Ruta - The muffled song of the earth
Some works of art fill the viewer with curiosity to find out about their creators; they touch our most intimate selves and cause an unfathomable echo to resound in our sensitive depths, stirring and questioning the silent matrix of our being. This is the effect that Ruta’s work had on me. Oh, the joys of uncanny familiarity!
Ruta – two simple, playful syllables that heighten the enigma of the gaze, while leaving it free! The fantastical element inherent in Ruta’s sculpture – the repetitive proposition of bodies stripped raw by the nudity of her gaze – becomes an obsessive tension, positing the precarious, elementary equation of our own existential questions.
Who are you, Ruta, and to what do you owe your acuity?
Ruta Jusionyte is a woman, a young artist, a Lithuanian. The mystery deepens; a meeting seems necessary. Fortunately, we meet in France, because I know nothing of her outlandish home country, save for the fact that it has become European. Ruta came to live and work in France at the dawn of the twenty-first century. She loves the niche that she has created for herself, without forgetting either her roots or her mother tongue.
The burden of history, the price of freedom
It is fascinating to listen to Ruta talking about the history of her little country and then taking a closer look… the gaze takes shape! The old notion “little country, big history” is as true as ever. The history of Lithuania is an often painful tale of invasion, annexation, liberation, then occupation, extermination, and pillage, the population mistreated and forced to submit to injections of foreign culture that anaesthetized and damaged the extant indigenous culture, attempting to eradicate its age-old customs and uproot its founding myths. Then, one day, freedom returned; a few straggling weeds heralded the revival of a smothered culture feared to be lost for good. Ruta is one such weed: tender, yielding, yet resistant, and enriched with a primitive soil that imbues her with traces of her origins. She has deliberately not returned to the fundamentals of her world, but has consented to lay herself open to sources that infiltrate her, generating forms as bizarre as narratives recounting the flesh of a profoundly ramified culture.
Ruta was born in 1978. Her country had been annexed and crushed by the USSR thirty-three years earlier, having previously been occupied and partly exterminated by Nazi Germany. Its sole taste of independence came between 1918, when it freed itself from Poland, and 1940. Ruta was thirteen when the vice loosened its grip and the Eastern Bloc collapsed. Freedom then became synonymous with poverty, a worthless currency, job losses and aimlessness. However, at the same time, it also symbolised the removal of a leaden weight and the promise of breathing more freely… although doing so remained difficult, pinned as they were by a Russian enclave bursting at the seams, just opening onto the Baltic, and posing a heavy, barely veiled threat of invasion.
The difficulty of breathing is also shown by the fact that Lithuania currently holds an unenviable world record – the highest suicide rate, with a particularly terrifying rate for men. Ruta’s sculptures, gazing into the horizon, deep and devoid of illusion, melancholy yet stable and powerful, have eyes that shoot through us and lose themselves beyond us, in hope and pain. The unique, poignant gaze of Ruta’s beings cannot be resumed as the history of the country that has permeated and bruised her, but their eyes sweep her along. They merely are.
At the same time, their gaze reaches beyond, becoming transcendent and universal, using its energy, tension, range, and density to unite all the ambiguity and conflict of the unsettled human condition, stripped bare and free from artifice and petty narcissistic infatuations.
The hope of humanity contained in this gaze, devoid of glory and arrogance, is due to the fact that it is neither garrulous, nor focused on the other in a relationship based on power or seduction; it tries simply to be. Ruta’s forms care little for the details of minor history and pain, but they do know how to express humanity that, while disarmed, desolate, and devastated, nonetheless holds its head high, ready to face up to adversity and barbarism as much as its own fragile mortal condition. Ruta draws on our internal chaos to sculpt a form of unity, collective yet shot through by the scars of chaos.
Ruta has long intuited the presence of the weed in herself and highlights its symbolic and metaphorical presence in her inner world. The roots of her culture offer her an unusual approach. Lithuanian is the closest European language to distant Sanskrit; it is shot through by the Vedic spiritual constellation and permeated by the Indo- European roots that underpin us as Europeans, though we grant them little importance, since they have long been subterranean… yet still they act! Ruta’s Lithuanian culture dates back to well before monotheist indoctrination; it is peopled with pagan gods and avatars drawn from Vedic culture – hybrid, comic, monstrous figures, still presentin fairy tales and myths, and thus in undiluted form in Ruta’s own subconscious and her shared imagination.
