In this project, we examine the sphere of influence of the equality stereotype, and evaluate our own experience resulting from the collision of the “democratic” values with the reality of life. We define ourselves as belonging to the “turning-point generation”, who have personally gone through the absurdity of the communist regime, the euphoria of the period of the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, the ensuing stage of wild capitalism, the peculiarities of the “European” society formation, and rapid social transformations. During such transitional periods, our personalities developed with a need to constantly ponder the phenomenon of femininity – its biological structure, subordination in the family, and relation to patriarchy. This led us to think about the social stigmatisation of a newly born individual. Being women, we feel the pressure of such stigmatisation and desire to find a “label” and prescribe a “mission” for everyone who finds him- or herself in its sphere of influence, especially newly born children.
It is clear that a child’s birth raises the question of personal identity and equality, which later in life, when the society “takes interest” in the individual, becomes (or perhaps must become?) public. The society mercilessly invents the definitions for the “deviancies” of the way of life and self-realisation we have chosen; it regulates the proper mode of behaviour for each of us, and may declare our behaviour immoral or misguided at any time. The psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm states in his book The Fear of Freedom (1941): “Hence, the society not only suppresses, but also creates the individual’s needs. […]The uniqueness of the self in no way contradicts the principle of equality. The thesis that men are born equal implies that they all share the same fundamental human qualities, that they share the basic fate of human beings, that they all have the same inalienable claim on freedom and happiness. It furthermore means that their relationship is one of solidarity, not one of domination and submission. What the concept of equality does not mean is that all men are alike. Such a concept of equality is derived from the role that the individual plays in his economic activities today.”
By interpreting the child’s romper suit, in this work we seek to reveal the position of the stigmatised in society. The latter appears to “imprison” them in childhood, thus the stigmatised can only submit to acting as a “child among adults”. The combination of the body of an old person and children’s clothing is supposed to draw attention to the fact that the mentioned “imprisonment” of the stigmatised leaves them in need of self-identity, as the individual is cast out of the “normal” world. In other words, the stigmatising labels attached to us circumcise us and make us amorphous like emptiness “imprisoned” in a child’s romper suit.
The installation Total Equality emphasises the human inclination to squeeze their own and others’ lives into clichés. Therefore, the propaganda of universal equality regardless of gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation or social status, carried out by the media, is fairly ironic, because it does not reflect reality. Led by their nature – the desire to be, to survive, to dominate, people seek to avoid equality at any cost: they weave plots, ostentatiously assert their social status, use fashion and art, which provide them with exclusivity. With this project, we state that, regardless of racial or national differences, we all bear labels that designate the fate of “decent people”, professional careerists, housewives or losers…
Art Critic Laima Kreivytė
Total equality of bodies without organs
The deepest is the skin
Total equality, like absolute freedom, can only be a desired state. At first sight, headless human torsos look like stuffed skins that have nothing to do with human individuality or the abstract idea of equality. Anonymous bodies allude to the masses and the totalitarian conception of corporeality – such as that found in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Triumph of the Will or in mass parades in honour of the dictator. The bodies of a human cog spinning in the wheels of collective gymnastics and becoming a detail of a living ornament or tower, and a human as a file number, anonymously toiling in a labour camp, are but parts of the mechanism of violence. They are the most unified and disciplined bodies.
In the installation Total Equality, bodies are not uniform. For comparison, one can remember Magdalena Abakanowicz’s crowds of headless people made from burlap sackcloth. The people in this crowd – each and every one – are identical. Meanwhile, the torsos we see here belong to old and young, males and females, whites and blacks. None of them is larger or more prominent – albeit only formally. Because upon a closer look it becomes clear that each has a label that determines his/her value in the social hierarchy. Contemporary gender theories argue that identity is not innate, that our perception of our body, sexuality, and self is socially and culturally constructed. Judith Butler has developed the concept of performative identity – you are what you do, by repeating certain actions you assert your masculinity or femininity. In other words, it is not “innate” essence, biological givens or the “package” of the body but everyday practices that determine identity.
However, there are also practical issues of living in a society. What can you do if you reject the biological, essentialist notion of identity, but your environment still tries to squeeze you into a certain category? You are gay. Or a Jew. An Arab. A hobo. You are a stranger; we don’t like the colour of your skin. And you can imagine all you want that identities are constructed, that you reject labels, that you are determined by your actions, not by someone’s prejudices; you are already branded. One can recall Hannah Arendt’s notion of “identity under attack” here. When you just live and interact, without encountering hostility and aggression, you may not feel Jewish, Russian, Lithuanian, And Caucasian. Yet when somebody starts to beat you up on the street as a degenerate because of your dark skin, stick hexagrams to your clothes, in other words, singles you out as a social outcast, you have no choice but to assume with dignity the identity that you might not have even given a single thought before.
Yet this does not exhaust the possible interpretations of this work. A good work of art always generates more interpretations than its authors or critics can imagine. Each viewer extends the work by filling in the remaining voids. And the void here is not less important than the skin. The skin is a kind of shell, the clothing of the body. The viscera, meanwhile, are usually hidden, invisible, and inexperienced (until they get sick). There are obviously no viscera in this installation. On the one hand, it means that our external envelope is at the same time internal. On the other hand, the void points to Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs”. The latter is precisely what is left when the fantasies have been done away with – this image is the inverse of that of psychoanalysis. The body without organs is the sum of the human being’s virtual possibilities – an exploration of the limits of bodiliness. In their book A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari describe the various modalities of bodies without organs – hypochondriac, paranoid, schizo, drugged, masochist body, and invite the reader to look at them from a different perspective:
“Why such a dreary parade of sucked-dry, catatonicized, vitrified, sewn-up bodies, when the BwO [Body without Organs] is also full of gaiety, ecstasy, and dance? So why these examples, why must we start there? Emptied bodies instead of full ones. […] Is it really so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breathing with your lungs, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your tongue, thinking with your brain, having an anus and larynx, head and legs? Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin,breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full Body, the stationary Voyage, Anorexia, cutaneous Vision, Yoga, Krishna, Love, and Experimentation. Where psychoanalysis says, “Stop, find yourself again”, we should say instead, “Let’s go further still, we haven’t found our BwO yet, we haven’t sufficiently dismantled our self”. Substitute forgetting for anamnesis, experimentation for interpretation. Find your body without organs. Find out how to make it. It’s a question of life and death, youth and old age, sadness and joy. It is where everything is played out.”
Each body is a sum of not only present, but also future possibilities. Yet we judge the prospects of these branded bodies by their surface and the labels attached by society. The most superficial, yet the most visible bodily features become a permanent tattoo of identity. We cannot get rid of these inscriptions on our bodies. This is why the deepest is the skin, according to Valéry. Total Equality calls the viewers to fill the hollow bodies with the stories of their own and others’ lives.