What happens with a dead fish?, 2021
online adaptation featuring excerpts from 3channel video installation (sound, ceramic objects, performance documentation)
video installation commissioned by the 13th Kaunas Biennial; performance originally commissioned and produced by Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels
Courtesy the Artist
Imagine you are standing in the sea, immersed up to your ears, and your point of view is bouncing up and down, above and below the surface. Where do you belong? To the airy space you catch glimpses of, or underwater with your body? Perhaps the choice does not have to be a binary one, as humans belong to nature and nature is both, and is also more. Creatures of history, we are entangled with the matter that we inherit, embody and discard. We are bound to decay and regeneration by a process of transformative circulation in which we are not isolated but rather part of a collective environment. Indeed, multiple voices and bodies feature in What happens with a dead fish?, 2021, by artist, musician and performer Lina Lapelyte: a new moving image work re-envisioning the eponymous performance the artist presented on the occasion of Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels earlier in 2021. Exploring the transformative powers of sound waves in above- and under-water conditions, What happens with a dead fish? challenges perceptions of one’s bodily environment visually, aurally and spatially. The original performance, which this filmic version is based on, featured a group of local amateur singers in an open-air swimming pool; with their words and actions they trace narratives and reflections relating to the behaviour of human and natural bodies: floating, drifting, withdrawing, sinking to the bottom. Each of these postures has existential implications in terms of agency, resistance, or surrender. Custom props including a ceramic staircase and one hundred porcelain bowls frame the singers’ underwater act and amplify the concept of fragility and finitude, as both voices and objects are on the brink of breaking (some eventually do break). Capturing time and space above- and under-water at once, the film What happens with a dead fish? establishes a life of its own, intimately linked to the performative event and yet moving beyond that: a recollection based on an implicated – and distributed – point of view that would otherwise remain partly inaccessible to the audience. Somehow, What happens with a dead fish? is showing us that every story is layered and thus forever incomplete, whether we know it or not. There is no ‘whole’ above water, and certainly not above ground. And, anyway, the very definitions of ‘above’ and ‘below’ are no fixed terms, as we know from the ongoing climate crisis affecting rising sea water levels.
Pompeii itself is proof that the stories that are ‘above’ may quickly have to renegotiate their identities ‘below’ ground. Thinking in terms of decay and circulation in connection with layers of visibility – as Lapelyte’s work is inspiring us to do – can also be very helpful to reframe one’s relationship with wider ecological histories: accepting that not all stories need to be seen in order to exist is a first step to begin prioritising non-human views, and destabilising the anthropocentrism behind much of the anthropogenic changes that are bringing the natural environment into crisis. As Lapelyte’s score for What happens with a dead fish? asks, “What happens with retired wood?”. SB
Home page image: Lina Lapelyte, What happens with a dead fish? (video still), 2021. Courtesy the Artist
Lina Lapelyte’s (b.1984, lives and works in Vilnius and London) performance-based practice is rooted in music and flirts with pop culture, gender stereotypes and nostalgia. Her works engage trained and untrained performers often in an act of singing through a wide range of genres such as mainstream music and opera. The singing takes the form of a collective and affective event that questions vulnerability and silencing. In 2019, her work Sun & Sea (Marina), realised together with Vaiva Grainytė and Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, received the Golden Lion award at the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Lapelyte’s recent and ongoing works Ladies, Pirouette, Currents, What happens with a dead fish?, Candy Shop and Hunky Bluff were shown at the 13th Kaunas Biennial (2021), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2021), Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels (2021), Tai Kwun, HK (2021), Glasgow International (2021), Riga Biennial – RIBOCA2 (2020), Cartier Foundation gallery, Paris (2019); Tel-Aviv museum of art (2019), Kunsthalle Praha (2019); CCA Ujazdowski, Warsaw (2018); Baltic Triennial, Tallinn (2018); Moderna Museet, Malmo (2017); Fiac, Paris (2017), Baltic Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2016); Hayward Touring Show, Great Britain (2015); Block Universe, London (2015); Park Nights, Serpentine Galleries, London (2014); Baltic CCA, Newcastle (2014); DRAF, London (2014).