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A hand is playing the piano. In the video, a text accompanies the melody. It begins: “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists.” Arturas Bumšteinas’s quoting of Conceptual Art guru Sol LeWitt might also be art, but first and foremost it is an acknowledgment. An homage. The multimedia artist, born in 1982 in Vilnius, could be LeWitt’s grandson. He has made the American’s thirty-one theses his own. “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art” could also serve as the overarching theme of the Lithuanian’s catalog of works.
For instance, he removed the original voice of a Jewish cantor from a historical recording he found at the Phonogrammarchiv in Vienna and then projected into the empty, acoustic bed of noises and scratches the voices of laymen who sung along with the original while listening to it for the first time. Archives are a constant feature of the Jewish multimedia artist’s creative output. Many of his works are about remembrance and forgetting. Such as the Rise and Fall of Jakob Bauer (2017), in which Bumšteinas repeatedly works with the auratic quality of old documents. He has collaged audio recordings of the gamelan (Gamelan Descending a Staircase, 2015), radio drama soundtracks (So-called Space, 2015), or musical score fragments of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (Parody of Parody, 2016)—works in which a simple shift in context is rarely the only focus. Arturas Bumšteinas plays with the ready-made aesthetic of Marcel Duchamp, but merely exhibiting found materials is not enough for him. He has live musicians reinterpret Schönberg’s sheet music according to his own performance instructions; or three trumpet players improvise to a gamelan soundtrack. Objets trouvés are incorporated into multimedia performances and installations in which the artist often also appears. Performances such as An Attempt to Meet, 2015, have similarities to She She Pop’s documentary theater of everyday life. For this production, Bumšteinas asked people about their memories connected to particular songs and relayed this information to a narrator and a singer. A fireplace with a brick chimney is the only stage prop. The singer scales the chimney, a fire burns, later the narrator speaks into the shaft. The setting functions simultaneously as stage set and acoustic filter.
In another project (More Music for Sam, 2015), Bumšteinas mixes the format of the journalistic interview with radio drama, theater, and dance. Here it’s also about aural history. And about transitoriness and personal memories. His interview partner is Finnish performance artist Inari Virmakoski, who recalls places, rituals, and music from her life.
Arturas Bumšteinas works in series. In one of these series, clay pipes provide the focus, for another (Organ Safari) the composer visits churches and records the sounds of organ pipes. The organ and clay pipes are also encountered in other pieces, as well as the text-based drawings of Robert Smithson (Heap of Language, 2009). In another series Bumšteinas experiments with baroque theater devices for generating sounds. In one of these, Bad Weather (2017), sounds of thunder, wind, and rain accompany a singing curator. For a radio production, the multimedia artist combines historical sound generators with historical voice recordings of the Futurist Luigi Russolo (Epiloghi—Six Ways of Saying Zangtumbtumb, 2013).
Devices and ideas from the theater always lead to new variants of changing or combined media. The productions often evoke the charm of a Fluxus happening. Archives, voices, and memories are the thematic constant of this multifaceted work.
Arturas Bumšteinas’s work resembles that of a speculative media archaeologist. The use of historical media complements this, such as baroque devices for generating sound, phonographs, or even a Russian analogue synthesizer. In the soundtracks of mixed-media installations, performances, works for radio, compositions, stage pieces, and electronic improvisations, the music concentrates—unless based on external quotes—on the qualities of sound and noise. Droning sounds fill up spaces and accompany installations and presentations. The approach is different with the collages of citations. Here, the style is determined by the idea and the objet trouvé, which asserts its own rules. And not infrequently, a pervading silence recalls another conceptual artist deeply rooted in music: John Cage, whose broad defining of materials and a crossing of interdisciplinary boundaries Arturas Bumšteinas shares.

Martina Seeber
Translation: Erik Smith



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