Apr 28, 2009

Jakub Julian Ziolkowski - contemporary Polish painting

The Great Battle Under the Table, 2006
Oil on canvas
190 x 165 cm / 74 3/4 x 65 in


The Garden, 2008
Oil on canvas
105 x 82 cm / 41 3/8 x 32 1/4 in


Jakub Julian Ziolkowski (b. 1980) - Polish painter, lives and works in Krakow, Poland.

Well, there seems to be a considerable, positive 'buzz' around this artist on the international art-scene... A Cinderella story, if one considers a newly graduated painter from a (still) 'provincial' Eastern Europe (Ziolkowski graduated from "Jan Matejko Academy of Art" in Krakow in 2005) having a successful, acclaimed exhibition in the Hauser and Wirth in London. At the moment, his paintings hang among others in MOMA - NY, at the prestigious "The Generational: Younger than Jesus" exhibition - a great, visionary event aiming at promoting the youngest, promising artists from around the world. And Jerry Saltz writes about them in the 'New York - Art Magazine': Jakub Julian Ziolkowski’s paintings aren’t about academic ideas of formalism, happy doodling, or mannered figuration; they’re visionary Bosch-meets-Ensor. (click on the link to read the entire review).

Not too bad at all as for an emerging artist...

Personally, what I find especially compelling about Ziolkowski's work, is ... its perverse realism...

"Realism?!" - I can hear you doubting - Call it sur-, call it magical -, call it dada-, but not just 'realism', for Christ's sake ...

Well, they are realistic paintings - I can guess so, seeing this particular painter as my never-met mate from the same yard. We share our generation, our actual and, in parts - spiritual landscape - being born and brought up in one culture at the same time... Our education belonged to one of the most classical in Europe (in the world?), we were still taught that Greek/Roman mythology, classical philosophy together with The Bible are totally responsible for how we think and perceive reality and ourselves.

So, reality is anything but a plaything to be messed with, reality is the residence of gods' and humans' stories - it exists to be reported, to be told, not to be ignored or subverted for the rebellion's own sake... We may be tempted, of course, to turn our backs on it, to exorcise it from all the evil, cruelty and confusion so deeply ingrained into its tissue. We are the Polish X-generation from 90s, 00s - born out of oppressed parents into a world that could hardly offer us anything, except a perpetual struggle for survival - to a country being itself a huge mess due to a political, economic and cultural transformation... Millions of us from this very generation, from highly educated to those 'just' 'resourceful' ones, had left their homes as soon as the borders of Europe had been finally opened... And crossing borders, alike staying behind on a land being slowly deserted by familiar faces and ideas - that makes one a realist - not matter what - a realist in a deep conflict with reality...

And there are hints of those intimate wars being fought in Ziolkowski's paintings - battles between a duty to tell the 'gods and humans' stories as they are, and the perversion of imagination, troubled by the insecure, heartless world around. Battles are fought under a table, while a huge spider-web covers after-Van Gogh's-like wheat-field (Untitled, above) ... well, it didn't surprise me when I read a reputable Polish author (of the older generation) commenting on Ziolkowski's 'dreamy hallucinations' and his 'private worlds of phobias'... Traditionalists would never accept Francis Bacon's concept of the 'concentrated reality' - being conveyed not merely as an illustration but an extract of it - presenting itself so intensely real that... mesmerizingly or shockingly unreal...


Mar 2, 2009

Liminality in Art (2)

The notions of boundaries, borders, limits, thresholds and so on may be as ancient as the human population itself. In Greek/Roman mythology they are expressed by names of different gods/goddesses, hybrids and monsters - Zeus cares for the Olympus, Poseidon is a guardian of waters, Hades rules in the Underground; forests, agriculture, arts and law - every human (divine and monstrous as well) activity and embodiment of the spirit has its own powerful protector/ rules maker and no interference is into each other territory is tolerated.

Religions exist due the numerous polarities, and the most popular story of creation (Book of Genesis) had started exactly from this - from a separation and making sharp divisions between elements and the mater. In order to survive the species would have to define and fight for the territories and the evolution of the human race is an 'epopee' of transcending the boundaries of nature, space and time...

The social, cultural and personal identity couldn't be possible at all without the ongoing, often uncompromising process of the differentation. And when philosophy tends to look for an unity and structure in the universe despite of all the intrinsic and imposed/created dichotomies, art in general would indulge in exploring the world as seen within the "frame" (think now about Derrida's "The truth in painting" and his deconstruction attempt of all the 'frames' we tend to see the art through) and beyond it.

