The Emperor's Fleet is Burning
The latest poetic and conceptual work by the Finnish-Lithuanian artist and poet, Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, is a romantic installation that recalls a fictional event that took place in the year, 1514, when the poet was sent by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I (1459-1519), on an epic journey to chart and record the newly discovered territories of Central and South America. That journey is penned in a short story authored by the poet, A Tragic Chronicle of Fortune and Destiny, which ends with the burning of the Emperor's Imperial fleet off a South Caribbean island along the Yucatan Coast.
Under the auspices of the Embassy of Finland in Vilnius, The Emperor's Fleet is Burning opens at ARKA Gallery (Ausros Vartu Str. 7 LT-01304 Vilnius) on Tuesday, February 18 during The International Vilnius Book Fair and continues through March 11.
The Emperor's Fleet is Burning was inspired by the great naval ship masterpiece paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably the work of the Russian painter, Ivan Alvazovsky from where the artist garnered most of his current inspiration.
Alvazovsky painted some of the most revered, iconic, and fierce marine battle scenes that depicted heavy bombardments and explosions where gigantic Russian and Turkish fleet ships burned into the night. Alvazovsky captured the chaos, fire, and destruction of smoke filling the skies and where gunfire is reflected in the sea lluminating the sails of the ships and their flags.
Likewise, Narkiewicz-Laine conceptionally re-enacted several of Alvazovsky's battle scenes using proto-types of Spanish galleon ships during five days of installation in the month of October, 2013 on the Mississippi River. The artist documented that installation with video and photography, which is presented at Arka Gallery. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with photographs and the text of the story.
In the story, the Emperor's cartographer (the artist-poet) sets sail from Europe to the New World and accompanies the Spaniards through the unchartered wilderness of the Amazon in search of the fabled city of Ophir or El Dorado. The poets writes about the hardship of the voyage and the atrocities of the Spanish; their armies and missionaries in their lust and pursuit of gold. Rape, pillage, greed, and death ensue. The poet writes: "Every district we encountered was marked by the progress of the Spanish in blood and mass slaughter."
When finally seizing the sought-after treasures of the Mesoamerican kingdoms, the Conquistadors retreat back to their ships. Several mutinies ensue; and for the remainder of the expedition, the poet finds himself cast adrift with the insurrectionists in the South Atlantic and now part of the mutiny. When landing off an island on the Yucatan Coastline in pursuit of fresh water and supplies, the mutinied sailors and militia are attacked by pirates and their entire Spanish flotilla is destroyed.
Here the poet writes about the ironies of Fortune and Destiny, where the Spanish "conquerors become the conquered" and their stolen fortune landing in the hands of pirates or lost forever in the abandoned sea.
The artist-poet summaries life's quest for Fortune and Destiny as: "The earth we inhabit is a mistake; everything around us is an oblique shadow of its hypocrisy."
For the artist-poet, the Emperor's burning fleet becomes a metaphor of life's ruined dreams and its failed aspirations.
As a conceptionalist artist, Narkiewicz-Laine's work is often socio-political commentary and most times embroiled in heated political and social controversy and debate. He blurs the distinction of the written or spoken word and pure visual representation. Often, he uses words as pictograms or ideograms to convey alternative poetic meaning. In this sense, the medium is really the message. According to the artist, "Pictographs often transcend languages in that they can communicate to speakers of a number of tongues and language families equally effectively. In essence, I view poetry and the visual arts as one."
The Emperor's Fleet is Burning is scheduled to travel throughout Europe in 2014.