The Tale of Tales

Auguste Petre

A report on group exhibition “Tail and Heads” at Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius


Which came first – the chicken or the egg? This is a question that has been overwhelming generations since the ancient times and the wise men of Greece. Although, recently it has been proved that the first chicken came from a proto-egg, which was made by a proto-chicken (hence, two birds physically similar to chickens), this rhetorical question is still being used as a key to indicate even more important metaphors of our lives. In reality the question about relationships of a chicken and an egg has a lot more to it than a need for a scientific or historical explanation – by asking which came first we actually draw attention to the many uncertainties arising throughout the development of humanity. How can we actually know if the Earth is round? Have Homo sapiens really descended from apes? Did dinosaurs exist? Sometimes, these and other questions of the same level, can pop up in one’s mind quite unexpectedly and it’s completely normal, because that happens to all of us. However, only some decide to “dig deeper” or rather create interpretations on the remarks of the above mentioned arguments. 

From 15 February until 31 March the Contemporary Art Centre of Vilnius (CAC) offers its visitors an experimental indention from the everyday life – an exploration in the field of the unknown, entitled “Tail and Heads”. This group exhibition, curated by two young artists Ona Juciūte and Viktorija Damerell, is a combination of works of young European artists, as well as a chance to create a visual structure, that includes current topicalities and the essence of the past times.

The exhibition on view at the South Hall of CAC is a curator-initiated collaboration of multiple artists that together have created a one joint artwork or structure. The elongated space has been used practically – the artwork (or object) has been placed directly in the centre of the hall thus allowing the visitors to go around it and examine from various viewpoints. One of the curators, Ona Juciūte, tells: “We kind of thought about this one structure that could gather all the different artworks together and also be a reference to interior and to postindustrial culture. So, this structure in the middle of the space, which joins almost all of the works included in the exhibition, is actually an old bookshelf system from the library. We renovated it in a colour of a bone that reminds of dinosaurs. I have this feeling that the making of group shows is always problematic because curators decide to gather diverse things together and close their eyes to the fact that they can sometimes be quite different from each other. For example, the works that you can see here, now seem totally different from when we saw them individually for the first time. Now they belong to this new structure that creates a new dimension to these works, and at the same time it lets us look at them from another position than before.” 

Viktorija Damerell and Ona Juciūtė

Both curators, Ona and Viktorija, have recently graduated from the Sculpture department of Art Academy of Lithuania and have been curating shows of their contemporaries from time to time, nevertheless they both underline that firstly (and more importantly) they are artists – curating is just another way to expand their research of the visual culture. With the same concept the exhibition “Tail and Heads” was built. Viktorija and Ona decided to visit European art schools and universities that are said to be the best. “We travelled a lot through the graduation shows of art schools in Europe. We have been to different schools in London, in Germany and in Portugal,” says Viktorija. The project begun almost a year ago when curators went to Dusseldorf and met Jan Hüskes. Ona continues: “When we went to Dusseldorf for the first time we actually didn’t have an idea to do a show. We were looking for something – we were hoping to find something interesting that we hadn’t known before. So, when we met Jan we understood immediately that there are so many contexts in his work and it was very inspiring. For example, he is very critical of the german masculine culture – these very manly beer drinkers. In his installation here he is using forms of sneakers that represent these cool art school students.”   

The untitled installation by Jan Hüskes (made from steel bars, stainless steel, epoxy putty, string, shovels and dust), along with the other artworks included in the “Tail and Heads” open up the discussion about everyday-life reflections in art. “In my opinion, the social context is always important in exhibitions. This time it is also here, we are just not revealing it too much. From the first glance these artists have nothing in common, but when you look more closely, you understand that they are actually connected in some way,” says Ona. As the best example to explain this weird relation between the artists, the curators highlight a work by John Ryaner. The video entitled “The Taxonomy of Imitation” (2018) lasts for eight hours, which is also the working time of CAC. It is shown all day without any interruptions, it becomes timeless and, in a way, resembles a sculpture of modern times. The video itself shows two hands making a bait to trick the fish. The bait – made from coloured feathers and other appealing looking materials – becomes a metaphor of imitation. 

Although the decision to choose each participating artist has been very subjective (from the point of view of the curators), it must be acknowledged that the artworks do seem similar. Moreover, they remind of something very familiar, just re-constructed in a more abstract way. The rocking horse made by Viktorija Damerell of plasticine and wood is titled “two tales” (2018) and tells about the double feeling that things often have – something recognisable can also have the unknown and scary side. One of the artworks by Ona Juciūte, “Bone China” (2018) is a story about the development of ceramics in England. To imitate the Chinese porcelain by making it a bit harder to break, bones were added to the material. One of the tales is that the bones were being dug next to cemeteries and crematoriums. “I think that every work in this exhibition is speaking on the same thing from different viewpoints. We are used to some things and there are reason why it is so and why do we call these things by specific names. When thinking about the title of the exhibition we were thinking about a mystical beast and in our minds we created this structure that we defined as the spine of “Tails and Heads”. We all know that there are no dragons, right? But there have been dinosaurs that have inspired people in centuries behind us. This made us think of how the imagination works,” says Ona. 

All together the exhibition offers 15 works by eleven young artists who, despite their individual interests and objectives have successfully adapted to the curator-made structure. Each of the artwork tells it own, significant story, but, by interacting with the surroundings and by belonging to the structure, highlights another aspect of the exhibition – knowledge does not absolve us from further research and interpretations of what we know can easily bring us to new fields of studies, thus create new tales of today.