Featured Artist

Severija Inčirauskaitė Kriaunevičienė


It is possible to talk about Severija Inčirauskaitė Kriaunevičienė’s works from many different perspectives. Firstly, they are visually intensive pieces of art – the sculptural rusty old objects attract your attention straight away and then your eye catches the delicate embroidery work. In your imagination they summon the reflections of the past and the feeling of familiarity. Then you consider the technique – the relationship between the soft cotton thread and the coarse metal object. In Severija’s works a traditional form of textile is reinterpreted and takes on new meanings. The cross-stitch technique and recognizable images do not only entice nostalgic feelings, but also raise questions for discussion around the concepts of beauty and the banal. It also creates connections between art and popular culture. On the other hand, it is interesting how the artist utilizes found objects by combining items of different origin into new sculptural forms. The stories and weight of these objects bring certain context to her works and looking at it from today’s consumerist culture perspective, they also suggest alternative consumer habits.

The most recognizable of your artworks are various everyday objects with cross-stitch embroidery on their surface. Why did you choose this particular technique?

I will admit that this is one of the most popular questions I get asked. Therefore, it is not surprising that you are asking me the same thing. So...
Art critics and journalist like to associate this particular technique with my parents. Both of them are artists and professors at the Vilnius Academy of Arts (Telšiai Faculty). My father mainly uses metal in his creative practice, he makes sculptures, medals, reliefs in metal, whereas my mother, being a professional calligrapher, combines this particular art with textiles. Thus, to the majority it may seem that the art of their daughter is the synthesis between the creative expressions of both parents.
I cannot agree with this, but I cannot deny it either. By the way, I should mention, that metal came into my creative practice only in 2004, before that and in my later works I have worked with different materials as well. Having grown up in an artistic environment where I saw my father creating these incredibly complex metal objects out of what may seem as a rigid and hard to yield material, I never had a fear of working with metal (for many people metal might seem as an insurmountable or resistant material), I always knew that you could make anything out of metal. All you need is knowledge and a wealth of experience (my father studied metal art at Telšiai Applied Arts School and later at Tallinn Art School, therefore he is a professional in this field). And the textile knowledge, like for many women of my and older generation is simply an integral part of daily life (even in first grade, assisted by my mother, I was able to knit myself an incredibly lifelike doll).
Although all of the aforementioned things really had a certain (perhaps unconscious) influence on my work, I have another explanation, which I believe is more important. I discovered metal after my Textile Art studies, and I can say that it was the Textile Art studies that influenced the appearance of non-textile materials in my creative work (for 5 years I studied Costume Design at Telšiai Applied Arts School, where both of my parents studied as well, although, in their time it was known by a different name (now it’s the Vilnius Academy of Arts, Telšiai Faculty), later for 6 years I studied for a BA and MA at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, Textile department, and after that for 2 more years in the postgraduate study at the same institution). I understand and know very well textile materials and all of their possibilities. The main qualities of textile, such as softness, permanent creasing and the instability of form always irritated me and seemed to be out of my control. During my years of study I realised that for me the important thing was the three-dimensional form (not the flatness) and that in textiles it is difficult to create a three-dimensional shape. Although there is an area of textiles called “soft sculpture”, however, I am more interested in the strong, clear and stable form. Also, whilst studying I realized that in my creative practice the notion of re-making was very important, sometimes referred to as “ready-made” (when the meaning of an artwork is created out of existing objects). A lot of people like to link the re-making of objects with the ecological aspect, but for me the use of an existing object in my work is important because of its unique history. A specific object can be itself a reference to the main idea of the artwork, tell us about the past and other things. In this way, already existing everyday metal objects quite naturally appeared in my work.

The key sources of meaning in your work are objects, which you choose to embroider. Their use can be linked to ready-made/objet trouvé/principles of assemblage. How do these objects fall into your artistic horizons and which of their qualities determine your choice?

I would doubt calling it an assemblage of objects. In light of the broadest possible sense of this notion (in French assemblage as in a collection of objects) then, yes, I do assemble, which is especially evident in my latest works (floor and wall lights “Sunflowers” (2010) and others), which I assemble using old plumbing parts, radiators, buckets and construct a single object out of them. However, if considered from the point of view of what art history deems as assemblages of objects then perhaps not.

