Agnė Jokšė and Anastasia Sosunova’s Queer Eastern European Futurism

Anastasia Sosunova, The Visitation, 2022; Messed Up Terrains, 2019, single channel video. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo: Jonas Balsevičius

In Dance As You Wrestle at Cell Project Space, London, paradox becomes a productive rift

In the Eastern Orthodox calendar, 19 January marks Epiphany: believers across Russia and Eastern Europe plunge themselves into frigid oceans, lakes and rivers. They bottle and consume this often-polluted water, ostensibly rendered ‘holy’ on this day, sometimes becoming ill from its ‘healing’ properties. Lithuanian artists Anastasia Sosunova and Agnė Jokšė take this paradoxical ritual as the framework for Dance As You Wrestle, which explores queer love as a counter-relic to the imperial residue of a religious practice followed primarily by Orthodox Christians, with all the cultural tensions that implies.

Dance As You Wrestle (detail), 2022. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo: Jonas Balsevičius

Across videos, etchings and sculptural installations that span both gallery floors and spawn synthetic puddles on its rooftop, the artists create personal reliquaries that host unsettled histories. In Sosunova’s Express Method (2022), crushed cans and warped cardboard legs prop up an ever-greenifying plastic husk filled with water from the River Lea, one of the UK’s most polluted waterways. The tangled copper belts and burnt styrene mass of The Visitation (2022), meanwhile, cradles a cellphone that streams Sosunova’s video surveying ghosts of Russian colonial monuments. On the other side of the sculpture, a copper plate etching of two embracing saints emerges coated in temporary tattoo stickers. Conflicts between personal and familial love and the political ideologies embedded in religion abound, peaking in the collaborative sculpture Dance As You Wrestle (2022). A pile of sandbags becomes a barricade against painful family conflict: letters from Sosunova’s mother condemning her queer relationship appear here too, encased in a block of resin that humorously props up a pink sandal.

Agnė Jokšė, Unconditional Love Extended, 2022. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo: Jonas Balsevičius

Jokšė’s two videos, Unconditional Love Extended (2022) and Dear Friend (2019), articulate both feelings of the everyday miraculous and the anxious space left between letters. The former chronicles time spent with her grandparents while helping her uncle recuperate from an injury in London. As the group sit down to watch a drag queen perform on Lithuanian TV, Jokšė starts recording, as if shielding herself from what her family might say next. Instead, the device captures a confused softness: the grandparents pose gentle questions and sing the drag queen’s praises.

Working through such tentative and tender explorations of love and faith, the artists find an uncertain home in the meeting point of conflicting ideologies and algae blooms. On Epiphany, the murky waters of Express Method were poured out into takeaway Sprite bottles, inviting the audience into a shared ritual endorsed by saint and sinner alike. Across the exhibition, these paradoxes create a productive rift: by rewiring a ritual tethered to an anti-LGBTQ faith, Jokšė and Sosunova open up space for a queer Eastern European futurism to take its place.

Dance As You Wrestle at Cell Project Space, London, through 26 February

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