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The Pope Is Dead, Long Live the Popess. A Review of a Performance by the artist Neringa Poskute-Jukumiene

Published: 24.01.2023
Author:
Rosana Lukauskaité
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2023
Ringing II by Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė.
. Photo by Daiva Seibeliene..
Ringing II by Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė.
Photo by Daiva Seibeliene.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
The Lithuanian contemporary jewellery and metal artist Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė occupies a unique position in contemporary Lithuanian jewellery. She refuses to concentrate on creating objects for the body, let alone jewellery, focusing instead on the process itself. The performance Ringing II, presented at the contemporary art festival Virus in Šiauliai, created a cathartic experience simultaneously woven in religious symbols, high fashion catwalk culture and materiality of jewellery.
The acts that people used to consider sacrilegious nowadays don’t even make people do a double take. We live in secular, pluralistic, freer times, but an almost subconscious need for leaders, a higher power ruling over us and making our decisions still burns us from the inside. Madonna channels Virgin Mary and recreates Last Supper for the newest Vanity Fair issue, but the sparked lukewarm outrage dies out almost immediately. It seems much more interesting to follow the funeral of former Pope Benedict XVI and the newest developments in the Vatican that are beyond even Paolo Sorrentino’s imagination. Humanity has a curious addiction to worshipping (false) gods.

Performance Ringing II by Lithuanian contemporary jewellery and metal artist Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė (and its subsequent video documentation) cleverly illustrates these (inner) power struggles via the image of a female pope, what would have been blasphemy in the olden times. Presented in the contemporary art festival Virus in Šiauliai, Lithuania, on the 12th of December last year, this performance created a cathartic experience simultaneously woven in religious symbols, high fashion catwalk culture and materiality of jewellery. The musical part was composed and performed by Irena Upė.

The legend of female Pope Joan has been stirring the public imagination for ages. On the other hand, there’s also a much-argued hypothesis that English queen Elizabeth I was actually a man. It seems that gender bias and establishment rule are inseparable topics, which in Neringa’s performance become background to a conversation about jewellery’s multifarious relationships with the body. The jewellery worn throughout the ages used to reflect an intensely hierarchical and status-conscious society. Accolades for gold, solid silver, priceless gems – all of this just to prove once again who’s on top. The artist Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė chooses to question these assumptions by holding gender-bender faux Mass, where diamond-shaped enamel brooches, papal mitre made out of paper and the calla lily flowers (a new kind of Holy Trinity) enter a joint semantic field. I would like to mention the documentary Readymade (2009) by Zhang Bingjian which captures the passion and struggles of Mao impersonators, as well as the role of the Mao cult in contemporary China. One special person introduced in this film is Chen Yan, female Mao impersonator. This woman often faces discrimination from society that does not accept female drag/gender-bending performances, also her marriage suffers and she can barely make ends meet. The escapism and allure of being someone else, someone powerful must be the reasons why she keeps going. Some could even go as far as calling it 'gender euphoria'.

It should be noted that in the Lithuanian language the word for 'a flower’s blossom' is the same as the word for 'a finger-ring' (žiedas). This homonym thus creates an enticing juxtaposition between nature’s innate beauty and a human need to appropriate that beauty. A blossom of a calla lily flower, so elegant and fragile, speaks both about life and fertility, as well as ever-present death. Its form is so close to the rhombus that the diamond shape comes back to the equation almost like the artist is saying 'This too is jewellery!' Performance has been associated with craft as a means of showing the creations for some time now, but recently it has been used to question craft’s place in the art and design canon. Some examples involve inviting the audience into the process, thus breaking into the private realm of jewellery, and making the performance itself a part of the design. And this is then the questioning of contemporary jewellery’s identity also opens a dialogue about identity itself.

Although Forbes ranks Francis as only 4th most powerful person in the world, Popes are the arguably most authoritative and influential people throughout history and still in modern times. But what is a pope to a non-believer? While only noblemen were allowed to wear fine clothes in the Middle Ages, nowadays Amazon offers to sell pope costumes (even for dogs!) next to costumes of Batman, cowboys and other pop culture characters. Identity becomes a consumable entity with a twist of commercial diversification. 'All the world's a stage. And all the men and women are 'merely players', wrote William Shakespeare. Contemporary jewellery accentuates and helps to describe the process by which we inhabit a range of social roles as if engaged in never-ending live performances. In Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis, the term 'front stage self' refers to the self we present to unknown persons when we hope to make the most favourable impression on them in a given setting. When we customize our performance in this way we are engaging in 'impression management.' The internet is full of viral videos where people jokingly put on their 'corporate voice' to better adapt to the work environment as if it was a ceremonial mask or a religious pendant.

In the climax of the performance the resurrected popess (so reminiscent of the painting Calla Lily Vendor by Diego Rivera) with the help of her female cardinals (students of Vilnius Academy of Arts Faculty of Telšiai: Ignė Zdanevičiūtė, Jorilė Švedaitė, Uršulė Janavičiūtė, Rugilė Titaitytė and Simona Agota Martinkus), now wearing black mitres, distribute her 'worldly possessions' in a form of calla lilies to the assembled audience. French philosopher Michel Foucault thought that we, as a public, become too locked into the search for correct interpretations by deferring to 'what the author intended'. Initiation, without which ritual rites and any affective performance are indispensable, is also relevant in the case of Neringa’s performance. After Ringing II she herself is transformed, marked as a wild bird. There lies the meaning- to create an event without imposing a forced significance on it, but still, be marked by it whether it be a remarkable life event worthy to be mentioned in one’s bio or a transforming experience that shakes something deep inside, but only belongs to a person’s most intimate memories. At this moment in time we know Neringa better as an artist, just like a ringed bird she now is on our radar, so to speak.

Although her performance could be interpreted as the artist’s way to explore her authentic relationship to feminism, Neringa foremost challenges common misunderstandings and stereotypes about contemporary jewellery by also calling into question the authority of the craft. Her works progressively confront the symbols of identity in order to transcend its order of gender and social ranking. Perhaps the venue of the performance (Šiauliai Athletics and Wellness Center) speaks volumes about the contrasting topics, but even more intriguing is the performance’s connection to other events that evening, mainly the Alen Chicco’s drag performance. Even though you couldn’t straight up call Neringa’s performance related to the drag (king) culture, it is nonetheless interesting to compare how cardinally different is intent and mood of her dramaturgy and that of 'traditional' drag queen artist - the main goal here seems to be to express the confidence, fierceness and sexual drive of the latter, while in Neringa’s performance taking on the manly role is done in a more serene, compassionate and respectful tone. Despite the fact that we would like to think that the old sexual paradigms are no longer valid, it’s almost indisputable that historically women found power mostly through their sexuality. That modern women want is not only the physical attributes of power (in a form of jewellery) but the actual power itself, and the jewellery that transcends it.
 

About the author

Rosana Lukauskaité holds an MA degree in Literature and is a Lithuania-based art critic and published author, writing both in Lithuanian and English. She has written around a hundred articles and reviews about visual and stage arts. Her research interests include analyses of media, contemporary culture, artificial intelligence involvement in art, critique on consumerism, the dichotomy of elite culture versus pop culture, as well as the nooks and crannies of postmodern culture in general.

Contact: lukauskaite.rosana@gmail.com
More Reviews by the Author: echogonewrong.com/author/rosanalu and dance.lt
Ringing II by Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė.
. Photo by Daiva Seibeliene..
Ringing II by Neringa Poškutė-Jukumienė.
Photo by Daiva Seibeliene.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Ringing II a Performance by Neringa Poskute-Jukumiene
Mindaugas Bulnis
2023
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
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