The Body of the Letter


Remote communication is self-evident and often indeed indispensable today. Constantly evolving and simultaneously simplifying communication technologies produce an aura of hypercontemporaneity and disembodiment around it. Yet the art of correspondence, or being together through letters, has deep roots and a distinctive regime of corporeality.
If we think about letter in the most common and fundamental sense, we will see that they are nothing but a substitute for the body of an absent addressee – in other words, by writing a letter we send the bodies of letters which represent and simulate us (not surprisingly, we refer to the main part of a letter’s text as “the body of the letter”). The changing technologies only accelerate and condense the choreography of writing letters – becoming embodied in symbols – in neverending search for an ideal simulated dialogue.

Over the course of its evolution, the body of the letter was transformed from alphabetic to sensory, until it finally became purified from verbal exchange altogether, and is now increasingly often being read and experienced in different forms which engage all senses. Contemporary correspondence technologies – animated images, instantly disappearing fragmentary conversations, postcards from other planets, or metaphorical audiovisual readymades which replace entire phrases and ideas – seemingly seek to maximize the intimacy of the correspondence space and simultaneously radically minimize our own engagement. This way, the body of the letter becomes more important and corporeal than our physical body, while the images or sounds we share begin to talk for us, as they have already surpassed our ability to create, maintain and increase the emotional tension necessary for the communication space.

Love correspondence is the highest point of the epistolary genre. It does not necessarily involve two lovers, but rather refers to a certain register of intense intimacy as such, which can acquire non-human forms as well (e. g. correspondence between intelligent machines). Such intimate dialogue is deeply embedded in the world’s cultural imaginary. The story of the letters of the physically separated Heloise and Abelard has spawned numerous interpretations, while Roland Barthes in his Lover’s Discourse mentions love correspondence as reflective of the very essence of this strange relationship of two subjects: when addressing our loved one with our feeling as in a conversation, we talk not so much to this person as to ourselves and within ourselves, while the other remains silent and never fully engaged. Love (and love correspondence) is essentially waiting for a response which might never arrive. Thus, our own fantasies and desires, splinters of other real and fictional dialogues, quotes and allusions, and archetypal motifs from all possible cultures and mythologies infiltrate the love relationship, verbalised and embodied in the text.

What happens when an archaic communication genre is embodied in the contemporary mediated context, revealing both the differences conditioned by the epoch and the permanence of this relationship’s essence? How should we react when responses reach us not as words, but as images of one sort or another? How do we decipher today’s letters? How do they write themselves?

This exhibition is supposed to function as a whispering backstage of correspondence or the body of yet another (meta)letter. We are curious how artists, their topics, curators, the gallery, the audience, and different times and spaces engage in correspondence with each other.

Curators: Jogintė Bučinskaitė and Jurij Dobriakov

Artists: Arnas Anskaitis, Žygimantas Augustinas, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Francisco Janes, Geistė Kinčinaitytė, Aurelija Maknytė, Vitalijus Strigunkovas.

Arnas Anskaitis

N, video, 2016, 8 min

Study of a letter as a strip, body, or landscape.

Žygimantas Augustinas

Sigismund II Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł’s Letter to His Majesty, rubber, felt, paper, ink, dimensions variable, 2015–2016. Calligraphy: Linas Spurga

The two-part work minimalistically illustrates how a (corporeal) image emerges out of a letter. It consists of a calligraphic transcript of a real letter written by Barbara Radziwiłł to her royal husband and a schematic dot sketch for a portrait of the artist as Sigismund II Augustus. The author has mentioned that his paintings in general very often develop from texts. This echoes one of the exhibition’s main concerns: how do letters become substitutes for human bodies?

Andrew Gryf Paterson

Summer 2016, handmade object, fom the ongoing Bacterial Love Letters project

Imagine you send a message from another part of the world and in it you embed a part of the very culture and environment that is nearby – a bacterial culture. Maybe you can even use it to print a short message. If additionally you produce the paper yourself from scratch out of locally grown materials, that would make quite an impressive postcard, wouldn’t it?

The story of the letter:

Francisco Janes

Short films from the series White Letters:

Last Chance Range, Benton Way, 2011, 8 min

Coming Home, Korea Town, 2013, 12 min

Being There, Thailand, 2013, 8 min

White Letters is an open short film series that began in California around 2010. The films appear at stages of the world, motivated by the occasion. The title of the series refers to the expression “carta branca” whereby license is given and absolute contingency ensues. It also recalls the meaning of the author’s position as observer and recordist, referring to letters as messages: his is a vantage point of white. This is why Francisco Janes prefers “naked images”, insofar as they might appear barren, devoid of elements that would confer judgment upon them. The protagonists appear in their environment, immersed in relationships of struggle and affect. The angst in their position emerges as a connecting sign of our times, the dream of dreamers of the future.

Geistė Marija Kinčinaitytė

From the series You Belong to Me, A4 and A2 photo prints, 2014/16

Two prints from this ongoing series emerge in the exhibition as interplanetary postcards. The physically distant surface of Mars reaches us in the form of images taken by the robotic rovers that roam it. Such extraterrestrial non-human correspondence evokes not only the photographic eye’s attempt to appropriate and occupy a territory, body, or planet, but also the pervasive possibility to find a common language without words, using only images, even if the partners in such a conversation are robots and other planets.

Aurelija Maknytė

Letters to Petras, installation, 2016

Virtual dating is usual in the Internet age, but the author of this work demonstrates what it was like right before the fall of the Socialist regime. The central element of the installation is a constellation of letters written to a single man in response to a personal ad placed in the local Peasant Newspaper in 1989. The envelopes of the letters contain short comments by the man. Although no photographs are added to the women’s letters, one may notice how they seek to embody themselves in the texts. Yet the exhibited multitude of letters and the unresponsive figure of the implied recipient produce a ghostly and somewhat uncanny atmosphere.

Vitalijus Strigunkovas

Substitution, Fabiola, 10×15 cm postcard, 2015

Substitution, video, 2015, 7 min

After graduating with a degree in painting from Vilnius Academy of Arts, the artist proposed to paint one more reproduction for the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs’ collection of Fabiola paintings. The collection consists of 450 reproductions of the saint’s portrait, which the Mexico-based Alÿs has been collecting since the early 1990s. Vitalijus Strigunkovas has converted his email exchange with the collection’s curator and Alÿs’ assistant into a script read by three actors. The film shows a tenacious and repetitive plot which evokes a sense of doubt: was it real, did it happen, did the portrait of Fabiola painted by the author end up in Alÿs’ collection?

Image: cutout from “Eloísa en el sepulcro de Abelardo” by Raymond Monvoisin

Exhibition open
10–24 September 2016
IV–VI 4–8 pm

9 September 2016, 8 pm, part of Vilnius Gallery Weekend

This exhibition is organised by Lithuanian Interdisciplinary Artists’ Association, with kind support from Lithuanian Council for Culture and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania.

Project Space “Sodų 4”
Sodų Str. 4, Vilnius