Thesis Info

The Problem of Death in Contemporary Lithuanian Art
Dalia Navikaite
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Vilnius Academy of Arts
Thesis Supervisor
dr. Lolita Jablonskiene
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Art history and criticism
Languages Familiar to Author
English, Russian, French
URL where full thesis can be found
contemporary art, Lthuanian art, art criticism, art theory, Lacan, death, post-structuralism, finitude
Abstract: 200-400 words
The Problem of Death in Contemporary Lithuanian Art The object of research. A new type of art has unfolded in Lithuania since the second half of the 1980s, which differs from previous art in terms of both formal expression and point of view, as well as the very understanding of art and its functions. Its characteristic features are non-traditional form of expression, conceptualism and social commitment, interdisciplinarity, contextuality and production of heterogeneous multilevel meanings. Contemporary art is often related to new technologies (video, computers, etc.), an innovative attitude towards traditional media, the use of non-traditional materials (like feathers, fat, etc.) and combining different media. This type of Lithuanian art is not locally isolated, but is a part of a global art scene and follows its tendencies. It is significant that the relation to the represented object has changed in contemporary art. Mimesis that has supposedly been one of the main characteristics of art, since classical Greece, is not so important now and is even discredited. However, it is not a sudden break, but rather a continuous process that could be observed since the end of the 19th century, which has changed the whole character of art. Alongside representational art, where death, the dying, funeral implements, rituals or various attributes and symbols (exp.: skull, coffin, the reaper) related to death are depicted there, is a broad range of works with no direct image of death, but linked to the issue of death. This link is of a deeper nature than just a superficial imitation or similarity of forms. Such works are related to death by having elements with similar qualities or features that are prescribed to it by culture or human consciousness. The problem of death is broader than is implied by direct images. It manifests also in the emphasis on the process, the disappearance of form, constant transformations, the inevitable flow of time and decay that often refer to immanent death. The scope of research. Death is not the key problem of contemporary art. But it is a radical question that defeats the existence of a human being. Postmetaphysical culture that we live in makes it an even more specific and important issue. Nowadays, culture with its variety and heterogeneity no longer presupposes any answer to the death problem and has relegated this question to the sphere of personal decision-making. But the sense of the unconditional meaning of life and the guarantee of transcendence has vanished and a subject feels the threat of death, which causes “ontological insecurity” (V. Kavolis). Death becomes discreditable and unmentionable. It is concealed in social life and there is an attempt to “deconstruct” it - to annihilate it by finding its cause. This analysis of the problem of death in contemporary art is an attempt to look at the works related to death and to reveal the understanding of death that they convey. The research has been carried out in a wide cultural field. In this thesis the notion of interrelated culture is crucial. Death is treated as a complicated phenomenon based on three main factors: 1) the situation of art and the specificity of artistic media; 2) peculiarity of postmetaphysical culture; 3) the historical, artistic and cultural tradition. The innovativeness of research. This thesis does not discuss general problems or tendencies of Lithuanian contemporary art, but examines one particular subject of it. While there is a lack of any comprehensive study of Lithuanian art, it considers just one aspect of it. However, this aspect is important to the global scene of contemporary art and culture that Lithuania is part of too. It is also existentially significant to all human beings. This problem has been explored with reference to traditional arts, but has never been discussed with regard to contemporary Lithuanian art. Even on the global level it has been raised only provisionally. So the thesis is important both as an analysis of the developments in contemporary Lithuanian art, which inquiries the actual processes of contemporary culture, and as an attempt to address significant questions and look for their interpretation given in contemporary art. Finally, it treats contemporary Lithuanian art from a new point of view. This not only provides a possibility to add a different perspective to the understanding of contemporary art and gives new insights into the works of artists. The research is based on general overviews of Lithuanian art, analysis of global art tendencies, visual and cultural studies as well as expert knowledge of the local art scene. The key starting point of the discussion in the thesis is also very important. The problem of death is being raised from a postmetaphysical perspective. The thesis examines which notion of death is adopted to answer the most radical questions of human existence that culture tends to suppress and what kind of ideologies legitimate these answers. Even traditional iconographic images of death or images related to death in traditional arts are rarely treated from this point of view. The research methods and overview of bibliography. Exploration of the problem of death brings the most important and complicated problems of our culture and its specific features to the focus. It considers complex transformations that art has undergone during the 20th century too. And, of course, it is inseparable from the discussion of the development and structure of human mind. The necessity to pay attention to these complex issues makes the analysis manifold. It appears that it is useful to base an exploration of the notion of death in contemporary Lithuanian art on Jacques Lacan’s model of a subject as a triple structure, where each part relates to three dimensions of the world, which are the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary. Ideas of Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, and Zygmund Bauman among others have been also very important in defining contemporary culture and its peculiarities. For the interpretation of the image of death in art, its notion in philosophy and cultural history studies of Philippe Aries, Jonathan Dollimore, Nicolas Llewellyn and some other theoreticians were used. Due to the range of problems in this research, narrow specialised methods were not relevant. Hence interdisciplinary and multiaspectual analysis was chosen. It provides a possibility to explore complex issues that are the focus of this research, different attitudes towards the problem and tangled interrelations of various cultural practices while preserving the conception of mutability of culture and art and allowing interpretation of a piece of art as an integral part of the whole cultural tissue, which both creates and reflects it. Contemporary art is considered from the socio-cultural perspective as a result of certain activity of a subject who is interpreted as a person inbuilt in her/his surroundings and influenced by them, but still remains an active agent. The research uses comparative methods as well. They help to discover parallels between the changes in the notion of death and predominant ideological concepts as well as the idea of the subject and transformations of self-identity. The notion of death is inseparable from the concept of the subject, the world and localization of the subject in it. When the paradigms of culture change the world and the subject are no longer supposed to be stable and there is no rigid distinction of the inside and outside. Recognition of the impact of language and other cultural factors on the formation of an individual closed the gap between the subject and his/her surroundings. Under these new circumstances it is important to define the localization of death and its expression in contemporary art. The issue of periodization and terms. Contemporary culture and art are named to be postmodern. But what is postmodern could no be understood without defining its differences from the modern culture and modernism. It has been accepted that modernity is conceived as the “new times” or “industrial age” related to the Enlightenment. Then the key theoretical concepts have been developed, which are individualism, rationalism and innovation. Rapid industrialization, the growth of technology and science then took place. They caused secularization, detraditionalisation, specialisation and differentiation. These processes are called “modernisation”. Modernity was a significant cultural change, which involved not only particular social phenomena but also a shift in the way of thinking. It is important to note that processes of modernity in peripheries of Western Europe, as well as in Lithuania, developed with some retard. The peak period of modernisation is supposed to stretch from the end of the 19th century to the second half of the 20th century. It was marked by an attempt to put the notions of modernity into practice. But at the very same time, modern values were first doubted and indications of decline and disappointment could be felt too. Modern art had formed within this complex situation of modern culture and society. This artistic phenomenon is controversial, complicated and marked by a huge stylistic variety. It could be noticed anyhow that all artistic movements of modernism are conjoint by the ideology of modernity. Prominence of individuality and formal originality of art, a search for objectivity by finding and expressing some common universal values, progressiveness and innovation, the separation of art and life, the establishment of the autonomy of art and elitism or even escapist tendencies form its background. Contemporary culture is often opposed to modernity because of the new disbelief in its ideals and key concepts, especially scientific and technical progress, rational behavior and rationality of human being in general, “the big narratives”, etc. Globalization, pluralism and heterogeneity took their place. The previous modernist “…or, … or” principle has been changed by the