Animal Farm

T.2 Gallery, 2023 Vilnius
Curator Elena Antanaviciute
Exhibition designer Aurelija Bernataite

Rūta Matulevičiūtė on the exhibition “Animal Farm”

“My creative method is consciousness-based creativity, which focuses on personal development. I am always looking for a more fundamental and holistic approach to an idea. For this reason, I focus on meditation, psychology, ancient traditions, and most importantly, on the vast Baltic mythology.

The theme of the exhibition is based on local history. I have been a vegetarian since I was a teenager and have been practicing Transcendental Meditation for four years, which has given me an even greater love and respect for all life. I have a different perception of an animal product from that of a person following a “traditional” diet. I see a logic of perception that differs depending on the environment in which one has been formed.

The meat processing plant in Žemieji Paneriai started in the Soviet era. At that time, Lithuania was proud of its abundant meat exports. I did not experience the Soviet era, but I have a very good idea of the flavor of its legacy in the beliefs that are still alive, in the stories of my parents and grandparents, and in written history.

My grandmother was a culinarian and often told me how, when she was head of the canteen, she used to check the quality of the food. My grandmother was proud that when the Kyiv cutlet prepared by the cooks under her supervision was cut open, the inspectors found exactly the amount of butter specified in the recipe for this dish, which was valid throughout the Soviet Union.

“In ‘Animal Farm’, I present animal portraits. Each of them tells a fragment of utopian history. They are beautiful images of a different world. “

Rūta Matulevičiūtė is a painter of the younger generation and an interdisciplinary artist. She has held 3 solo exhibitions and presented her performance HOT Salon at ArtVilnius’20. Finalist of the Young Painter Prize (2019). Since 2017 she has been participating and curating group exhibitions.

The starting point for this exhibition is the gallery location. The gallery is located in the industrial district of Žemieji Paneriai. In the 1960s, industrial buildings began to rise, including the Vilnius Meat Factory. The building in which the gallery is located was its culinary shop, which started work later in 1983.

Gallery T. 2, which opened in 2022, represents an effort to humanize the site: culinary dishes with meat have been replaced by the work of young female artists. Visitors can also see the remaining buildings of the Combine around the site.

It is easy to understand that the author borrows the title of the exhibition from George Orwell – because of the relevance of his novel to the Soviet system, as well as because of the use of the grotesque and black humour as means of expression. At the same time, the livestock farm is directly linked to the meat factory.

In the exhibition, the farm animals return to the culinary workshop, but not as dishes, but as characters in the paintings. The paintings do not show the unhappy creatures from the farm raised for meat, but the inhabitants of free nature, emerging from the forest, from nature, from idyllic, fairy-tale landscapes. Having regained not only their wild nature, but also their supernatural powers, they become mythical creatures in the author’s paintings, evoking the imagination.

Farm animals in the artist’s blue landscapes may seem ironic, as mythical creatures roaming around blue farms, or at least wild animals running through boundless expanses of land, would be more common. One can only guess whether the artist is ironizing, elevating farm animals that have never seen freedom or nature to the rank of mythological creatures. However, this transposition also prompts a rethinking of how farm animals are treated in contemporary societies, where animal husbandry and slaughter are invisible to the vast majority of people, and how the characteristics attributed to those animals for eating differ from those attributed to pets or magnificent wild animals. How much do we (not) want to know how the sausage is made? Why do those who fight against eating dog meat in Asia enjoy pork or chicken in good conscience?

Animals are anthropomorphized in Rūta Matulevičiūtė’s paintings – the goose looks cheerful and the piglet sad. These are the qualities we most often give to our pets. The animals in the paintings are reminiscent of characters from children’s films or fairy tales (“Little Man”, “Charlotte’s Web”). Alongside the paintings, there is also an object that uses a folk tale from the collections of the Lithuanian Science Society, written by an unknown folklore collector (initials “J. B-tis”), as a continuation of a mythology close to the author. The object itself is reminiscent of the ‘secrets’ made in the backyard as a child and relates it to the end of the 20th century when standardized culinary dishes were served in kindergartens, which have not disappeared from the menus of the institutions to date.

Elena Antanavičiūtė, curator of the exhibition