Hide and Seek ©Micheal Ned Holte printed with permission of Michael Ned Holte A small group of figures cross an ambiguous threshold, moving out of frame, into the forest, the darkness swallowing them. Hide and seek. Have they been here before, like so many before them, on the move? The edge of the woods is a territory of negotiation, whether in an act of hostility or a child’s game. It is the setting of fairy tales, horror films. The edge is always blurred. From outside, the woods seem large but contained. From within, one can quickly become disoriented as the pulsatory strobe of sunlight filters through the trees. One becomes delirious as space expands seemingly without end. Fear takes over. Aren’t we always stumbling about, lost in the dark? There is still much that remains unknown about the limbic system—a wiry assemblage of cortical and subcortical structures within the brain that collectively governs the construction of memory, spatial navigation, decision making, and emotions such as pleasure and fear. When, in 2005, Susan Rankaitis was invited to create a sculptural work at Europas Parkas near Vilnius, Lithuania, she transformed a year of research related to the limbic system into a sculptural “drawing” in space. Unlike most of the other sculptures that occupy the grounds of Europas Parkas, including works by Magdelena Abakanowicz, Sol LeWitt, and Dennis Oppenheim, the work created by Rankaitis was ephemeral and sited in a wooded ravine at the boundary of the sculpture park and the forest of Vilnius—a “strange and awkward place,” according to the artist. What remains of this sculpture now exists only in the form of photographic images, digitized memory, collectively titled Limbicwork: Pertaining to the Nature of Borders. Working with a group of young Lithuanian artists, Rankaitis began to clear parts of the densely wooded ravine before installing a series of long skeins of plastic tubing, ribbed hoses, and other common, off-the-shelf industrial materials in the 15,000 square-foot expanse of the woods. “Limbus,” the Latin root of “limbic,” means “arc,” and the arcing, calligraphic swoops of black, grey, dark blue, and cherry red plastic suspended in the thicket of trees at times resemble specific components of the limbic system. However, these figures—the amygdala, the hippocampus, the hypothalamus—are fleeting percepts rather than definitive outcomes for the viewer. This sprawling sculptural activity suggests a lineage, including two works by Eva Hesse—Right After (1969) and Untitled (“Rope Piece”) (1970), which are both comprised of rope, string, and wire dipped in latex and suspended between the ceiling and the ground—and a number of low slung, floor-bound dispersal works by Barry Le Va, including the appropriately titled Disentangle (1968), comprised of sinewy strands of grey felt. These sculptural works by Hesse and Le Va, in somewhat different ways, represented a path back to the human body—and its agency—following from the “pure,” geometric forms of minimalism; unsurprisingly, both artists found sculptural potential in Jackson Pollock’s performative tangles and vortices of dribbled paint from the late 1940s and early 1950s. In her transcription of ephemeral, sprawling spatial gestures into bounded, two-dimensional photographs of “frozen” movement, Rankaitis likewise seems to invoke Pollock—and an adaptive vocabulary of painterly automatism that has appeared in her work before, if quite differently. At first glance, the series of arresting photographs she has entitled Kuri (an interrogative meaning “which one?” in Lithuanian), in many ways recall Pollock’s Lucifer (1947), with its landscape-signifying green enamel spatters, or the insistent, tree-like voids of Blue Poles (1952-3). In the Kuri photographs, as in Pollock’s seminal canvases, a vertiginous tug-of-war develops between spatiality and surface, and between the picture’s edges and a paradoxical suggestion of boundlessness. Despite these art historical markers, and the formal trajectories to which they inevitably point, it is significant to look at Limbicwork as a body of photographs marking the present. Kuri (Blue Grey Lines), for example, is a triptych of photos documenting slightly overlapping spaces that are tied together by a meandering blue grey hose that twists around a similarly-sized branch near the middle of the picture. We see this knot twice, revealing the seam of two photos, hinting at a brief, almost cinematic lapse in time. At the other seam we see lens flare, reinforcing the flat, photographic picture plane—and, importantly, the unfussiness of the project. In Kuri (Warm Grey Lines) and Kuri (Black Line on Green), Rankaitis conjoins even more individual images onto the picture plane, and creates a horizontal “mirror” line, literally flipping the world upside down on the top half of these photos: literally dis-orienting. Rankaitis also affirms the documentary nature of the photograph, bearing witness to the broader aspects of her project by carefully allowing ambiguity to hint at the history of her chosen site. The Vilnius forest is a mute witness to the persecution of the Lithuanian people by the both the Nazis and the Russian Army. In the two photographs of a foxhole titled Last Found, the horror of this site is suggested by simply documenting a provisional hiding spot discovered by the artist while installing the sculpture. In Kodel, a cheap, white plastic bag on the forest path initially suggests a draped body. Even Kazkur—a blurred photograph of a mound, partially shrouded by a (human?) shadow—causes anxiety. It is an anxiety of not knowing. The photograph, as witness, is mute like these woods. Despite this dark back story, these photographs are not grim. They are honest, open. Rankaitis admittedly derived strength and conviction about this project by working closely with a group of young Lithuanian artists whose relationship to this history is indirect, blurred. The red t-shirt from Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange, worn by her assistant Mindaugas Mazalis in two of the photographs, contains a complex chain of signifiers alluding to violence, antisocial behavior, authoritarian control, and—most closely related to Rankaitis’s Limbicwork—the conditioned responses of the brain, such as the instinct for fight or flight. As in Kubrick’s film, these signifiers are ambiguous, and it is unclear how this young artist interprets the history of his native turf. He stands in, metonymically, for his generation, for a social body. Perhaps, then, these photographs suggest the possibility of a collective limbic system, a constellation of connections: strength in numbers. This collectivity allowed for Rankaitis to willingly get lost in the woods, figuratively speaking, while installing the sculptural work at Europas Parkas, and to continue to call into question her own artistic boundaries as her project gradually emerged from hiding. Michael Ned Holte is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to Artforum, and his writing has appeared in Afterall, Art Review, frieze, Interview, the survey book Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography, and the catalogue for the 2006 California Biennial.