Ruta knows it, intuits it; she needs to express it, even though that may not really be what we expect from her.
“Culture was uprooted and destroyed during the Russian occupation, as was our traditional lifestyle. Fifty years of occupation and deprivation count for something. After liberation, we became aware that we were savages, devoid of even the minimum of culture to manage on a daily basis. But I felt the presence of a deep, buried, subterranean culture. A few Lithuanian artists understood, and were not cowed by ridicule, absurdity, and crisis, just as they had not been afraid of attacking the Russian invaders through the metaphors and messages of their art.
Self-expression also means letting the world of the metaphor emerge – an archaic world in my case, but I am afraid that that is not accepted here. Yet my sole heritage is my Lithuanian culture, which I feel the need to express; and my favoured mode of expression is metaphor, which misappropriates situations to reach its goal”.
Ruta clearly states what drives her and keeps her on her feet, determined, like her sculptures, to withstand the history that forged her, her life, her family, and her homeland.
There is no overlooking the fact that Ruta’s family is steeped in art. She comes from several generations of artists, who have shaped her gaze, her doubts, and her need to express both through artistic creation. Her paternal grandparents and her father were painters and well-known teachers during the Russian occupation.
Her mother is a graphic artist and gallery owner. The soup Ruta was brought up on was rich but indigestible; her life was far from tranquil, marked by disjunction and a feeling of abandonment and injustice as she was constantly shuttled between Klaipèda and Vilnius, until she found herself faced with a choice whose determinism is beyond doubt: the School of Fine Arts in Klaipèda, then Vilnius, before she escaped to seek her artistic identity and another hotbed of creativity in France. Dislocation and exile heightened the precariousness of her being, at the risk of anxiety and loss, but enabled her the better to seek out a possible existence in a site of artistic experimentation far removed from the influences that had hitherto hampered her creativity, transcending the destructive tensions and disburdening Ruta of the constraint of the ambivalent gazes focused on her.
The body’s infinite gaze
“I needed to go further in expressiveness. I had to rid myself of detail and of grotesque, illustrative forms, even though they were, and still are, important for me. I had to, since they always risked creating a misunderstanding with regard to the comic potential of my figures. The viewer’s laughter neutralised the intensity of my discourse and made me ill. I shifted towards exploiting the expressive body, because I needed to find an education that I was lacking in order to achieve maturity in my use of expression in sculpture, but at the same time, it is a form of tyranny and the body is invasive and terrifying. I have to do it, but I find it a burden”.
To be accepted, and therefore visible, Ruta had to explore the nude, precarious body with expressive tension. She needed to work tirelessly at the gaze, spinning it out to extract its marrow of oddity. She had to sculpt ahead of herself, at the risk of putting herself to dangerous tests, with no safeguards. She did it, and succeeded.
In her sculptures of 2008 and 2009, she achieved both a near-pure form of expression in figural forms stripped of legible figurativeness and an experience of feeling, devoid of discourse and anecdote, all by working with an economy of means and forms.
She thereby succeeded in creating the quintessential figural expression, so dear to our culture, imbued as it remains with exquisitely pained Romanticism. Her anxious watchman scans the horizon with an inner gaze stretching to infinity – infinitely inner, infinitely distant, beyond the frontiers of the visible. Her sculpted beings stand at the edge of the world, tense, in suspense, intense, and uncertain. Precarious yet eternal, they are Vanities of time, the vanishing lines of the acceptance of death infiltrating life. Are they the nowfree transmitters of the pulse of desire and the rhythm of life, linking Kronos and Siddhartha, or rather beings lost at the fringes of the world, aimlessly wandering, ravaged by fear and doubt? Does their astonished, naked gaze call out, without selfishness or stipulations, forgetting to be the forgotten hordes of civilisation?
There they stand, facing the world, and their gaze involves us as it traverses us, causing major discomfort as its silent rapture, erosion, and crushing weight strikes the viewer.
Ruta’s research has left her shaken, obliging her continually to extract and master the raw material of the matrix of her being and give it shape, without compromise and without digression, in an intense, intuitive correspondence between body, form, and language.
