Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė “Mouthless Part III (Panorama)” at EPFL Pavilions, Lausanne

Unfolding through a two-channel video installation, “Mouthless Part III (Panorama)” brings the spell of Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė’s visual universe into the space. It is part of the research project Synthetic Landscapes and represents the third chapter of their Mouthless series. Synthetic Landscapes looks into the history of Western landscape painting and specifically the formation of the concept of nature as that which has been defined as alien, outside of the subject, in an effort to better understand the current ecological crisis. The project poses a challenge to the illusory promise of subjectivity as a whole and as separate from the environment, seeking to break normative behavior patterns and negotiate new ways of relating to the world.

For “Mouthless Part III,” Gawęda and Kulbokaitė collaborated with engineers at the EPFL Imaging Center and Image Analysis Hub and discussed with scientists at CLIMACT to explore GAN aesthetics
and ground the narrative of the work in environmental research. Technical and scientific inputs have been absorbed and integrated into the folkloric tropes of an opulent narrative and aesthetic that develops across two channels as a conversation between two characters: an archetypal Eastern European peasant and a landscape demon.

Alice Bucknell writes about the Mouthless series in Body as a Journal: “A strong interest in folklore—how it weirds the relationship between body and landscape through storytelling, while opening up alternative states and temporalities through queerness and magic—runs through Gawęda and Kulbokaitė’s pro- jects, particularly the ongoing multimedia trilogy Mouthless (2020–23). The series operates episodically, and while it manifests principally through video, it grafts onto the non-visual and non-linear, the machine-hallucinated, olfactory, and ritualistic, as a series of stories loosely tethered together by language, grief, the collective body, and ego death. Fact, fiction, theory, and folklore intertwine; these speculative stories are infused with scents, chants, and mythical characters.
[. . .] Haunting these worlds are queer protagonists from Slavic and Baltic folk tales and traditions (stemming from the artists’ own backgrounds, Gawęda from Poland and Kulbokaité from Lithuania)—interstitial bodies and spirits that occupy liminal, contaminated, edge-of-world zones: swamps, soils, spills. These characters are complicated and contradictory; their ethics opaque, their bodies nebulous— it’s difficult to tell where the monster ends and the human begins.”
In its digital morphing, the video treads a similarly tense in-between ground—straddling nature and artifice, technology and the supernatural.

The duo are alchemists and directors of a sophisticated research project where engineers appear to
be entrusted with executing a task subverted into lavish visual dimensions. “Mouthless Part III (Panorama)” is a delightful disruption of techno-science, where storytelling, science, advanced digital technologies, the character study, fashion, and a nuanced soundscape all converge, queering genres, haunting the context, and illuminating transtemporal links through a calibrated visual narrative.

Lying on the central table is a 2019 sculpture which belongs to Gawęda and Kulbokaitė’s longstanding investigation of transcultural and transhistorical signifiers. The work’s title is the following quotation from Sappho’s description of the Adonia rite in Ancient Greece, in which women mourned the death of Adonis, consort of Aphrodite: For when I look at you for a moment, then it is no longer possible for me to speak; my tongue has snapped, at once a subtle fire has stolen beneath my flesh, I see nothing with my eyes, my ears hum, sweat pours from me, a trembling seizes me all over, I am greener than grass, and it seems to me that I am a little short of dying. (I, II).

This physical element complements the video work and resonates with it, as if the pleasant and the
demon could also materialize and themselves become speakers of the collective knowledge and references they carry. “Mouthless Part III (Panorama)” contains numerous references to texts such as The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, The Wedding by Stanislaw Wyspianski, Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil, With Stake and Spade: Vampiric Diversity in Poland by Łukasz Kozak, The Second Body by Daisy Hildyard,The Peasant Nightmare: Visions of Apocalypse in the Soviet Countryside by Lynne Viola, Dark Ecology by Timothy Morton, Rotten Sun by Georges Bataille, and words generated by GPT-3.

Giulia Bini

at EPFL Pavilions, Lausanne
until February 26, 2023

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