Svai and Paul Stanikas art is controversial, scandalous, mannered and also emphatically esthetical. They create drastic images: simulations of fake deaths, extreme doses of sexuality, illness, violence, aggression and self destruction, questioning of basic self security instincts, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Their visuals are made using different medias and based on classical schemes: academic drawing, imposing music, dignified compositions, museum atmosphere, the elements of theatre, cinema and classical dance.
A couple of artists work together since their studies. They started with ceramic sculpture objects covered with slimy enamel and reinterpretation of soviet and foreign sculpture patterns. A bit later artists included drawing (anatomical, huge, academic) to their arsenal of expressions, photography (glamour and big sized), elements of installation. And finally – video films (montage of video performance and documentary material).
Different medias were used not chronologically, but as accompaniments depending on the needs for the main goal – to build effective exposition. Images made in other media have not only added something, but also stud for each other. The same images, themes, ideas usually are reproduced, detailed in many ways. Therefore, you can often meet in their works trick like picture in the picture, film in the film. It can be explained by their desire to excesses. For example in the photos appear fragments of bestial ceramics („The End“ 1999 m.), video camera crawls on photographs (“The Men are Watching Leaving Women” 2004 m.) or is staring at another camera (which is filming the film maker).
S. & P. Stanikas stages accurately every photographed scene of fake crime or disaster. In this process they include accident too, because imitating the organic material (blood, excrements, wounded body) demands it. Therefore, Stanikas’ photographs have similarity to strategies of Cindy Sherman staged role photography.
Svai and Paul photographs, films, draws themselves, sometimes they use as personages/models family members and rarely – other people. The role of the hurt one and weak plays both – Svai and Paul as well. Though Svai becomes a victim (in the art) much more often then her husband and has much wider variety of roles representing suffering. She embodies the siren that is being observed, the deadly ill person, the mother who is scared of her baby, raped woman in the forest, a burned corpse, the suicide who is exhausted from allergy to sun etc. Paul explains it by saying that Svai is simply more photogenic than him. The collection of Paul penis photographs makes us doubt and suggests the thought that spouses understands gender hierarchy in a normative way. Or this distinction of roles could be explained by artists’ wish to use cliché as much as possible.
Svai and Paul explodes not only images that are considered to be low (in the moral hierarchy: shame, lust, illness, violent death, other abject), but also methods that are below high culture. For example – flash light in photography. Flash effect is related to domestic practice and cheep esthetics. The connotations to low culture are often used in their works. But the flash light is also useful for artist’s that loves dramatic effects because it deforms figures and divides first plan from the background. The textures becomes extremely realistic (with all disgust) and the background – mysterious, full of shadows and frightening. The scenes of violence could be viewed purely from the esthetic point of view, like a painting, but not everybody could switch the mind till that extent.
In order to create strong psychological impact on the viewer, artists borrowed a lot from the painting history. For example they use one source of strong light to build compositions in photos and drawings. Visually the result reminds Italian baroque painter’s Caravaggio works. The details like shiny eyes in the dark or the frame angle from the floor supports the atmosphere of disaster.
Along with sex and death another important theme for them is relation to the artistic and personal tradition. Paul’s grandfather Petras Vaivada was a famous sculptor and his prehistory is full of artistic challenges that enriches and chase ambitious offspring’s. Statues, drawings, photos of the ancestors become the part of Stanikas’ video work “Inferno. Motherhood”. The rituals with statues show that the trap and pleasure of emotional dependence is unavoidable.
The paradigm of postmodernism allows mixing high and low cultures, themes, methods – anything. S.&P. Stanikas do that methodically as many others. The unique and extreme character of their works is reached by choosing the highest and the lowest. The top and the bottom are together.
Exploring art works that examine moral norms is common to expect specific social goals, programs or ideologies. The willingness to change the understanding of woman’s role (feminism), to protect the weak (social criticism) or to greave for victims (holocaust theme) could be found in separated works by S.&P. Stanikas.
However if we look at their entire collection it would be obvious that artists don’t have any ethic system or social goals. One work content brushes away the next one. It seems that S. & P. Stanikas are chasing all possible ways to shock the viewer. And that’s the only real reason for their choices of the themes and ways of expression. This leads to conclusion that artists are talking about universal human threads. They say that they are trying to reach the cord of existence. As expected such sort of art is loved or hated. No one could stay in the middle.