Fotograf Magazine

The Metaphysics of the Window

The labyrinth fascinates us with its many meanings and possibilities for interpretation. It draws you in but does not wish to release, it imprisons, yet still offers hope for “leaving.” After all Theseus was victorious – truth be told with the help of Ariadne – but his example allows us to count on a sort of string that will guide us through the confusion of hallways. Among the diverse meanings that bog down the labyrinth one can find havoc, chaos, reason, initiation, an underground land of the dead, a star-filled sky, the world, life. However all these meanings (expressions) are also well suited to confuse the path of those being led – perhaps to the middle, perhaps out, and perhaps … nowhere.

And what if we cut out a window in this density of small paths? That would be an act as radical as cutting the Gordian Knot. A genial solution to an irresolvable situation, to show the way, give hope, possibilities to disrupt the necessity of eternal returns, to connect the subconscious with the conscious, to open the land of the dead.

It was under the name “Okno w labiryncie (“Window to the Labyrinth”) that the 11th annual festival, New Art, took place from 22 to 24 October 2010 in Slubice and Frankfurt an der Oder. The main curators, Jerzy Olek and Anna Panek-Kusz, planned twenty-one exhibitions and projects, lectures and showings of experimental films.

The festival’s main exhibition by curator, Jerzy Olek, called “Kształt kosmosu” (“The Shape of the Universe”) builds on (the theme of) the labyrinth as a symbol for the world. Interest in the universe dates back to man’s beginnings. Man looked to the sky and thought where did the stars, the earth, people, death, suffering and joy all come from. And so the first teaching was born – cosmogony – which sought to find the beginnings of all that existed. The question relating to the universe is thus very basic: where did we come from and where are we going. Several millennia of heritage do not allow us to look at the sky without anthropological references. Perhaps scientists who look at the universe through the Hubble Telescope will be able to – but gradually they too, when they provide photographs as a supplement to the main exhibition, will open this area to free interpretation and will thus contribute to the “civilising” of distant galaxies, nebulae and edges of black holes.
The newest technique in science and in art – photographs developed over a month with a hand-made camera obscura, whose shape brings to mind a telescope. Such work was presented by Paolo Gioli. A symbol of nature’s dark forces – was captured without complicated apparatuses, simply the touch of a hand; perhaps for this reason it preserved so much of its own magic, vagueness, depth and aura.
Sławomir Decyk also uses the camera obscura in “Cyclographics.” Photosensitive material, placed on a curtain together with clocks, records the horizon in regular intervals. In this way the attained round shapes bring to mind stars and planets, but they are not the image of any of them. It is rather a record of the paths of heavenly bodies – but not really, only fictitiously something the orbit of the curtains forces. His photographs are images of light, time and movement – rather than registering that which we all generally understand as an external fact.
The category of time is inseparably connected with the category of space. Perhaps for this reason Wolf Kahlen portrays the shape of the universe through relative time. His work: two photographs of watches – onions – bear the name “A Second After.” They were photographed with exact one second intervals and so are in a certain way a measurement of time. The artist’s camera, however, was quicker than the hand on the clock; the second hand is there – but is invisible. One expression shows the photograph’s past, the other its present – yet still between them there is no visible difference.

But the universe is not just its physical aspect. Yasu Suzuka presents its correlation to a godly element in “Modlitewnych dłoniach” (“Praying Hands”) – a more or less transparent, large format canvas (screen) that hangs freely in space. All that this gesture suggests – spirituality, prayer, contemplation, foreswearing, reverence – lies within man’s internal space, his internal light.
Mysticism and metaphysics are also key terms in the triptych and multimedia work, “Ku nirwanie” (“Toward nirvana”), by Stefan Wojnecki. The name calls to mind the Buddhist state of immortality and highest bliss – it looks like a smoky tunnel that takes on the shape of a square, circle and triangle. These three basic geometric figures express in turn the earth and the male element; heaven and the female element; and also man as a whole. Then in summation they join man and the universe. The human form that appears at the end of the tunnel guides us to life after life. Smoke – the connecting element of that which is above to that which is below, the heavenly and terrestrial spheres, the symbol of the flammable victim – allows the showing of air, the most hard to comprehend of all terrestrial forces, the kingdom of spirits and demons.

Akira Komoto finds the universe in his closest surroundings: the bank of a lake, clouds, a tree seen far off. But that’s not what it’s about here. Heading down the path of Japanese tradition shows that it is not important what was painted, but rather the empty space that can be filled in by the imagination. That is why he called his series of paintings “White Hole”. (He wished to) provoke the imagination with his white colour in which, after all, everything can hide. (It is) as bottomless as its black equivalent, which hides on the edge of fact/reality.

Štěpán Grygar plays with the illusion of perception. His “Planet”, calling to mind a heavenly body with its exterior, lies on the horizon, but … on a footpath in the park and possibly on a street covered with fallen leaves. Such fraud by “objective” photography, which – taken out of context, equipped with fake descriptions, obscuring format – amplifies the deception of the senses.

