In Aldona (2013), now streaming on e-flux, Lithuanian-born visible artist and filmmaker Emilija Škarnulytė issues visibility and weathering, in a delicate portrait of her grandmother’s tactile reawakening of bygone periods.
Living in Druskininkai, Lithuania, not far from the borders of Poland and Belarus, Aldona mysteriously shed her vision after the 1986 Chernobyl electricity plant explosion. The short documentary narrates the interconnection of a physical and emotional fog as the aged woman lives—or survives, we wonder—in a space that is anchored in neither current nor previous.
An orange-hued moon descends it’s the start of a new day. We first see Aldona washing her fingers with soap and splashing her deal with with water in her backyard garden as she goes about her everyday chores. Aldona’s content circumstances are modest. Her wooden country home has no managing drinking water. She wears an apron more than a yellow pastel shirt and seems frail.
In a going scene, she visits Grūtas Park, a socialist-realist sculpture graveyard backyard not much from her hometown. There, amid the monumental relics of earlier Soviet heroes, Aldona tries to recognize and try to remember the silhouettes of Stalin, Lenin, and fallen troopers from the Wonderful Patriotic War. She does this through careful contact, permitting her arms heat the stone and explain to her other pale senses these common designs. She then retreats to her home, listening to the voice of a Russian-speaking guy on the radio narrating a really like tale.
Aldona to start with conveys the ambiance of a submit-Soviet aftertime which a person can face in Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Previous of the Soviets (2016). In numerous strategies, Aldona is a character that could have showcased in one of Alexievich’s chapters. She embodies each the “consolation of apocalypse” and the “charms of emptiness” that the Belarussian creator captures in her different oral histories of the USSR’s drop and disintegration.
However Aldona is initial a visual and haptic testimony. Škarnulytė performs with contrast to underscore a duality in tones and voices. Her digicam shifts from night to day and lingers in the shifting shadows of swaying tree branches. We depart the dimness of thick forest fog to embrace the ebullient allures of a shiny backyard garden. Silence is damaged by an austere radio method. And despite these oppositions, Škarnulytė suggests uncanny similarities, these types of as in the cracked texture of the Soviet sculptures and her grandmother’s pores and skin.
Modest and big history collide in Aldona’s body. She’s household to Škarnulytė and she’s much more—a residing memory and a image. The previous female leaves her house on a grime path to Grūtas Park, which evokes a mnemonic system, the incarnation of the sinuous paths we typically involuntarily consider to meet points that refuse to keep silent. Aldona walks forward.
Aldona, who we believe to be a widower from her marriage band, finds companionship in her radio and spiritual listening. It’s uncomplicated to consider her indulging in this frequent practice, as a second that crowns an afternoon, that sets a rhythm.
Memory can be natural and ritualistic, these types of as when she peels apples. We initial hear the woman’s voice when she stands up from her chair to frugally dispose of the peels, “so this will be fertilizer now. I require to set it under a tree.” Squander nurtures leftovers feed. They contribute to a soil and psychological illustrations or photos like a rekindled hearth.
The movie discusses loss at large—of senses, identification, and background. It is really hard to dissociate these as Aldona’s blindness, disorientation, and bent-about overall body converge to resurrect the legacies of the USSR. Lithuania was the to start with republic to break absent from the Soviet Union, in March 1990, after annexation in 1940 and years of armed resistance from Soviet troops. When Aldona’s radio program churns out “I’ve secured you from the wolves and bears and have domesticated them to provide you,” fiction and its narrator carry the resonances of a double-entendre, as a lesson from the previous (a person simply cannot domesticate flexibility) and, in light-weight of today’s war in Ukraine, a warning (serving unique pursuits).
“The nerves in her eyes have been poisoned,” the conclusion credits of the movie tell us about Aldona’s destiny. Her condition coincided with the Chernobyl electricity plant explosion and doctors feel the two gatherings are similar. In Aldona’s contamination and struggle for autonomy, we undertaking Lithuania’s earlier and affirmation toward independence.
Grūtas Park is an emblem of these kinds of vicissitudes. Lenin and other Soviet-period statues have been rapidly toppled and dismantled in the former-USSR pursuing its collapse. What to do with these imposing buildings that maintain so significantly significance? Russia’s Park of Fallen Heroes in Moscow presents in excess of 700 of them on show, with extra in storage. There’s also an aptly named Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary. Community monuments are inherently political and apart from crystallizing aesthetic eye-sores for some, they crucially continue to keep previous wounds from healing when related to oppression and occupation.
Scottish author Cal Flynn writes of the “green of time” in Islands of Abandonment (2021) describing contested landscapes which ultimately surrender to mother nature. Flynn visited Chernobyl’s Dead Zone, now an eerie web page where invisible risk and diverse fauna meet up with to variety a uniquely reborn ecosystem, which she ascribes as a sign of stamina and transience. But for Aldona, who will not recuperate her eyesight nor her more youthful times, the existing is an effort and hard work that desires to be negotiated. Her gaze, influenced by a toxic substance, is a person of a witness and survivor.
Škarnulytė engages with overlooked landscapes, mythologies, future archaeology and space in her creative function, which include in her most modern jobs these types of as Burial (2022), which invitations to pay a visit to a decommissioned power plant in Lithuania, Eternal Return (2021) which posits the infinity and ecological mother nature of ruins, and Sirenomelia (2021), an experimental e book in which the artist reimagines herself as a siren swimming in Nordic NATO services. Škarnulytė gained a Foreseeable future Technology Artwork Prize (2019). Her works have appeared in the XXII Triennale di Milano (2019), the Baltic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture (2018), in a solo exhibition at Tate Present day (2021), and have been acquired by the Centre Pompidou.
“I want to give time and place for the viewer to walk into these landscapes and check out. And to elevate questions rather of offering responses. For me, it is important to see modern, scientific constructions distanced and to see them presently as ruins. I am not attempting to praise the scientific procedure, but somewhat to concern it and re/contextualize this epoch in mythology. I suggest a new geo-strata designed by visualizing latest geopolitical steps,” Škarnulytė claimed in an interview on her technique to location and the politics of spot.
Aldona haunts in its depiction of an out-of-time and out-of-area article-human disquietude and intimate grief. Škarnulytė’s ambition to marry memory and imagery confirms, as Frances A. Yates did in 1966, that memory is, basically, an artwork as substantially as a sediment and a holographic reckoning of radical potentiality.