Objects appear in my creative work in two distinctive ways. In many of my earlier works (for example, the objects in the installation entitled “A Path Strewn With Roses”, 2007-2008 (battered car parts)) the found objects were chosen very purposefully – in order to convey an idea. This particular piece is a reference to the poor driving manners of many Lithuanians. I made it in 2007/2008 when statistically Lithuania was at the top of the list in the European Union according to the number of deaths in car related accidents (I believe, the statistics until today have remained unchanged). In that year, I myself had just started driving and it seemed to me a very dangerous thing to do. Therefore, the title of the piece “A Path Strewn With Roses” should be understood not figuratively (optimistically), but literally. The flowers embroidered onto battered car parts are themselves a reference to the plastic baskets of roadside flowers (left to remember the dead). It acts as a reminder of the consequences of irresponsible driving. Often, I explain this particular piece in a few different ways. Commenting on the oppressive nature of the work, sometimes, playfully, I suggest that this could be a great option for customisation (actually, currently this work is on show in France in one of the exhibitions at the world-known international Saint-Etienne Design Biennale, as an option for an original car customisation). In general, I believe that the multiple meanings of this piece give an additional artistic value to the work.

The objects in the series entitled “Autumn Collection” (2008) were also chosen purposefully. I created this particular series in 2005, when Lithuania had just joined the European Union and at that time discussions around Lithuanian identity intensified (the fears of losing it after joining the European Union and so on). Through discussions people were trying to find new, more contemporary forms of presenting their Lithuanian identity. It is interesting, that these topical issues were relevant to cultural professionals as well as popular culture. The one difference is, that popular, mass culture acted quicker by opening up many “pseudo-ethnic restaurants” and other kinds of “ethnic kitsch”. Thus the rusty objects from the Lithuanian villages were my ironic remark on the “ethnic kitsch”. Many of the aforementioned restaurants were founded on the same principle of “decorate with rural utensils and sell dumplings”. I did the same thing. I chose rusty watering cans, bottomless buckets, cheese graters; all of the objects in themselves had to be “Lithuanian”. And the fact that the entire collection is made-up of rusty objects is also very important, because the process of corrosion (rust) occurs in very humid conditions, so the rust is a reference to climatic peculiarities of Lithuania: “This is Lithuania, here the rains come” (the phrase which was also interpreted by the professionals and the representatives of “common” culture).

In many of my other works objects are also sourced very purposefully, however sometimes in my later works I start the creative process with the object rather than the idea. The style of my work as well as the way I see these objects has changed immensely. Now even the most interesting objects start to speak to my imagination. I start to dream and create a possible story for the object. For example, I have embroidered cigarette stubs (the title of the piece is “After Party”, made in 2013) onto an old tuna tin or a composition of traditional breakfast with fried eggs (the title of this piece is “Morning Trio”, 2014) onto a frying pan, or a lobster, which is a sign of luxury, onto a huge silver tray.

Often the objects you use tend to point to the past and are associated with the material struggles of everyday in the Soviet period or a romantic outlook onto the rural life. These citations are balanced between irony, humour, the simplicity of the past and sentimentality. What feelings or thoughts do you wish to provoke in the viewer by using these reflections of the past?

I think, I have already touched upon this subject in my previous answer, although if not turning to specific examples (specific artworks), the visual form of the object (its design, colour, the signs of use and time…) is the integral part of the artwork. The fragments of the simplistic Soviet past for me as well as for many other people of my generation are references to childhood, adolescence, when even the most rudimentary and basic things were quite difficult to get hold of, so the principle of “Do It Yourself” was thriving: all women knew how to sew (if only the right fabrics could be combined), children played with self-made toys and so on. I also try to reflect this principle of everyday creativity in my work. For example, from an old (coil) radiator, which has been repainted many times, faucets and upside down bucket I create a new object – a floor lamp. Here, the contrast is important – the floor lamp is usually an accessory in a luxurious interior, but I’m creating it from shabby, disused elements. In general, for me as an individual it is important to make “something” as simple as possible.
And the fact that I often use elements of rural life is not a coincidence. I have already hinted at why they appear in some of my works, but in more abstract terms “the mobility between rural and city cultures that is revealed through specific everyday objects” is one of my greatest subjects of interest. It is true that here also lies the personal sentiments that I have for the rural lifestyle, which, practically, I’ve never lived, but like all Lithuanians I have dreamed about since my childhood. It is no coincidence, also that a catalogue of my artworks, which was published last year, is in the form of a wall calendar with tear-away pages still popular in rural culture. These calendars (full of good advice and recipes) are still popular in Lithuanian villages amongst the elderly. Thus, to “exhibit” buckets, shovels, milk cans, watering cans in this particular form, it seems to me, is very fitting.

The embroidery technique, which you use in your creative work, has been used by women in the past and currently is beginning to make a come back among the do it yourself community. Thus, your works also touch upon the theme of womanhood – how important is that to you?

