Gytis Skudžinskas. Silence
“Speech is silver, but silence is golden”. This virtually universal adage, found across many different cultures, has long become a proverbial truth, dictating that wise silence is incomparably more valuable than oratory, rhetorical acrobatics, and speechmaking. Although the initial “habitat” of this truism was the everyday, domestic environment, its validity (and thus, also, power) is especially evident in the universe of “high” art. Most devout cinephiles will view a virtually silent Šarūnas Bartas, Kim Ki-duk or Andrei Tarkovsky film as indisputably more valuable (and spiritual) than, say, an American indie film with plenty of dialogues. For lovers of classical fine art photography, “Quiet” photographs of the Lithuanian maître Romualdas Rakauskas will always be superior to Nan Goldin’s raunchy, blatant shots.
Silence has a long history of adoration in the art context. From the sphere of professional art, this inclination to venerate and exaggerate silence has spilled over to the world of amateur “art” photography: it is easy to notice that great many young budding photographers who nurture artistic ambitions are convinced that the more “mute” and mysterious an image is, the better. An extreme manifestation of this trend is a photograph in which some poetic, enigmatic, or philosophical text is written, in a stylised form, on the body of the portrayed or on a sheet of paper that the latter holds in his or her hands; in this way, the portrayed remains “eloquently silent”.
Here’s the main paradox: as the latter example demonstrates, “artistic” silence still has some properties of speech – that is, far from “meaning nothing”, it has an immense semantic charge. Many connoisseurs of “serious” art believe that silence “says” more than words, because it leaves much more space for meaning. The usual, embodied word in this (modernist) system of thought is finite, constrained, skimpy, imperfect. Silence, on the contrary, is that Word which “was in the beginning”, incorporeal and thus potentially meaning Everything. Silence in modernist art – film, painting, and photography alike – is always transcendental and existential, overloaded with human (humanist) meanings.
It is a completely different story with post-modern art, in which – if only it is true to itself – “there is nothing outside the text”, according to Derrida’s famous maxim. Silence here is discursive and partial, and has a multitude of conflicting meanings, rather than all-encompassing transcendental meaning; it impudently intrudes into the very inside of speech and immediately self-destructs through irony. Here, it is usually not what it seems; fake gold, which shines not for the sake of deception, but rather to reveal that “real” gold is itself a fake.
The latter phrase perfectly describes Gytis Skudžinskas’ ongoing series Silence. Each abstract shot seems to depict the golden section – not the fabled one, which marks the perfect proportion between two parts of a whole, but another, a crack in “gold” itself, which designates the impossibility of “meaningful silence”. There is nothing beyond this line – this horizon, just as there is nothing outside the Derridian text. There is a fitting term for this in general relativity theory: event horizon. To put it simply, it is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events and processes cannot affect an outside observer – for instance, the sphere surrounding a black hole, from which no signals can reach us. The works of the Silence series depict visual silence as such an “event horizon” – there is nothing beyond it, and it is no use guessing what depths might lie there.
While colours “exceed” the limits of the canvas (that is to say, go “beyond the discourse”, to a mythical pre-language yet still existentially “meaningful” space) in, say, Mark Rothko’s typically modernist abstract paintings, which, incidentally, are often divided into two parts by a horizontal line as well, nothing of the sort happens in Gytis Skudžinskas’ abstract photographs, which, consciously or unconsciously, cite Rothko’s paintings. Here, colours have nowhere to go; and even if they can go somewhere beyond, we simply don’t have any tools to find out what awaits them there. In other words, we don’t have a space-suit that would enable us to survive, for any significant amount of time, in the space beyond the discourse, in complete, vacuum-like silence, in “the desert of the real”. That is why it feels somewhat uncomfortable to look at Gytis’ works, which resemble windows that open onto utter darkness. “Is this really photography? Or, perhaps, just playing around with the digital gradient fill tool?” – one might ask him- or herself.
Yet our eye, this so easily seduced and deceived organ, refuses to beliefe that it does not know what it is looking at, that this silence is devoid of any “human meaning” and hidden metaphors or mythological allusions. Trained by today’s excessive photographic culture, the eye desperately searches for familiar forms, and, unable to find them, looks for traces of transcendence and “silent revelations”. Numerous knights of art photography (both professionals and amateurs) know about this weakness of our eye (or mind) perfectly well, and keep eloquent silence in their work.
Gytis Skudžinskas, on the contrary, keeps silent in a way that makes the viewer’s eye eventually realize the sheer absurdity of looking for meaning in silence. He demonstrates that this instinctively chosen path is a dead-end. What he shows in his works is just silence. And nothing more.
Jurij Dobriakov. Golden Section