Thinking-with and Telling Stories: Artwork as a Companion


  • Erika Grigoravičienė



aesthetic regime (Jacques Ranciére), actor-network theory (Bruno Latour), situative knowledge, sympoiesis (Donna Harraway), Antanas Gudaitis


The paper is dedicated to the theoretical approaches and metho­ dologies of artwork interpretation. By drawing from the contemporary materialist philosophy, primarily the theories of Bruno Latour and Donna J. Haraway, the paper aims to develop a version of contextual interpretation that is both terrestrial and spectulative. The paper discusses the conditions of discoursive emancipation, networked inclusivity and agency of artworks, namely: author’s death, the importance of cognition, and Ran­ cière’s notion of aesthetic regime. Rancière talks about the emancipation of viewer as a result of the unpredictability of sensory cognition and the incongruity of the rules of poetics and aesthetics, which implies the acti­ visation of artworks (images, texts, etc.). The paper argues that artworks (mediated images) have more agency than texts, which is confirmed by visual phenomenology, psychoanalysis of the gaze, the paradigm of effigies, etc. The artworks are thus the active and not­quite­dead participants of social interrelations because they keep generating unforeseen performa­ tive consequences and random meanings, as well as shaping the behaviour of the audiences that perceive them. Meanwhile authors and interpreters are not subjects but ‘mere’ actants – they are not­quite­alive as they rely on mediatised repositories of knowledge and forms. In terms of Latour’s Actor­Network Theory (ANT), the perceiving audience (including art the­ orists themselves) are networked actants, and their interrelations invol­ ve many other actants, including originary imagery, (meta)stories, ideas, artists, thinkers, atmospheric phenomena, animals, and artefacts. Within Haraway’s paradigm of situated knowledge, an artwork would be a sym­poietic companion that joins us in thinking, makes us worry, assemble into the networks of partial, embodied, and site­specific knowledge, as well as mourn and facilitate our response-ability. If we are able to think together with various human and non­human entities, both alive and dead, this su­ rely extends to artworks too.

Haraway calls the paradigm of cohabitation of species and enti­ ties Chthulucene, and sometimes it is possible to apply it to the artworks that are not necessarily new. In the second part, I ignore the distinction between the art theoretical text and meta­text, and take up the case of Antanas Gudaitis (1904­-1989). A master figure of Lithuanian modernism, Gudaitis studied in Paris (1929­1931), and his later period is marked by the plentitude of references to inter­species cohabitation. In his drawings from the 1970s, we see birds sitting at the table together with people, and his later work features ‘double­portraits’ that combined the heads of humans and various animals. Depicted in the distinctly expressionist style, objects and animate creatures are turned into equal actants. Gudaitis stresses the optical similarities between humans and non­humans, which gives his work the quality of the Freudian uncanny. In the conditions of an almost total cultural isolation during the soviet era, the art of Gudaitis, as well as that of the CoBrA collective, with their vision of an empathetic and slightly un­ canny inter­species cohabitation (which today we would call post­anthro­ pocentric), could have only emerged in the artistic soil already prepared by surrealism. The research of creative contexts, cultural environment and imagery is common in art history, and it is also one of the traits of the si­ tuative – terrestrial – interpretation, although the reformation of the art theoretical language through a meaningful developing of the speculative dimension is certainly not an easy task.

Author Biography

Erika Grigoravičienė

art historian and critic, exhibition curator, senior researcher at the Lithuanian Institute of Cultural Research, author of monographs The Visual Turn: Images - Words - Bodies - Gazes (2011) and Is This Art? Or, the (Un)Freedom of the Picture (2017), author of multiple papers about the soviet art and contemporary art.

Reproduction of page spread from Jacques Derrida’s book Glas (1986), as used in Arnas Anskaitis doctoral art project-dissertation Knowledge That Artist Has at Their Disposal: Seven Trace-Maps, 2021, photo by the artist



How to Cite

Grigoravičienė, E. (2022). Thinking-with and Telling Stories: Artwork as a Companion. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (107), 156–178.