Laura Lisauskaitė, from Arterritory, has interviewed Gertrūda Gilytė via Instagram messages on the occasion of her the first exhibition @successful_art_project on Annka Kultys Gallery’s digital platform.
Believing in(fluences) oneself
By Laura Lisauskaitė
Successful_Art_Project‘s Gertrūda Gilytė in conversation via Instagram DMs
Gertrūda Gilytė is a Lithuanian-born artist, currently studying Master’s in Art in Context at Berlin University of the Arts. In her practice, she focuses on the spiritual influencer culture, relationship between the #selfhelp and the self-optimization as well as the uncanny, alarming, and beautiful ways in which spirituality, mysticism, and eternal values appear online. Her current work, Successful_Art_Project, which explores ‘DIY spirituality’ by using positivity manifestation techniques, landed her first solo exhibition at London based Annka Kultys gallery, only available online. Here, we talk about the performance and the (un)expected ways it affected her personally and professionally.
Tell me what Successful_Art_Project is?
So! Successful_Art_Project is my durational, Instagram-based performance where I use different personal development, positive psychology, contemporary spirituality, and similar tools, mostly found online, to manifest my professional and personal goals. Almost every day, I upload a video of myself using the tools [acquired] from what I call ‘spiritual-influencers’ – mostly from YouTube – and try to apply them to my personal case – a successful artistic career and some personal development thingies.
Why did you choose to do this on Instagram? Was there a specific reason for it?
I chose this platform because it was the place where I first started noticing these trends 2-3 years ago. I thought it would be an interesting platform to post this kind of durational performance between of all kinds of content.
How do you feel about the ‘DIY spirituality’ trend, as you called it – do you think it’s actually effective, or some kind of spiritual placebo? How is it different from simply thinking positively?
It’s a very complex topic! At the beginning, my outlook was definitely much more sceptical than it is now. I wanted to critically reflect this scene but, at the same time, avoid mocking the people who use these methods or genuinely believe them. After doing this for a while, I noticed that even if I didn’t necessarily believe all of it, it actually affected both my personal and professional lives in extremely positive and really unexpected ways. That was a surprise because then I thought – ‘oh, so, even forced, these tools can work’. However, I think that the merge of spirituality, or mysticism, and positive psychology is still really problematic on so many levels – there is a big difference between writing down your goals on a daily basis, in order to motivate yourself, and asking the Universe to help you manifest real love. These are very general examples.
On Instagram live with Annka Kultys Gallery you said you’re trying to approach this critically, but not cynically. What downsides do you see in the trend of DIY spirituality? How is it problematic in your eyes?
I try to remain kind of neutral during my performance but there are many questionable things in there. First, and the most problematic one, is the very toxic idea that ‘your thoughts change your reality’, which is the key principle of the ‘Law of Attraction’ method I mainly use. This ignores all of the systematic and structural problems, and could only work for already pretty privileged ones… In other words – if a person just needs an attitude shift, where these tools can definitely help, it’s a completely different situation than for somebody who is sick, living in unprivileged conditions, and so on. And I think it’s really problematic that in this discussion [about DIY spirituality] this argument comes up very rarely. It’s not my idea as well, but it’s the same with the mindfulness/meditation trend – putting responsibility on individuals to focus on themselves, instead of creating more activism-based situations that might criticize systematic problems more. However, overall, I don’t think that the trend is bad at all, I think it’s great, it works for me and many others. But again – wanting to have a better job is different from wanting to manifest the world peace. I think ignorance to the external world is maybe one of the biggest issues in all this.
I agree, issues out of an individual’s control are very important to bring into the discussion. Do you think this selectivity is in any way related to the ‘picture-perfect’ approach many have to Instagram? How do you feel about the impeccably curated façade that people project on this app?
Yes, for sure. But also, I tried to stay away from this question in this work. What interests me the most is the shift in these ‘spiritual influencers’ from beautiful, successful, well-travelled, and healthy, to ‘aligned with the Universe, grateful, self-loving, emotionally aware’. I tried to stay away from the Instagram-curated-images criticism as much as I could, actually. And I chose not to create a character but to show my most authentic self, as much as it was possible here.
Because there already are a lot of works criticising it, and the situation is much more complex than that. My work is, of course, extremely curated as well, and I try to look [a certain way] and all of this, so I’m not an exception.
Would you say remaining authentic in an art project poses any issues when deciding what to share and what to leave out? Do you draw the line between you, the artist, and you, the person? It sounds pretty tricky to balance this.
