Things of One’s Own
the art of the sculptor Algimantas Šlapikas is interesting as a crossroads of different artistic experiences: of modernist approach to sculpture, of traditional and archaic elements, of conceptual strategies, and, finally, of socially-charged content. the artist still relies on modernist influences: he works in traditional materials and techniques, attaching importance to form and style. yet he also goes further, and with the idea of provoking his audience to engage with his artwork, brings an interactive parameter into his creations. the shape of his sculptural pieces is always carefully premeditated and brought to precise completion, albeit aesthetic considerations never override conceptual content. According to the artist, he “does not aspire for a position of a revolutionary or a preacher, or a fighter for social justice”. “I simply want to give a little clue which helps a person in his decisions how to take in one thing or the other,” the artist says. Šlapikas graduated from his studies in sculpture at State Art institute in the late 1980s – the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the restoration of independence in Lithuania. His generation, just after setting out on a path of creative explorations, had to revisit their strategies in the face of the major change. According the art critic Eglė Komkaitė, “their coming was marked by a conflict, but it was mostly manifested as a discord with the existing – albeit already crumbling – order of things and the rules they had to learn. With the refusal to depict either a real or romanticized picture of social reality, this generation took a prominent turn to a personalized concept of life placing the highest value on individual human existence. <…> Children of the city, they know the life of blocks-of-flats, and for this reason, often rely on their emotional memories of childhood and the attributes of rural folk culture.” While the school introduced him into ideological requirements for art, soon after graduation he set out to explore free artistic strategies. though Šlapikas has produced several figurative works dedicated to the memory of the famous national figures, essentially he is not interested in figurative monumental sculpture. For him, this purely representational genre is too limited in its means of expression; it also has less potential to influence contemporary society. At the centre of his art today is a rather bulky, yet at the same time, mobile sculpture piece, which functions as a living organism, open to interactions with its particular location and with its perceiver. With time the artist has discovered a unique significance for his artwork which he no longer approaches as an object expected to beautify or transform the location, or steep it in meaning, but as an item of personal employment. it can be used in a material way enticing the viewer to enter into physical contact with it, or in ritualistic/symbolical/totemic manner. By comparison to contemporary site-specific art, his creations seem placeless as they depend not on a specific location, but entirely on the perceiver. Šlapikas belongs to the artists who perceive changes in the nature of art as inherent in the changing role of the audience as it transforms itself from a passive observer into a participant. While shifting his aesthetic focus from object to experience, he also tries to stimulate his viewer into an extended contact with his creations by actively including him/her into a zone under their impact.
From his early stage, Šlapikas associated himself with Lithuanian school of sculpture, and from the outset his work displays a set of qualities that distinguish Lithuanian sculpture: the rhythmically structured, generalized forms, harmonious relationship with the immediate environment, attention to special qualities of material, and a tendency towards melancholic aesthetics. to start with, the artist used wood as his material of choice, but did not limit himself entirely to it, working also in stone, metal and terracotta. His early works are mostly abstract or function as signs and metaphors. Worked in a raw manner, of simplified forms, rich in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic elements, they relate to primeval art and totemic figures. in terms of theme, they explore aspects of human vulnerability, loneliness and frequent conflicts with the surrounding world. occasionally he abandons figurative representation altogether, and goes to nature, or to man-made items, to borrow motifs. Šlapikas considers he owes his professional formation to his Lithuanian professors Bronius Vyšniauskas (b. 1923) and Juozas Kėdainis (1915–1998), but his aesthetic sensibility and the development of his style have been markedly influenced by two Finns, Mauno Hartman (b. 1930) and Kain tapper (1930–2004). His nordic colleagues have impacted the Lithuanian artist in their “northerliness”, their Ugro-Finnish mentality. He has been impressed by their respect to natural materials and marriage of folk art and modernism. the constructive element of Hartman’s work, his rhythmical right angles, broken lines – characterized Šlapikas’ early work as well, though his expression is more restrained and sparing. tapper’s work also emphasizes sculpture as a structural enterprise and creates forms in resemblance of megalithic structures. the eloquence of wood as archaic material is at the very heart of the work of both Finns, and of Šlapikas’ art as well. All three artists are also related in their predisposition towards certain roughness and naturalness, under the influence of stark nature of their countries, and, indirectly, folk culture. it is important to note that they all are inspired by a relationship between man and his home as a symbol for security and constancy – and think of their art as “constructing of abodes”.<..>