We are pleased to share the results of a 2 years long research of Goda Palekaitė culminating in a show Serpentine Spine at Västerås konstmuseum in Sweden.
In the exhibition, Palekaitė weaves together cultural and historical contexts, her interest in the artist Ivan Aguéli (1869–1917) providing the point of departure.
Aguéli, who was born Johan Gustaf Agelii and later also known by the name of Abdalhadi Aqhili, was a Swedish artist who was born and raised in Sala. Today he is one of the most important figures in the history of Swedish art. Aguéli’s work is represented in Västerås Konstmuseum’s collection with paintings, drawings, and sketches. Some of his works are on view now in Serpentine Spine.
Alongside his work as an artist, he lived a multifaceted life. He lived for periods in France and Egypt and traveled to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India. Among his many interests, Aguéli was a theologian, art theorist, linguist, author, journalist, anarchist, Orientalist, and Sufi.
Palekaitė learned all about Aguéli during the course of an extended research project. Through a close examination of historical letters, she has begun mapping out a new image of someone who would be known today as an interdisciplinary artist—that is, an artist who works in multiple disciplines on a particular theme, for example, or an issue.
Aguéli strove to increase intercultural awareness and took a clear stance against Islamophobia, but at the same time Palekaitė sees his fascination with the Orient and Sufism as products of cultural exoticism, which was common in Western intellectual circles during the early twentieth century and still persists to this day.
In this exhibition, Ivan Aguéli’s controversial legacy is interpreted through a personal and contemporary lens in which Palekaitė creates a fictional intimacy between herself and the artist. As a nomad and artist herself, she feels an affinity with Aguéli and uses language and lighting installations to try to shed new light on his enigmatic body of work. She is interested in his intentions, desires, fetishes, and obsessions, recognizing in him aspects of herself. Given Aguéli’s fascination with mysticism and landscape, Palekaitė has worked with glass and with light as a material to create her own mystical landscapes. The resulting artworks are on view here for the first time.
The title of the exhibition, Serpentine Spine, alludes to scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, but also to backbone in the sense of willpower and courage. Backbone gives us strength, honesty, and balance in life and in artistic creativity as well. Palekaitė has commented that scoliosis made her question consciousness both in her body and in her practice. Perhaps it was even her serpentine backbone that led to her becoming an artist.
Goda Palekaitė, born in Lithuania in 1987, is an artist and researcher. Her work combines visual, literary, performative, and anthropological methods. Palekaitė’s work as an artist is often structured around long-term projects. She examines both the politics that lie behind historical stories, dreams, and our collective imagination and the social preconditions for creativity.
In 2019–21 she was one of three Nordic/Baltic artists invited by Art Lab Gnesta and Västerås Konstmuseum to be an artist in residence and to make new works of art as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration.
The exhibition was produced for Västerås Konstmuseum.