Vika Prokopaviciute is a painter whose work is an act of grasping at material objects and spaces, the precision of these fleeting impressions most clearly visible to a drifting gaze.
Miriam Stoney spoke with Vika Prokopaviciute about the place of painting on the shifting terrain of the present day: the desire and necessity to commit to a personal space of pictorial investigation, while the big wide world keeps banging on the door. The terms with which we often criticise painterly practices for their disengagement with material realities offer here points of slippage into a non-violent means of mapping and remapping the coordinates of our subjectivities, time and again.
Miriam Stoney: When I asked how you describe your painting practice, I actually just placed the dichotomy of »abstract« or »figurative« in front of you and asked you to position yourself accordingly. You came back at me with the term »non-figurative«, around which we articulated the rest of our conversation. What qualities do you find in the non-figurative that make it possible to unhinge the unfortunate dichotomy I suggested in the first instance?
Vika Prokopaviciute: We usually imagine a scale, a line, where on one side is »abstract«, and on another is »figurative«. Maybe it could be something else, perhaps a mesh? I want to be at every given point on this mesh and also somewhere in-between, sitting on two chairs – or, flirting with the unfortunate dichotomy: on lots of chairs. Saying »non-figurative« offers a possibility to recognise where you are not. For me, the act of abstraction is a fruitful reduction, a limitation that provides additional tools. It boils down qualities of objects and offers them a chance to be something else – so they can be more than they are now. Brushes can be organ pipes, and ripples on the water can be a knitted pullover. Plus, it is more intriguing for me not how they look but what they do: how they move, function, exist, turn inside out, transform, fill in the canvas. Perhaps it could be seen as some kind of cowardice: I just don’t want to choose any side, don’t want to answer any question out of a fear of being misunderstood and by doing this running directly into misunderstanding. I think of a tightrope walker: she is balancing in order to move forward, and she is moving forward in order to keep her balance.
MS: The circularity of references – the brushes painting themselves, especially – allow you to pretend as though you were not saying anything in particular. Out of a circle, however, a spiral can easily form. How do you orientate the spiral so that it does not just become more and more solipsistic but rather charts new paths through the world?
VP: I am influenced by engagement with the now and the anxiety of the next. So, this spiral – or better saying, a spring with a constantly changing diameter – turns in front of (or around?) you and me: swirls, inhales, fast, exhales, silent, slow; it unfolds up and down, contracts and relaxes. Its qualities depend on and react to what and who is outside, reflecting and absorbing. However, the solipsistic self-referential loop is still here, and this repetition you refer to opens up the issue of boredom. This moment of boredom—which I guess after recent events we would all be happy to experience again—could be so fruitful, so loaded with a wish to be stimulated again. Can you tolerate boredom? I want to explore this more:
»Repetition does not lead to boredom, but rather to an uncanny sense of refreshment. It is is as if I am tasting something familiar yet slightly disgusting, as if I were to find, upon putting it to my lips, that my favourite drink had a layer of mold growing on its surface. I am as it were stimulated by the very repetition itself: stimulated by boredom.« (Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology)
And then, the painting process comes into play, where you navigate between materials you think you know (expectations) and your skills. Every time I start a painting, I am not sure I can crack its code and finish it. Each one demands a different mode of attention and treatment, where all the plans about spirals and circles are not relevant anymore.
MS: When the question of what to paint arises, who is asking whom?
VP: »A painter walks into a bar and asks …« Talking about self-referential loops: I am addressing myself to a mirrored surface of the painting canvas, creating an echo. In Pale Echo at the gallery NEVVEN last year, I meditated on the myth of Echo, a mountain nymph who could only repeat words spoken to her. She fell in love with Narcissus but never managed to express her feelings—she could only watch him falling in love with his own reflection. According to Alberti, Narcissus was an inventor of painting, a painter. Here is another loop or a joke: a painting asks a painter: »What am I?« I try to think in this direction and not produce pictures about me but find things out about them.
MS: The spatial play within your work happens across a series of paintings – one work is almost turned inside out by another. The viewers is simultaneously given space for their own interpretation while the scene seems to shift around them, avoiding the possibility of any conclusive judgment being made. It reminds me of the multifaceted reactions people can have to a building, always dependent upon a specific relation to its programme, the desires it communicates and fulfils, its ties to memory and taste, and of course the contingencies of the everyday. Perhaps the question would be: where are you in the building, most of the time?
VP: I think about architecture quite often while painting. I remember how as a student (my first education was architecture and design), our class had a task to measure the inside of the theatre building – rooms, doors, ledges, corners, various elements – in order to draw a section. We were counting tiles on the facade to calculate its height! Perhaps this is how I move inside while painting, through and through, from one facade to another, feeling the walls from the inside, looking into the rooms. One painting could be such a facade, the next one can be a section, the next after it is a plan or a detail. You zoom in, zoom out, move through. Each gives information to you and me to form an impression of it, taking into account, as you say, your memory and taste. Not expressing, but exploring.
MS: You described the connection of one work to another as being almost familial. Only once one work is finished, when it has reached full maturity, can another come into being. But then you said something so poignant, that I had to write it down: »Coming home but no one is waiting for you.« Is it a certain absence that serves to conjure new works?
VP: Absence as in my favourite quote from Joseph Brodsky’s poem »Urania«:
And what is space anyway if not the
body’s absence at every given
I was born in one country, grew up in another, and now live in a third one. I have been for a long time in this modus—accepting that when you are an immigrant, you are perceived (also perceive yourself) as a guest everywhere, including your »homeland«. Here is a paradox: you strive for constancy and, finally, find this permanent state of being temporary, of being a guest. I assume, this constant search and the attempt to define the space of painting do not even represent a desire to create your own, but to explore, to feel, to understand whether you recognise it, whether it recognises you, whether it accepts you. Again, mirror, and again, non-figurative. But I also secretly hope that it does not recognise me, so I can move on, search on, explore more (coming back to endless spiral?). The question »Where are you from?« paralyses me: there is no simple answer in chit-chat, but narrative, biography, private details. This evasion, avoidance, unwillingness to be tied to one place questions categories like »here and there«, »us and them«. I like it, and I think it is crucial, especially now.
MS: The urgency of painting is once again put into question. We talked about the necessity of such discussions as this one when current events bring the precipices of life, death, freedom and self-determination ever closer to home – politically, socially and emotionally, much more so than just geographically. For you as a painter, does this kind of self-reflection bring inertia – without judgement, necessarily – or inspire another response entirely?
VP: I honestly don’t know how to approach this topic. I spent a big part of my life in Russia, and I am terrified by this unbearable war and uncontrolled violence started by this country. After first reactions such as paralysis, shame, fear and automatic unwillingness to accept a new reality, I see that bumping against your tiny boundaries and realising (again and again!) this limitedness of your own is debilitating. However, instead of rejecting these limits, accepting and respecting them (and by doing so, also respecting the limits of others) can give me strength and the opportunity to invent new ways for existing in my own void, squeezing away this fear. Maybe this is a moment of personal resistance where you do things not »because« but »despite«.