Barbora Žilinskaitė: It's a kind of Magic

Barbora Žilinskaitė. Crying Chair. Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Barbora Žilinskaitė. Photography by Timothy Doyon

´Chairs Don´t Cry´ is Barbora Žilinskaitė’s debut solo show at the Friedman Benda Gallery in Los Angeles, a stylish haven of dreamy and colourful everyday objects that seem to have an emotional life of their own. 

Lithuanian artist Barbora Žilinskaitė´s (b.1996) sweet spot is the blurred boundary between fine art and design as in her ´Storyteller´ series, wavy bookshelves with curved sides and rounded tops over a small cabinet with doors sculpted to look like interlocking fingers. Her ´Roommates´ stools are styled after a foot en pointe, in shades of lime yellow, cool terracotta and cerulean blue. 

Behind Žilinskaitė’s practice is a desire to open our eyes to things in our everyday, domestic environments, for “art to be more around us,” as she puts it. This is more than just encouraging us to notice our furniture - she wants her work to help us become more aware of our surroundings in general, to appreciate the visual appeal of everyday things and see more beauty in our lives. 

Although still only in her late twenties, Žilinskaitė has already managed to bring relative consistency to her work. She is known for figurative furniture with a lighthearted touch such as tables with smiling red lips and long, low cabinets with hands and feet. But there is something of a turning point in her debut solo exhibition at Friedman Benda: here, Žilinskaitė has found the space to push her ideas into the sphere of sculpture and installation.

The stand-out piece in ´Chairs Don’t Cry´, is a large, beige-colored chair which from a distance looks like a gigantic nose, attached to one eye, curved and eyelashed, emitting an oversized tear. The light blue tear melts into smaller ´puddles´, site-specific blue sculptural works made to look like pools of water. These smooth blobs, constructed out of Žilinskaitė’s signature mixture of sawdust, glue, and pigment, are dotted around the exhibition space in the airy, windowed mansion in Los Angeles, a few steps from Chateau Marmont. At first glance, ´Chairs Don’t Cry´ is packed full with Žilinskaitė’s characteristic whimsy. In addition to Žilinskaitė’s bookshelves, stools, and cabinets, ´Chairs Don’t Cry´ features a mirror called ´Mr. Judgy´ and, on the balcony from where viewers can marvel at the sparkling lights of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and beyond, sits ´Sunbather´, a light blue garden sculpture of muscular legs elegantly luxuriating in the Californian sun.

For all of Žilinskaitė’s playful absurdity, there is still plenty to be taken seriously. Her work examines how household objects can hold memories, and how objects themselves have the power to change over time and in space. Žilinskaitė projects her fantasies onto them: “Can they feel when we sit in them?” as she tries to describe the concept behind ´Chairs Don’t Cry´. Of the many tears wept by her armchair: ¨Do they cry when we leave them? Or when we throw them away?¨. Žilinskaitė’s quandaries may sound esoteric but her curiosity about the energies of objects is one that has parallels in ancient cultures around the world, such as the Chinese concept of feng-shui or the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi.

Notions around material memory in objects, with reflections on ephemerality, life, death and one´s home, are combined in her work with the sensibility of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (A popular American comedy children´s television series of the 1980s). There is an awareness of the many colliding memories one household can contain, with warmth, wonder and childlike joy tinged with sadness too.

Žilinskaitė, born and educated in Lithuania, and now living and working in Belgium, talks of the diverse influences on her work, including Joan Miró (1893–1983), Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (b.1929), Georg Baselitz (b.1938) and American conceptual artist Alex da Corte (b.1980). But mostly, inspiration for her shapely creations comes from a keen observation of her environment which sparks her raw imagination. She lights up, pointing to a gap in the nearby trees which in her mind looks like the shape of a human body. “I love the feeling I get when I suddenly see a human shape form out of something else entirely” Žilinskaitė tells me. “I think, wow, there is some kind of magic! And I think, okay, I’m not alone here¨.

Barbora Žilinskaitė. Chairs Don’t Cry

Friedman Benda Gallery

Los Angeles, California, USA

20 February – 30 March, 2024

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