No 2 (94) 2013
April - June

Under the Icing of Culture

Installations, sculptures and large-size, arranged photographs by Katarzyna Krzykawska have been bordering on a fairy tale and kitsch. On one hand these refer to romantic tradition, on the other, they reveal shallow aspects of our contemporary life.

Eulalia Domanowska

B. in 1960. Art historian, critic, curator. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Eulalia Domanowska

THE SPACE OF THE WARSAW XX1 GALLERY has been occupied by dwarves, mice and a girl with butterflies. Seemingly sweet, amusing pieces - under a layer of icing - carry a second meaning: the disturbing, grotesque, inaccessible. Gnomes, wearing concentration camp striped overalls, appeared on a flowerbed. Large photographs depicted them marching through a green forest or stunningly beautiful winter scenery. A whole army of white, blending in the landscape, as the author puts it - "classically stylized" dwarves - have been presented against the background of the Polish, winter scenery. These brought to mind not only the climate of a fairy tale, but the national topos (topics) of the Polish painting and history. We associate woods as much with nature, as with guerrilla fight for independence. These heroic symbols and traumatic experience of the last war, ever present and constantly recalled in our culture, have been covered with a layer o icing - frivolous gnomes and a backyard garden full of sweet daisies and swarms of butterflies sitting on one of the sculptures.

Dwarves had been mentioned first in Scandinavian mythology. Reportedly, they made weapons for Thor and Odyn. Gnomes go back to the 18th century when they appeared in German residential gardens. These featured bearded miners, dressed in pointed hats and leather aprons, holding their work tools: hammers, pickaxes, shovels. Shortly they turned into symbols of bad taste, at the same time becoming culture oriented objects. In 1981 the Swiss founded International Association to Protect Garden Gnomes which defined requirements how they should look like. A gnome has to be a male, of the height not exceeding 69 cm. In Poland this type of a gnome has grown to be the symbol of the Orange Alternative whose leader, Major Frydrych was eager to cooperate with Kasia Krzykawska.

Further, the artist has presented a monochromatic sculpture; a silhouette of a gray girl dressed in a long dress with a ribbon. The girl is casting a gray shadow swarming with colorful butterflies. She has no face. One can see the back of her head from both sides. Closed, inaccessible, anonymous, she looks like an absent and disturbing object. Black mice are peeking out from the corners of the gallery. Subsequent associations with the legend of King Popiel and mining fairy tales about pests that interfere with achieving a goal.

Works by Katarzyna Krzykawska are ambiguous. The artist suggests various interpretations, invites reflection, conjures up the mood and content that one renders by intuition rather than by analysis. The artificial, arranged sceneries, contrasts between attractive rituals of the contemporary consumerism and lofty catchwords - memories, amount to a slightly schizophrenic world that is full of tension. The artist has been involved in a game with the tradition, national identity and romantic point of view. Aesthetically appealing pieces, being a significant voice in culture oriented debate, present the world that makes one sad.

During the exhibition Paweł Dudko, a young artist from Białystok, has presented one of his works, the multimedia installation entitled Palimpsest. Applying modern technologies, the author transformed sound into its visual picture showed on a slowly turning drum. He let viewers see his voice that for a moment appeared in the form of ephemeral, light diagram to dissolve and vanish in a second. As Dorota Perszko pointed out: "the artist (...) turns a sound of a word into light; the light into a picture, and the picture into the transience." As of the Ancient times, palimpsests had been used for multiple record, in a metaphoric sense they had been approached as a register of ambiguous meaning and multi layer semantics. Medieval manuscripts were most precious; the text removed with milk, after some time showed up again. Paweł Dudko has offered an excellently simple tool to approach art in an active manner; simultaneously it is the ephemeral tool that does not have to be packed into a museum warehouse in the future.

Paweł Dudko, "Palimpsest"; Katarzyna Krzykawska, from the "Confiserie Polonaise" series, the XX1 Gallery, Warsaw, March - April 2013.