” living human beings standing on or inside of makeshift pedestals. These were also called Thrown Out men – thrown out as monuments that no one wanted.
The artist continues his work in performance to this day, and told me of a recent performance he created at the opening of a new gallery in Kaunas, in 2008, where he and Antinas entered the gallery space with cages on their heads containing baby chicks. On the floor of the gallery was a mandala made of seeds, and after entering the room and forming a procession around the seeds, they released the chicks, who devoured the mandala. Not surprisingly, although none of the chicks were harmed in the performance (in fact, they were fed!), animal rights activists condemned the event. Despite the absence of pigs’ heads, Ceslovas’s work continues to shock the Lithuanian public.