Cosmological threads intertwine in the exhibition, “Wokół” (“Running Around”), by curator, Zbyszek Muziewicz. All his works interpret the sphere, which is fascinating for mathematicians, astronomers, geometricians and artists. The sphere is the shape of stars and planets – and as a body it is the ideal symbol of perfection, godliness and universe. Kinga Dunikowski builds on this amount of threads with an object that is composed of a round mirror that is edged with neon bordering reflected in the mirror. It creates an endless tunnel that dissolves in a depth of concentric circles of light. It is indeed the “Eye of Re”: the eye of the Egyptian god of light, the lord of order in the universe.

Anna Kędziora encloses plants, submersed in water, inside round aquariums. Perhaps this is the first phase of creation – plants creeping up from aquatic depths, the beginning of life on earth.

Michał Podgórczyk and Żaklina Nowodworska captured the beauty of soap bubbles that play with rainbow colours when in the sun. They represent symbols of transiency. The more permanent version of the soap bubbles – glass half-orbs with light rays – were fixed to the gallery windows. Lit up by sunlight they brought to mind far away stars. They included the entire universe in themselves: from self-reflecting phenomena and heavenly bodies to dust flying in the air.
Dick Termes proposed an interesting game involving geometry, space and its perception by people. The artist made realistic drawings on spheres, ones that reflected six-sided perspective: from the north, south, east and west, and also from the top and bottom. And so it looked as if many paths lead to his round labyrinths, but what hides behind them – are there many exits, many windows through which one can see inside, but can one see from inside what is outside?

Zbyszek Muziewicz shows a changing position of blurred large spheres and small balls in contrast to each other and to the square image. Its four different placements can portray human perception: sensing phenomena is always subjective, things perceived from different perspectives and in a different time appear differently in the sights of various observers. But can the aforementioned interpretation be expanded and can an illustration of the rules of relativity be seen in this work?

In his individual exhibition, (“Przestrzeń zakłócona” (“Interrupted Space”), Jerzy Olek takes an original approach to the problem of time and space. The artist deconstructed mural paintings that portrayed a torn down home in Frankfurt during the war. From it he made a mosaic put together based on a simple, mathematical rule. This metaphorically repeated destruction – it can be interpreted as annulling time past and wartime losses – enabled the reconstruction of a building, it gave it the physical dimension of space, for which surface space is lacking, even if it is illusively depicted.

Gisela Weimann also intervenes in space – this time acoustically – by creating a multi-media installation, “Początek koniec tutaj teraz” (“Beginning End Here Now”), a sound labyrinth. Next to four mirrored drawings, placed opposite one another, she placed a CD player; from each of them comes the music of a different instrument: piano, clarinet, violoncello and a violin. The music is started by motion detectors fixed to the gallery walls. In this way viewers become co-composers of a unique musical formation.

The element of movement – in this case translated into the language of painting – is at the centre of Krzystof Juretka’s interest. He projected a film featuring a dance by Chrystel Guillebeaud on hung drawings in the space. The influence of the half-transparent paper canvases ruffling in the wind reinforced the film image and enlivened the artist’s dance in a labyrinth of her own likenesses.

The body as a path to understanding man, the essence of life, time, consciousness – that is the main idea behind “Genesis” by Anna Panek- Kusz. In this multi-media projection she shows a naked woman enclosed in a sphere. The beauty of her poses and the symmetry of her positions suggest a harmony of body and reason. The sphere (orb) is a symbol of perfection, of the female element, of the beginning of life that a woman gives. The existence of this harmony in a secondary dimension does not exclude destruction on an individual level. Therefore the female form – in the permanently perfect sphere – becomes increasingly deformed, harmony is destroyed, and the element of destruction prevails. That is how time works.

The exhibition of young artists from Japan, the laureates of the MIO competition and graduates of the University of Art and Design in Osaka, was an unassailable attraction. As Naoya Yoshikawa, curator of the exhibition, “Wewnętrzny labirynt” (Internal Labyrinth), wrote – in a period of information overload the youngest generation of artists is turning its back on the external world and concentrating on the internal. But in fact, the presented works are very subjective, but that does not distinguish them at all. Looking for a “window” in the labyrinth is fundamentally a borderline individual activity, because each artist finds (sees) it somewhere else. For me the surprise was the missing tie-in to Japanese tradition. Perhaps the world has already become too unified in order for cultures to differ? I would assert that the works of the young artists presented in the exhibition are connected by a removal of the world’s real aspect, which occurs in various ways. Photographs of artificial lighting bring to mind the patterns created in a kaleidoscope (Yusaku Nakada); time-lapse photographs of night-time cityscapes with hints of cars and people – leads to a reality of sleeping (Saori Yamashiro); the staged photographs by Ena Nakagawa stand at the border of sleeping and dreaming; the extracted group of figures transferred onto a white background, stripped of context, act notably and disturbingly (Tanaka Kensaku); eccentric, diseased flowers made of meat are an attempt to understand the process of transforming life into food (Ayako Onogi).

What connects these divergent artists? Did they find a common “window” in the labyrinth? I would assert that it’s a turning away from complicated technologies. At a time when computers, machines and gadgets run our lives, they have indicated a return to simplicity. Basic, sometimes almost archaeological techniques (camera obscura), simple ideas – but a refined mission. The measure of success is the amount of possible readings, the diversity of meanings, their being rooted in tradition. Big ideas are simple. In fact the most difficult thing is to achieve that sublimated simplicity.

Anna Rojkowska