And so it goes - Christ would be a 'worthy' subject, but even some of his disciples not exactly; harmonious human body was only true representation - the ugly/mutilated one was worse than some of the animals ; one 'breed' of art-view was 'high' (read: 'true'), the others were 'pseudo-'; painting the landscape naturally excluded the sky-view and the figurative works were exorcised of all the abstract elements (and vice versa). The universe seen as in an atom of a very particular concept/meaning or a set of those (lets say: christian version of god, humanists' vision of a man, romantic vision of a landscape, modernists' subversion to the classical art) which had to be frozen, clearly and in a division to its possible and apparent opposites... This is basically what all the history of the Western Art is about. About Old Testament God's job of making the world happen by creating borders between chaos and order, good and bad, light and dark, sky and earth, the animals and the human beings, the human beings and the Holy one.

Where the 'liminal' creeps into all of this? Well - right at the start, I guess and simply because the artistic activity in itself situates man on the existential threshold; a bit like a prayer or a sexual act - two different worlds meet and penetrate each other; the universe as it is (or appears to be) and the universe to be created... And the conscious artist is very likely to aim at or to be the 'passeur' -'a boatman', 'smuggler' - the man of passage, the guide who leads his audience beyond the status quo crossing social, cultural, psychological, spiritual and sometimes very physical boundaries in order to show/explain/challenge...


This article is a part of a series "Liminality in art" where I intend to define and explore the philosophical and aesthetic notion of the liminality. Please, refer to other articles from the series in order to get the fuller view.

Feb 15, 2009

Liminality in Art (1)

This is meant to be an attempt in coining a new term in the Art Theory field.

Curiously enough, the term Liminality continues not to be recognised by the modern dictionaries of English; even though numerous (stated below) researchers have been using it in academic papers. It doesn't exist as an aesthetic concept or any distinguished phenomenon in the contemporary fine art. Yet, what I would like to claim and what is the reason of this article is my knowledge that this very notion has been persistently influencing the way of defining and interpreting art of the last decades at least. Though never or very rarely (in its adjective form of the liminal) applied as such by the art critics and scholars it has been circulating in the air each time the hybridity, borderline qualities, formlessness or intersemiotics of the Postmodernism has been loathed or admired.

From Latin limen meaning threshold 'liminality' is an existential (metaphysical) subjective, state and realm of hovering 'between and betwixt' of two (or more) different planes, spaces and/or existential qualities. First described in anthropology (Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner) as a social theory of the liminal states - spaces of a 'temporary outcast' when an individual or a group is being placed by the society on its margin in a ritual of purification and/or recognition. It has got also its usage in the contemporary psychology where the liminal means sub- or unconscious state with one's sense identity being 'hold' or dissolved to some extent. In contemporary philosophy J. Derrida has been called the 'philosopher of the liminal' due to his deconstruction attempts of the integral and solid tissue of materiality (more about it in the next parts of this series).

In visual art the 'threshold's ' aesthetics has been described on the theatre, cinema and performance field (notably S. Zizek, S. Broadhurst) and some curatorial and critical attempts has been made to embrace the liminality of the contemporary artistic expression done by more or less traditional media. Yet, it's basically the 'no man's land' when painting or sculpture is considered - those realms remain, for the today's critique and theory (and not surprisingly, by any means) immune to any 'revolutionary' 'new' aesthetic refurbishment; it became a sort of an ideological cliche - that it's more convenient to blame painting for its impotency (it's 'dead' anyway, why bother then?...) than to inject any potent conceptual spirit into it by an affirmative reflection.

When J-F. Lyotard has called Postmodernity the nascent state, the state of a permanent 'becoming' (The Postmodern Condition, 1979) he basically admitted its innate liminal character; and those artworks that seek to address this condition (both deliberately or not) are probably best recognised for their aesthetics (or anti-aesthetics) of incompleteness - sculptures/installations look as if the artist ran out of the materials to finish them to a decent level; paintings seem to be painfully 'hanged' by their own guts with indescribable forms, unidentifiable colours and freaky techniques; videos cry out for any structure, even a hint of a narrative. Their 'becomingness' is the only existence they know and it comes invariably as disquieting or even disturbing for the audience. No without a reason the primitive societies considered the liminal states as dangerous, unclean (Turner); and those affected were isolated 'pro publico bono'.

As hazardous and monstrous in moments as the liminality in art (and beyond it) seems to appear it is also probably the only truly creative state, which - if used wisely - can result in some profound discoveries and metamorphoses. This fructile chaos and the storehouse of possibilities (Turner) is a goldsmith's workshop of the contemporary art; even though some purists rise an alarm that the state of the constant flux and indeterminacy (where 'everything goes') will annihilate all the miserable bits of art that left - let's be positive... Art is best cared for if it's accepted just as it appears and shapes itself through the mill of the human spirit; even if refuses to 'become' and fit any new uniform - so what?... As far as minds and hearts are enflamed by it, even with a doubt, even with a turmoil - it fulfills its calling of the 'fifth element' - the force of life and death, possibility and danger, sanctus and profane...


In the further studies on Liminality in Art (being a part of my studies on the Contemporary Art) I would bring closer the views of the scholars, philosophers mentioned above, as well as I will try to illustrate the theory with some artworks.