No 1 (97) 2014
January - March

A Touch of the Primordial

The "Anima. 2005-2013 Pictures of Africa" series by Magda Hueckel have surprised me with the primeval character that appears rarely in the contemporary art, especially in photography.

Marta Smolińska

Historian and art critic. Assistant Professor at the Toruń Nicolas Copernicus University Art History and Culture Faculty.

Marta Smolińska

I HAD A FEELING OF BEING CONFRONTED with something archaic, savage, mysterious, unfathomable, that I had never expected from the photographs and the type of reality perception connected with them. Hueckel, accurately calling her photographs the pictures of Africa, manager to master the technique, so as - applying this with good intuition and a sense of awareness - to use it, so to speak, in a subcutaneous manner, as though it were underneath the visual and topical message. Blackand-white poetics, fuzziness, a painting approach, not fully defined elements intensifying the mystery of individual frames and the way of framing that is either close, tight and fragmentary, or distant in order to grasp a whole of a selected motive; all these contribute to the fact that "Anima" is not literal, and immediately adopts metaphorical overtones. An excellent move was to expose simultaneously one and the same phenomenon in its complete form, as well as in fragments. Thus, one' eyes physical reaction is to alternate in coming closer and moving away from a dead body of a horse in a grave, octopuses entangled bodies, a decomposing carcass of a dog.

I faced "Anima" as though I were a character of "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, who „feels the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him, - all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable."1)

Hueckel has "registered" totems connected with the voodoo rites in an attempt to reach the very heart of darkness. Her frames show mummified animal heads that bare their sticking out, huge teeth, parrot heads with enormous beaks, various skulls and bones arranged into surprising sets the purpose of which I cannot grasp. After all, these carry the aura of rites that have been shrouded in mystery, and by the same token, rarely represented visually. There has been nothing of ethnographic record, since the "Anima" series pictures offer an impression that goes deep into the very heart of the primordial and the savage, while remaining thoroughly modern. As suggested by Giorgio Agamben, " the most archaic forms seem to have a special impact on the present, (...) a key to modernity has been hidden in what is immemorial and prehistoric". 2) So, the pictures by Hueckel appear as the combination of what is immemorial and prehistoric". So, the pictures by Hueckel appear as the combination of the contemporary and the archaic. Due to this they carry a huge impact: on subcutaneous level there is a deep medium awareness of the artist, high technical potential and photographic tradition that offer a piercing visual effect that reaches my subcutaneous level with its primeval nature and magic.

The "Anima" series photographs appeal to me with regard to their diversified texture which de facto is absent there. As typical abjects, they are fascinating and repulsive; alluring and disgusting; they cause fear and nausea because of their ostentatious (re)presentation of death. Bird's eye view of an African steppe with its trees, bushes and grass neighbors with the picture that shows a hairless animal carcass in the process of decomposition, full of worms and larvae - this juxtaposition reveals a striking resemblance, if not natural unity of the macro and microcosm. Other frames illustrate tree boughs and roots so much muddled that they cannot be untangled. Walter Benjamin would be surprised to see in photography a strong presence of the aura and an effect of a certain distance3) which seem to be the essence of the African pictures by Hueckel; along with all their magic and the primordial nature intrinsic to ritualistic totems.

J. Conrad, Heart of Darkness, translated by J.Polak, Poznań 1994, p.14.
2) G. Agamben, What Is the Contemporary? , in: Idem, Nakedness, translated by K. Żaboklicki, Warsaw 2010, p. 23.
3) W. Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, translated by J. Sikorski, in: Idem, Angel of History. Essays, Sketches, Fragments, monograph H. Orłowski, Poznań 1996, p. 201-239.

Magda Hueckel. "Anima", the Piekary Gallery, Poznań,
June-September 2013; the Coach House Gallery, Toruń, January-February 2014, Circulation(s) Festival, Paris, February-March 2014.