No 4 (88) 2011
October - December

Memory Files

Deliberations by Agata Bogacka - on the history of her own family, on time and memory, on surprisingly complicated human existence - exceed the frames of individual reflection, adopting a universal dimension of a query about human fate.

Malwina Domagała

Historian and art critic. PhD student at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Malwina Domagała

THE LATEST EXHIBITION OF THE WORKS BY THE ARTIST illustrates a gradual departure from the earlier stylistics of presentation that focused on a human figure as the main topic of painting. The so far creative search by Bogacka has covered records of psychic conditions, emotions and human relations. At present, the artist has given up the figuration exploring her own image and likenesses of her relatives and friends. The characters in her pictures - presented as silhouettes accentuated with spots of color outlined with a strong, graphic contour against a neutral background - were most frequently depicted in intimate situations. The palette, contained in a modest scale of dominant grays, softened with whites and blacks, focused on characters shut in their own world of thoughts, desires and eroticism. The evolving work by the artist, open onto new formal solutions, has shifted towards the abstract language of art.

New, stylistically diversified pieces, presented on the exhibition - being a lapidary where fragments of reality have been gathered as a trace, a map of what exists in one's memory - develop the emotional space hiding self biographical motives. The works are a painting record inspired by a family story from the Warsaw Uprising described in the diary by Paulina Żuławska, the artist's grandmother. The diary, found after many years, following the death of its author, has been a stimuli for Bogacka to trace the family past, to enter into the so far undiscovered world of the memories of her relative. The artist has been inspired to develop a symbolic "picture map" after learning about a difficult experience of living one's own home, a journey to the unknown, the uncertainty of fate. She has registered subsequent stages of this trip: I, Krystyna M. left home on Tuesday (August 1st 1944, Warsaw - August 12th 1944, Podkowa Leśna, Poland), 2009. Bogacka has found a similar experience of war migration in the diary by Jonas Mekas and in the memoirs by Thomas Buergenthal. Applying geographic coordinates, she has outlined on canvases the routes they described, unpredictable turns of fate, traumatic events from their lives, historically defined as the death march, and created "picture maps": Jonas Mekas: I had nowhere to go (July 17th 1944 Semeshnyky, Lithuania - October 29th 1949 New York), 2009; Thomas Buergenthal: Happiness (May 11th 1934 Lubochna, Slovakia - 1951 Gottingen, Germany), 2011.

All works presented on the exhibition - painting compositions, fragments of a broken sculpture by Hanna Żuławska, the artist's aunt, snapshots of female relatives forming a genealogical tree - offer a sense of elapsing time, the past, memory. Historical references without a literal overtones and judgment are visible in the Mirroring (2008) painting series made in the Bavarian little city of Bad Tölz, a location famous for its curative springs, where a Nazi SS cadet school was founded during the war. The canvases have been dominated by an amorphous, rounded form - against a homogenous, smooth background - which seems to pulsate with its own life. A fluid shape gives an impression of vibrating, overflowing waters maintained in the palette of subdued grays, mauves, blues, whites and blacks. The dynamic, moving form - resembling a spilling out water surface - contains a metaphor of the changeability and unpredictability of human fate.

In the pictures depicting a mountain panorama, borrowed from old postcards, the artist has challenged her own memory. The Tatra 1 composition, recollecting the Valley of Five Ponds, is dated 2009. After two years Bogacka made an attempt to return to a mountain landscape and painted from memory the Tatra 2 (2011). The time obliterated initial images in the artist's mind, and had a clear impact on the painting method, shades of the palette and an approach to the canvas texture, since the artist relied on her own memories without referring to documents, photographs or a detailed description of a diary.

Agata Bogacka, "Diaries", the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, August - October 2011.