SvajonÄ— ir Paulius Stanikas live and work in Paris. They successfully organise solo exhibitions and participate in prominent art events all over the world (the biennials of Venice, Liverpool, Beijing, etc.).
The artists create complex in situ installations, which consist of drawings, photographs, sculptures, videos, texts, found and acquired objects (that usually reflect the specifics of the country where the works are presented), and the interplay of light and sound in the space, avoiding the use of the conventions of any single defined single.
Concept-wise, SvajonÄ— and Paulius Stanikas constantly balance between images derived from the mass media and subjective images, kitsch and millennia-old fundamental cultural symbols, simulation and sincerity, anecdote and epos, “pure aesthetics” and ideology, parody and tragedy (albeit gravitating towards the latter) in their work, managing to associatively find combinations of the aesthetic and the ethical that nevertheless do not become declaratory and didactic.
Numerous formal and conceptual levels form an integral whole in the Stanikas’ exhibitions, which encompass not only the object/media components, but also the historical, cultural, and autobiographic ones (the Stanikas’ photography and video works often reflect their personal, autobiographic spacetime as well). In a sense, the installations’ “epic” logic, structure and depth, combined with personal experience, come close to such landmark multifaceted works as Dante’s The Divine Comedy and François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, or allude through their meta-symbolic nature to the contemporary versions of the Book of Changes, which are frequently adapted to the current demands of the market and the consumers.
Although it is the body (usually the artists’ own) and the radical de Sadean corporeality that blends into one macabre whole the masculine and the feminine identities (or yin and yang in the broader sense) that are the most important elements of the Stanikas’ iconography, the semantic energy of the signs, symbols, and metaphors used in their works can be interpreted as the dialectic of the soul, in which multiple manifestations of good and evil fight each other.
The Stanikas weave the present exhibition, titled Altars, from Renaissance-like (and, at the same time, deeply contemporary) grandiose drawings, photographs that exploit visual paradoxes, the delirious autobiographical video titled Inferno, and found/acquired objects that join or, conversely, dissolve all of these media. The exhibition’s visual code is monochrome, like an allusion to the semantics of the sacred notion of an altar, which is associated with various socio-cultural rituals – from wedding to funeral – where the prominence of black and/or white is important. In this sense, the exhibition also alludes to the total commodification of the contemporary world, in which window-cases filled with artefacts become the heart of today’s global socio-cultural rituals.
Thus, exploring, in a paradoxical way, the fundamental cultural opposition between body and soul, the Stanikas activate and reconstruct the subjective and collective archetypal mythologems, yet by working in a vivid advertising-like visual style, they simultaneously speak about the transformations and paradoxes of the semantic and symbolic systems, thinking, faith, self-realisation, archetypes, and the self in today’s world.