In particular, all of the flower embroidery patterns I use in my works were taken from a type of “hobby” magazines (as I call them). Virtually all of my artworks, with embroidered flowers, were created using these unified schemes from women’s handicraft magazines. And, of course, I did this not because I didn’t know how to draw (I studied art for 13 years!). I use these patterns purposefully – the element of an already made-up embroidery pattern that is widely used by other people is very important to me as a citation of popular, mass and kitsch culture. And the flowers – what can be more banal than flowers? There isn’t a more banal symbol for “beauty” (perhaps apart from two white swans with their necks forming a heart). It is interesting that objects decorated with flowers (for example, such as floral fabrics) are the most commercially successful. Therefore, in my work, I use “magazine schemes” as a reference to trivial things. For example, even the floral patterns on the cars are of the same sickly sweet style, the kind that the plastic roadside flower baskets are too.
The embroidery of unified designs and the sharing of those designs for me is also a very charming activity, because it’s not a modern invention. The tradition to share embroidery patterns (especially cross-stitch) is quite old. Well, if not to go too far in the past, for example, about a hundred or fifty years ago one of the smarter women in the village would draw a certain design and then all of the other women would copy and embroider it. At the same time, these patterns were also being sold (similar to nowadays). I’m telling you all of this with a hint of irony and knowing the historical context, which is expressed through similar forms even today. I’m playing the same game and I’m following its rules. I copy myself and I let others copy the patterns too. Sometimes I get e-mails, where “skillful embroiderers”, having seen my works, are asking for a certain embroidery pattern. The idea itself that the same design embroidered by another woman onto a canvas (a special cross-stitch fabric) will be hung perhaps somewhere on a wall and mine, a little larger and done in different colours, will appear on a hood of a car (metal canvas) is ironic and charming at the same time. There is a certain charming possibility that my works will be liked by older ladies, but also there is an evident danger in that not all people will fully understand the irony (and that’s the reason why a lot of my work is usually attributed to “craft” and that worries me as an artist).

In several texts you have mentioned that the use of fragments of popular culture in your works makes you question the traditional hierarchy of art. Are you talking about the hierarchy of disciplines or the elitism in art in general?

Yes, I am talking about the elitism in art, but I use the discipline as a method. It’s more of a provocative statement or even a question: which audience should art cater for? I can really appreciate the genuine everyday creative manifestations of ordinary people (not artists) and sometimes art, which is created only for like-minded people, really infuriates me. However, as I have mentioned in my earlier texts there are evident dangers in this kind of attitude. Sometime ago the saying “Everyone is an artist, but only artists know that” was a challenge, but then, finally, when “everyone” learned this phrase and embraced it, the real danger appeared. “Everyone” started to form an opinion on what “real/good” art should be. I do not want to be completely banal, but this came to light during the famous “Waterfront Arch” (“Krantinės arka”) case when complete dilettantes started discussing artistic issues.
But there is nothing to be surprised about. I remember this joke about the artist’s profession – “in an important meeting people of different professions were allowed to speak (for example, a physicist, an economist and an engineer) and an artist. Everybody listened to the first three (because they did not feel very competent themselves), but when the turn came for the artist to speak – everybody spoke, because everyone had an opinion on the subject”.

Since 2009 you have been running the Vilnius Academy of Arts textile gallery-workshop called “Artifex”, where you exhibit well-known Lithuanian and foreign artists’ works. Can you tell us what is the profile of this gallery, what sort of artists do you exhibit and how important is this activity to you?

The profile of the gallery is the professional art and design related to textiles. It is true, that at the beginning the field of textile design seemed very promising (even now it’s a fairly overlooked field in Lithuania), although we did not stretch it as far as possible (in fact, from time to time we still hold some exhibitions of this sort). The further we went the more conceptual the exhibitions and other activities in the gallery became. For me personally, it is quite interesting to find links in the works by other artists (not textile artists and not evidently direct) with the medium of textiles. The notion of textiles at “Artifex” is wide and all encompassing, even the information about textiles can become the basis for creative work. Because I also lecture at the Vilnius Academy of Arts, I always consider the gallery to be an educational space, I always try to invite artists who will be interesting and inspiriting to students as well. When we invite artists from abroad, we also ask them to share their experiences with the students and they normally run workshops with them. Also, the gallery is more focused on emerging artists, here they present their final shows or organise other exhibitions, we are not afraid that someone will show something “rubbish”, we are not afraid to make mistakes. Running a gallery takes a lot of time and effort and if this would not be a textiles orientated gallery (the area that I know very well) I would not take this kind of a job. I work here, because my personal work, my lecturing at the academy and the work at the gallery are all closely related (although the approach to all of them is different: management, pedagogy and artistic creativity). By working at the gallery I learned a lot of things: responsibility, communication with people and, actually, I have met a lot of artist, who have greatly enriched my life. But, in fact, recently I started thinking that I should give up this position and let someone else do it. Someone, who can work with new enthusiasm and ideas. I want to dedicate more time to my personal work.

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