In the 1920s, the Lithuanian geographer, diplomat and academic Kazys Pakstas (1893–1960) proposed an idea to move the entire nation of Lithuania from its geographical home by the Baltic Sea in Europe’s east to a safe place, a peaceful colony overseas. This was a reaction to the tense geopolitical situation with neighbouring Russia and other events in Europe. Pakstas spoke of the importance of saving the nation through saving its intellectual thought first. This Utopian project, titled Dausuva (named after Dausos – the spirit world in Lithuanian mythology) considered locations like Quebec, Belize, Sao Paulo, Angola and Venezuela. Pakstas visited each of the locations and held meetings with local authorities about potentially buying or leasing land to resettle.
Some 400 years earlier Jacques Cartier had sailed from France across the Atlantic hoping to find a western shortcut to the riches of Asia and its spices and silks. Twenty days later his ships reached the shores of what later was to become Canada, at the time inhabited by First Nations. Spices and silks were nowhere to be found, but there was plenty of gold, diamonds and fur. Jacques Cartier and his team endured a harsh Canadian winter and in spring loaded their ships with their newly found riches and set sail back to France to report on the mission to King Francis I. Upon their return the precious cargo turned out to be quartz and iron pyrite rather than diamonds and gold, leading to a French phrase faux comme les diamants du Canada (‘fake like Canadian diamonds’).
My exhibition Impossible Colonies presents a constellation of works, reflecting on these histories.
The first chapter of Impossible Colonies presents a fictional archive of Pakstas’ proposed migrations. Three photo-etchings (above) depict landscape as a new, mysterious, untouched and therefore romanticised and distanced entity. Something to be admired, but conquered or at least tamed. Colonial expansionist thought saw nature as detached from humanity, as an environment in which we exist rather than as something we are an integral part of.
Two photographic silk flags with golden tassels show the Baltic Sea and Loch Dochard in Argyll. Using these flags as symbols for territorial claims, yet consciously stripping them of nationalistic imagery and meaning, the inhabitants of Impossible Colonies celebrate fluidity, transition and closeness as building blocks of a new society.
Beeswax artefacts refer to items brought from their former home, as souvenirs or memory vessels and links to the life once lived. Cast from natural southern Lithuanian beeswax, these objects are multiplied, as if trying to hold on to the memories they may carry, whilst simultaneously stripping them of meaning by repeating the shape and form. The faint smell of meadow and hay holds an imprint of time and the collective labour of colonies of honey bees that produced the wax.
Two silent looped videos: Untitled (archive) and Untitled (moon) extend the conversation in time: beeswax artefacts get digitised to be accessed by future generations, in the process revealing one true original souvenir from which the others were multiplied. An unknown light object blinks in the darkening evening sky above the forest, delivering a coded message to those arriving to the Impossible Colonies, whether it’s a new land across the water or a planet promising a fresh start, this time certainly free and equal for all.
Magic lantern slides continue the direction to the outer space. The fascination humans have long had with the sky and its formations, through myth, religion, astrology and science is now entering the stage of seeing it as a potential living destination. The settlers of Impossible Colonies will have a chance to define and shape their new home, and perhaps this new planet and this solar system is far enough to avoid repeating mistakes of the previous societal models.
Collective Geologies Map from the second chapter of Impossible Colonies was made by a constellation of people who drew the map of the world from memory. Merged into one, these maps become a graphic of multiple geographies, memories and teachings. Gilded with 24 ct gold leaf this fictional map refers to aggressive historical and contemporary expansions, often fuelled by geological motives. It is layers of soil, rock, hardened lava, trapped minerals, crystals, moved and shaped by shifting glaciers, volcanic events and erosion that is so inviting to slice through like a layered cake of space and time, even better if speckled with gold veins and diamond nests. Colonialism exploits geological, biological and natural resources as well as people, it is only unclear how deep the colonial knife slices: does the cut end at the tectonic plates or does it dig deeper to the very core of the planet?
Amateur Botanist video combines photogrammetry generated 3D models and underwater video footage to imagine and reenact some ways that plants may have travelled and spread around the planet. It hints at imperial expansions and is based on a narrated dialogue between two non-human species. This work explores notions of native and invasive, and tests the waters outside the anthropocentric world view.
Migrations of plants, as well as those of animals and humans, have shaped the planet, and have been affected by complex intertwined sociopolitical factors: wars, expansions, climate change, economy and eating habits. These factors, alongside time, also determine whether a species, an individual or a group get labelled as local, invasive, indigenous, exotic, foreign or native.
Amateur Botanist observes the simplest of botanical migrations – fruits, vegetables and roots floating across bodies of water to reach new lands and spread. A dialogue in between two non-human species also includes digitally rendered forms, extending the conversation from human to non-human, to the digital realm.
Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte
Continues until 27 October 2019
An Talla Solais Gallery
West Argyle Street
Impossible Colonies work was commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival in 2017, while my research was supported by Lithuanian Culture Council. The ongoing second chapter of Impossible Colonies was started during the residency at VU Photo, Quebec City Canada, and supported by Creative Scotland, VU Photo and Lithuanian Culture Council. Amateur Botanist was commissioned by Short Circuit projects and Centrala, Birmingham. Made with support from Lithuanian Culture Council.