“Actually, there are no spontaneous gestures in my work. Everything is controlled and I find it easier to know where I am like that. I can let other aspects escape by avoiding agonising, impulsive gestures. I have no violence, I have no need of it; but I do have anxieties and intense fears in working the body”. Ruta, my painful land, mater dolorosa – no, or not only that. Let’s listen to her once more: “A suffering body is real; it is present. I find it hard to bear and to defend that body. For me, there must be something beyond the body, with the richness of metaphor, poetry and hope; there is death, of course, but what is essential is the existence of continuity, which I find reassuring”. Ruta seems to say this to bring an end to the endless anxiety that grips her and could stifle her creativity, to prevent the infiltration of a kind of despair contrary to her thirst for freedom and hope, to avoid becoming frozen in a form of un-being, contrary to the supple strength of the weed. Searching for her traces and letting her roots spread forth, enriched by her experience of the past years that she does not deny, she now dares to work with other formal characteristics, which she explores without always revealing them, at least for the time being. She dares to explore creative paths that free her from the potential tyranny of expression and the blind alley that it risks leading her into.
Daring hybridity, spinning the metaphor
“Easing my anxiety must not have a deleterious effect on my work. The goal is not to tug the heartstrings, but to succeed in showing; and I see metaphors as a form of freedom that I would like to allow myself, while preserving my intensity. The grotesque images are in my head, so why not express them!” Ruta speaks out forcefully, hoping to disburden her creativity at the same time as her life; not make it lighter by trivialising it, but by throwing it open to polysemy, to the richness of the senses and of meaning, by unpacking the figure and the gaze. Is she striving to express something new, or express the same thing in a new way?
“If I need to make a she-wolf with three heads or a centaur with wings, I must be allowed to do it”. Ruta forces open the fissures and fractures of her sculpture to look inside and grasp a world richly peopled with beings rendered hybrid by her culture and her prolific imagination. It is an essential dialogue between her being and the world, and one that is sensitive, intuitive, and aesthetic. The wings of desire connect with the metamorphosis of the avatars, renewing the pleasure of creativity, no longer smothered by the constraint of presenting the body as if placed under tension by the unfathomed depths of the existential question.
The point is not to deny the importance of this stage over the past few years, but rather to avoid stopping there at all costs, as Ruta timidly, yet firmly, points out. The point is to get a firm footing – or rather, renew her foothold – in the riches of her newly reborn, newly re-conquered culture, this being the necessary precondition for defending her freedom of being and expression.
Ruta rightly feels the risk of the gaze and erroneous interpretations of what this path might lead to, as she recalls the laughter of visitors seeing her work from before 2007 – humiliating, hurtful laughter, reflecting their misunderstanding of the depth and meaning of her creations. Of course, at that point, she was still burdened with an awkwardness that prevented her from truly expressing her inner world, but she was also confronted with the errant gaze and thoughts of the visitors, accustomed to a “Disneyfied” world, a globalised sub-culture which trivialises foreign, unusual, composite representations. Although the object of these representations was a work of art, it nonetheless became an original, playful commodity, converted into a spin-off of corrupted cultures. Caught up in this playful process of commodification, there was no longer any chance of reaching what was so close to Ruta’s heart – her open, porous culture, whose identity is shared and enriched by cultural and spiritual forms of permeation that circulate from one people to another. Ruta welcomes the Vedic sources of ancient India, paganism, as well as northern and European influences, including French culture. This new form of globalisation respects alterity and heterogeneous identity, whose resurgence must be caused and planned. Ruta strives to unpack the permeation of her origins by recalling the cruel fairy tales of her childhood and accepting the advent of the hybrid forms therein, which
populate her own culture.
“My own concoction!” she says. And what a concoction Ruta has cooked up for us – not the one a witch might make, throwing indigestible, monstrous toads and vipers into a giant cauldron and stirring it up, then tossing in children – the evil children they have always been. Still less is it the concoction of a high priestess, revealing her divine powers through the magic of some grotesque, chimerical metamorphosis. No,
Ruta is no violent demiurge. She is the sentinel to whom her current sculptures point, the self-portraits of a humble lookout for scattered humanity, for human hopes and spirits, a vapour that is more than fleeing in this modern age. As a sentinel, her gaze sweeps towards the foundational past, the nourishing roots, and the heart of her being, boiling over with love, beauty, hate, and ravaging. Yet her gaze also loses itself in the horizon of modernity, anticipating a future capable of extending its cosmic monstrosity and destructive power, whose marks leave a bitter aftertaste of Nagasaki and Bhopal, of hellish Vietnamese napalm and the atomic poison of Chernobyl, not to mention the planned rape of ecosystems, even beyond our own planet. Ruta speaks insistently of hope, and we follow her!
