A book as an all-embracing archetype of being is the fundamental axis of Judeo – Christian civilization surrounded by symmetric and asymmetric spirals of meaning. The metaphor of the world as an easily readable or as an enciphered text is an integral part of this tradition, so it is not surprising that the “eschatology of nature” also has its own Red Book. In other words, the card indexes on nativity and extinction demonstrate need to classify the living and the dead: Eros is superseded by a desire for order and cognition, against which art can only offer disorder and erosion.
Tadas Gutauskas’ project The Red Book has several hermeneutic levels. On one side, this is a diagnosis of complicated relationships between man and nature, and on the other – a play with empirical forms of existence, which turn into a bizarre museum of fossils. However, inside every play, according to Hans Georg Gadamer, a particular structure is hidden, and every formal structure is also a play of mind and senses. The living creatures and plants cast in bronze, copper or silver become mummies of an artistic laboratory, the authentic relics of the sciences of botany and zoology imprisoned in geometrically shaped “sarcophagi”. Every exhibit is an exact copy of its prototype. The copy can be reproduced, but the prototype is far from being transcendental: the former belongs to the same “machine of the world” (machina mundana) discovered in the XVI th century by science, which placed nature in opposition to the culture of artefacts. At that very time, after denial of the unity of the sacred cosmos founded on sympathetic relations, the world of nature disclosed as a neutral object open for investigation or transformation into an exotic collection of samples.
While creating an aesthetic and natural “iconostasis” Tadas Gutauskas is less interested in a positivist analysis than in ironic implications and a wish to emphasize the importance of an ecological idea. For that reason the fish (as if taken from naturalistic reliefs of the Vth dynasty of Egypt), a lobster or a seashore plant (like a branch torn off some mythological tree) – all “buried” under the glass – are contrasted with the collapsing architectural interior in which they are exhibited. The interior silently foretells a tragic end for the civilization which destroys nature and the nature of the human being himself. But a perfect beauty of biological forms is made more distinct against a background of ruins. This beauty must not necessarily be modified in order to reveal the literal meaning of life. The detailed reproduction of a model is not just the copying of empirical reality, but is also the cognition of its essence. Each mask reveals as well as conceals the truth: death reveals the charm of existence. An everyday picture is replaced by a patient, matter-of -fact narrative in which every exhibit is named scientifically and given a particular status in the register of the Red Book. Three fish, the roller, the lobster and the branch of the seashore plant are life-sized castings. Every detail of the original is reproduced so that the naturalistic aspect of the copy would be emphasized. The choice of material is aesthetically motivated. It helps to create a peculiar mood: the living beings exhibited seem to have come from another world, where organic forms are made of different metals. The author plays with this paradox behind which no philosophical idea is concealed, except for the aspiration to achieve an aesthetic effect in stressing accurate, I would even say, filigree aspects of a casting. Everything else is just a background, a pseudo-scientific quotation when the installation of a fictitious room of natural sciences is carried out. Kipras Mašanauskas’ music composed on the occasion of this particular exhibition and recorded in Dolby-Surround Pro-Logic system highlights the fanciful atmosphere which is within the meticulously clear structures. If in Tadas Gutauskas’ compositions the accent is on construction and the need for precise measurement, while the aspect of infinity is somewhat denied, the music compensates for the irrational sense of endlessness and gives the project added weight.
Tadas Gutauskas’ attempt to make the castings precise, in other words, to copy the forms of some animals and plants, only partly can be defined as naturalism or natural realism. It is rather a postmodern “quoting” of forms when scientific rationality is seemingly moved to the irrational context in which the exhibits mentioned above become the elements of some odd mystery play. Musical vibrations imply that space only seems to be stable. It is subordinate to the flow of time. This idea is attested by the choice of interior, which is the opposite of a sterile “death mask”. On the other hand, the casting only pretends to be a “mask”: a precisely replicated material simulacrum is a technologically created chimera, something like the Prague rabbis’ golem, which could be inspired only by an ailing imagination. Kipras Mašanauskas’ unconventional music presented in compact disc form stirs our imagination about the power of reproduction through which spontaneity can be controlled. The ritual can be repeated endlessly; the space of the exhibition can even be replenished with new works of the same kind. Nothing would change essentially. The eclecticism of postmodernism is open to all kinds of possibilities and the most unexpected twists, which can easily be presented in a very serious manner. The mimetic character of Tadas Gutauskas’ castings and the allusion to the aesthetics of “museum stands” are obviously unique in the context of contemporary Lithuanian art, but the principles of the play that he bases himself on are a component of Western postmodern aesthetics.
Algis Uždavinys, PhD, art critic