Yes, it is very tricky, and it’s a complicated question! I think it is almost impossible to stay ‘authentic’ in this case, but maybe what I tried [to do] is not to look better than I am, though I didn’t always achieve that. What I think is really different in my case, is that I’m mostly imagining a perfect future and perfect states I want to be in. I don’t really describe what I’m doing at the current moment, just express my goals, dreams, desires and so on. I think it’s interesting for me and [makes me] vulnerable as well, because by saying ‘I am a great artist’ or ‘I am an amazing person’ I kind of refer to the fact that I probably don’t believe that at the present moment.
So then, do you avoid the vulnerability or embrace it? Some note you sound ironic in your manifestations – is that intentional?
Let’s say I embrace it as much as my ego allows. I think it sounds ironic because that’s the way I am as a person in real life. And because I don’t really believe myself, doubt myself, and often I don’t really think that my wishes can happen to me, that I don’t deserve them or even that they are stupid. It’s hard to express your emotions, needs, or biggest wishes even to your own self sometimes, and particularlycomplicated on Instagram, that’s why I think this self-doubt becomes irony in my case. Even this whole ‘fake it till you make it’, of course, is a really important theme in this work [but] it’s sometimes hard to fake it as well.
On days when you don’t feel like ‘faking it’, but still film your video, does forced positivity still work?
Well, I think consistency is what works here! The days when I don’t feel like it, I’m still forced to say something positive, or just think about how nice the future could be. [Maybe] it doesn’t positively affect me on that particular day, but over a looooong time I’m sure it did. Though I also see how it can negatively affect people: if you are feeling absolutely miserable, repeating that ‘I AM HAPPY’ can make you feel even worse, I guess.
Is that one of the unexpected effects that you mentioned? Were there any others you didn’t anticipate?
There were many unexpected effects – mostly that all my smaller goals, manifestations, and expected emotional states actually became true over this period, as well as the main objective of this project – to have a ‘successful art project’ by [its] conventional definition.
The concept of your project highlights success as a result, but, as you say, what ultimately got you where you are, is a consistent process. I think that really nicely comments on how we are used to understanding the term. What are your thoughts on the emphasis of success over process in our time?
Hmmm! I think success is mostly understood in a professional way, which definitely doesn’t equate success and happiness. What this project made me understand the most, is that external goals, or however success is defined, will not to be the end result before some internal problems are addressed, which I also wasn’t expecting at all when I started. Not sure if I answered your question.
Maybe not the answer I expected but the one I needed – I do feel like comfort with yourself should precede ‘success’ and I too am trying to ingrain that in my mind.
Yes, I think for me, it was really interesting from an artistic position as well. Most of my goals [in this project] are based on external validation, which is, of course, necessary in order to sustain yourself –but was it really my ultimate artistic goal?
On a broader level, how can we make this message more visible?
Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s important to be aware that when external goals are achieved, the joy will be pretty short-lived, and then we will set more and more and more [goals].
So, we should enjoy the process?
As my research subjects from YouTube would say – focus not on a goal in material [form] but on the emotions it would make you feel. So, in my case, let’s say: appreciated, valued, confident with myself, trusting myself, loved, etc.
Still, by design, your project is supposed to end when you’re invited to an exhibition by an art institution. As of now, it will end on the 24th of July 2020, since you were invited for a solo online exhibition by Annka Kultys Gallery. Congratulations!
Yes, thank you!
Can you elaborate on the exhibition?
Yes, so I was ‘manifesting’ something exactly like this, and the end result is even above my expectations, which makes me very happy, and grateful, of course. First, Annka approached me a few months ago but we had difficulties imagining this work in a gallery space. Then, because of all of this quarantine situation it looked like a great opportunity to show it for her audience online. The gallery is commercial, and they will also represent my works in the future, which I didn’t even think about while setting this ‘successful art project’. And yes, the work will end on the 24th of July, the 2-year anniversary of the first video.
In the current situation with lockdowns and the pandemic, how do you see online/digital art going forward? Is that an opportunity for digital artists?
Definitely, I think some works are just not gonna work in gallery space but, also, it doesn’t have to. I love the accessibility of Instagram, that, in my case, the work can be seen by many people every day, also not [necessarily] from the art world. So, I think the recent situation was a great way to see that some digital works are really powerful the way they are – which is nothing new, of course – without trying to place them in a gallery space.
Finally, what’s next in your art projects? Did Successful_Art_Project inspire your further work?
Yes! I am working on another project, Guidance, where I’m trying to work with mindset guidance as an artistic practice through one-on-one sessions with volunteers. I just started recently but I found it extremely interesting in many ways – both artistically and personally. Again, I’m not creating a character there, which I think is a big challenge for me.
*Laura Lisauskaitė is based between Vilnius and London, where she is currently studying bachelor‘s in Social Sciences at University College London and working as the assistant to Lithuanian cultural attaché in the UK. Her interests include digital art and its contextualisation within social media, Internet culture, and the intersections of culture and social science.