“All is possible! Yes, you can! Because you’re worth it!”… You simply need to meet Ruta and her work in progress to understand that she takes up her stance contrary to such narcissistic humanist pretension.
She simply wants to throw open the possibility of a world that takes care not to cut itself off from either its roots or its future, and to do so, she draws on a prodigious virtual capacity which our cultures and their psyche contain in both substance and gestation. She aims to extract a composite figure, acting as its roiling, turbulent transmitter. Like Germaine Richier and Gérard Garouste, she unfolds and unfurls her own matrix, teeming with her own culture and imagination. Words, things, and shapes collide, enabling her to produce hybrid figures that are on occasion misshapen from being underpinned by the richness of what produced them. Dreams give us an occasionally nightmarish foretaste, like the figures of Hieronymous Bosch or Goya’s Caprichos. It may well be the case that these avatars – polymorphic, spiritual monsters – are a better, truer rendition of humanity than Romantic figures stripped of ambiguity and the play of polysemy.
Giving a better rendition of the humanity she wishes to transmit, achieving ownership of her culture – or rather cultures – and preserving her newly won freedom all incite Ruta to defend the evolution that she can sense dawning and gaining ground within herself, just as Judith Reigl, in her day and to her own bafflement, consented to let an incongruous body emerge from her abstraction, to the chagrin of the guardians of the temple of contemporaneity in art. Throwing open this virtual, polysemic field and uniting the traces and roots allows her to tie a happy knot between life, the sacred, and the trivial – which, after all, resumes humanity, that is no more than human.
For Ruta, earth can no longer be eradicated and there is nothing to repent of in freedom. Let us therefore join her in connecting with the hybrid figure that throws off its constraints, without morality, concessions, barbarity, or dependency, whether religious, political, or military.
Ruta has recently begun to relax the movement of her hands in an intuitive drawing style open to all forms of digression – a productive experiment whose immediacy allows her to grasp the virtuality at play in the incompleteness of a wandering spirit. She appreciates not being dependent on the constraints of sculpture, while not wishing to leave it behind once and for all. Her drawing gives rhythm to her sculpture by removing it from an uncertain duration and period of waiting and from control that has an equal impact on the material, the precision of her movements, and the variations of the sensitive intonation. The interplay between material and drawing is a productive form of breathing and a source of enrichment for her work in clay.
“Why not painting? I may well come back to it. Drawing is taking me along that path!” she says. This is not insignificant, given the role that painting has had in her family and the love her late father had for it. Having dared carve out her own route as a woman and an artist, Ruta is returning, not along the return route of the traveller, but along the path of conciliation, seeing it as a bridge leading out from her rediscovered roots and enabling her to soothe the chaos of her own narrative, while preserving a critical distance and above all a depth that she has conquered with great pains over the course of her geographical, political, and artistic development.
We certainly have much to learn from Ruta Jusionyte, as parents have much to learn from their children, who put them back in touch with the sensitive dimension of their existence, all too easily smothered by reason and the constraints of conformity. Like us, Ruta holds her past up in front of her: it is her future… and ours. An artist worth following, it is said! So let us follow Ruta on a path we were not necessarily expecting to take.
© Thierry Delcourt
Thierry Delcourt has written a number of texts based on his research into the process of artistic creation::
Au risque de l’Art - éd. L’Âge d’Homme, 2007
Artiste Féminin Singulier - éd. L’Âge d’Homme, 2009
Un combat pour l’Autre in Aux limites du sujet - éd. érès, 2006
Résonance magnétique des mots in Les mots de la psychiatrie - éd. Afpep, 2006
Ateliers in Ateliers de Jean-Jacques Rossbach - livre d’artiste, 2007
La connaissance au risque de la culture in Psychanalystes, gourous et chamans en Inde - éd. L’Harmattan, 2007
Passages de frontières in Entre deux rives – Exil et transmission - éd. érès, 2008
Formes en Extension in Marc Gerenton - éd. Prisme, 2009
A l’assaut des passions in Quand l’amor monte d’Alex Bianchi et Lydie Arickx - éd. du Bout du Rien, 2009