Donelaitis (from the Whirling Memories series) 8 x 4 feet in size, rotating at 3 rpm. On display at the University of Chicago’s Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, 5737 S. University Ave., Chicago.The media is semitransparent, so that Donelaits’ words can be read from one side or, in reverse order, from the other.
This past week, we installed a very complex art exhibit at the University of Chicago’s Institute on the Formation of Knowledge. The piece which was placed high above all the others deals with the writings of Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780). He was a Lutheran priest and the author of the first literary work in the Lithuanian language, The Seasons. His original hand-written manuscripts were accidentally discovered in the underground archives of a German church that had been bombed during WWII. Fortunately, these manuscripts survived. Donelaitis’ hand written words are included in this piece.
The Seasons is a very lengthy poem written in four sections, each dealing with one of the seasons. One unique aspect of this work is that it describes, in very moving detail, the daily lives of common farm people—Lithuania’s salt of the earth.
From the third-floor window in the Institute, where this piece can easily be observed, are also located my light sculptures Midwest Souls. This series deals with cabinet photographs from the late 1800’s that I have purchased at flea markets over the years. In all cases, the photography studio name is printed but the name of the individual does not appear. Yet, all of these individuals, coming from all walks of life, looked forward to visiting the photography studio—they got all dressed up for this very special occasion. Their facial expressions are always strained because they could not move for several minutes. Now nameless, they all had lives, families, they worked, provided for themselves and others, and participated in society. Just like the common people’s lives described by Donelaitis, these are images of common people of the Midwest who I am trying to bring back into memory.
Below is the Midwest Souls installation as seen from the third floor. The other side of each piece is color-changing so that from the atrium, and from outside the building, the color-changing variants are on display.