CINDERELLA II - THE DREAMER Olga Sankey
Since arriving in Australia from Poland some twelve years ago, Gosia Wlodarczak has established herself as an innovative and highly individual artist whose practice centres on the act of drawing. In the artist’s own words:
My practice is made manifest through heightened awareness of dwelling in the everyday areas of human thought, behaviour and experience. Drawings are processed via the biological phenomenon of ‘being’ as detected by my sense of sight and communicated through my body. I draw my environment as I see it in real time - tracing and re-tracing the visible - thereby finding elements often concealed by the primacy of sight. My work interrogates space, time and language. Over time I have adopted various visual processes and methods to address and communicate these issues. Drawing is the basis of all my work, extending towards installation, performance, interactive situations and video and sound installations.[i]
In Cinderella II The Dreamer, with the assistance of New Work grant from the Australia Council, Wlodarczak continues her investigation of ‘the perception of home and domestic space as a site of dreaming and habitation where the imaginary and real coexist.’[ii]
The three objects that form the basis of this exhibition are presented as ‘stylised profiles of desire’: an haute couture outfit from Yohji Yamamoto’s 2007 Spring Collection, a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Bang & Olufsen sound system Beo. Wlodarczak is making the dreams of three of her friends come true through her drawing. When they are not on the wall the works can be packed away into gift boxes made by the artist. Portability is an important aspect of this new work theoretically each recipient can carry the box home. The artist has created a special gift for each of three friends, which represents both the materialisation of a wish they have shared with her and a record of the time she has dedicated to making it come true a portion of her own life.
Each of the objects has an associated sound component which was created in collaboration with the Canberra based composer, Alistair Noble. Initially Wlodarczak and Noble toyed with the term ‘sound-image’ to describe the product of their collaboration, however on discovering it was already in use in the music and film industries, Wlodarczak finally settled on the word ‘Similitude’. These sound installations, Similitudes, represent ‘an aural equivalent of the visual experiences’ the artist has created for us. The idea is based on her belief that ‘everything in the world is built with/constructed of the same energy which manifests/appears itself in different forms to be experienced by human senses’ so that in her work she is ‘developing processes and codes to make translations between senses possible.’[iii]
This sense of interconnectedness, of inner cohesion, is central to Wlodarczak’s practice and the inclusion of a sound component is an extension of a very logical approach to art making. Wlodarczak has a quite singular approach to drawing. She speaks about what she does with passion. One gets the impression that it is something she has to do: a life-affirming activity. In a monograph on the artist published in 2004, David Bromfield concludes that to ask what she is drawing, is to ask the wrong question, since ‘for Gosia the verb is intransitive like the verb to be’. [iv] Drawing is looking rather than looking at; the object of drawing is not the representation of a particular environment, rather it is the documentation of being in the environment. The former suggests an automatic activity, like breathing, while the latter is a more considered, self-conscious activity.
When one is confronted with Wlodarczak’s drawing installations one sees a complex tracery of lines of varying density. In certain areas where the ground cover is sparser one can make out a hand, a cup, a part of a cornice, the side of a chair: domestic objects documented with lines of practised economy and an enviable confidence, the result of rigorous academic training. In most cases, the bulk of the drawing is executed within the artist’s home and then the final stages can be completed within the gallery space, with or without audience participation.
Rather than relegate the activity of drawing to the realm of ‘making art’, Wlodarczak seeks to integrate it as seamlessly as possible into her day-to-day domestic existence. The presence of other people, the distractions of conversation or television or meals are welcomed, as they enrich the immediate and present environment that the artist is recording and also ensure that the simple activities of looking and recording remain just that, unencumbered by any self-conscious attempt at self-expression or art-making.
Wlodarczak shares this compulsive recording of the present with Conceptual artists On Kawara and Hanne Darboven. Japanese Kawara has been based in New York for over 40 years, and since 1966 he has made over 2,000 ‘date paintings’ whereby he paints the current date according to strict, self-imposed rules which determine the choice of typeface, size, format and colour. Self-imposed rules, in this case based on numerical systems, also underpin the daily ‘writings’ - rhythmic marks on paper that reference cursive script or numeric tables that have occupied German artist Hanne Darboven since the 1970s. Similarly, each of Wlodarczak’s works is constructed according to a quite detailed plan which outlines the number and dimensions of panels that constitute each of her drawing installations and the time to be allocated to the drawing of each panel. Paradoxically, it is the very specificity of the constraints she establishes prior to embarking upon the drawing phase that ultimately liberates the artist to concentrate solely on the act of drawing.
In Cinderella II The Dreamer the ‘objects of desire’ are presented as stylised profiles, slightly larger than life size. They have been constructed, piece by piece, from 890 small to medium sized cardboard panels, which were first covered in wallpaper and then with a network of fine pigment pen lines. The process is quite straightforward: Wlodarczak finds an image on the Internet of the object desired by one of her friends. The image is gridded and the panels prepared, which can take several months to complete. The artist then works her way through the grid, each panel a record of her ‘looking’ at a particular time in a particular domestic space. The use of wallpaper in this series suggests domesticity. On another level it reflects the artist’s reticence to use the medium of drawing as a vehicle for self-expression: the function of wallpaper is to fill a an empty wall, without shouting “Look at me!’ In a formal sense, it provides a textural backdrop which complements the drawn lines and is also an alternative means of achieving tonal contrast, aside from line density.
Musical notation is a sophisticated system of signs that allows a particular sequence of man-made sounds to be conceptualised as a written form so that it can be accurately reproduced when required. A musical score is a piece of music rendered in visual code, which some people have developed the skill of ‘reading’ and thus are able to ‘hear’ the music in their heads.
‘Eye music’ is not a new phenomenon. Medieval composers of songs sometimes used black and white notes for grief and joy, darkness and light, and the notation for courtly love songs could be presented in a heart shape. These were exceptions rather than the rule though, and the same Western notational system remained the norm for four hundred years until the mid 20th century, when, for some composers, the score became less a prescriptive tool and more ‘a set of rules for a new type of musical game, together with the necessary material for playing’. [v]
But in creating her Similitudes, Wlodarczak has inverted the usual sound/image relationship, wherein musical concerns influence the notation of a musical composition. She uses elements of musical notation as simply another set of drawing marks to add to her existing inventory.
It is important to note that for me these are simply visual artefacts, I do not prepare them with specific sounds in mind. I am not a musician but a visual artist, and I do not ‘hear’ notes. (GW, 2007)
The process of translating a visual image to a musical score and of transforming it into an artwork in its own right - is beautifully realised in the video sound track, Desire 1: Yohji, 2007.
Curiously, her method of ‘scoring’ Yohji, Phantom and Beo is far more closely related to traditional drawing methods of rendering a likeness than to her own more experimental approach to drawing. The shape of the object is created using musical notes, with dense groupings of quavers and semi quavers creating the darker tonal values to be found in the original photographs of the Objects of Desire. More complex or detailed parts of the objects are similarly accorded a busier score while less ornate areas are represented by ‘white’ notes of longer duration: minims and semibreves. As a process of image generation it is not dissimilar to typewriter art, an art form popularised by the Concrete poets in the 1950s and with which Wlodarczak has experimented in the past.
For Wlodarczak the musical notations are both a means to an end (a video soundtrack) and an end in themselves (editioned digital prints), and in this exhibition she is presenting them alongside the large drawing installations. In fact each Object of Desire has several components: a large multi-panelled drawing plus the plan for it, a musical notation and a video soundtrack. This non-hierarchical approach to process and product again links this artist to certain Conceptual artists who began working in the mid 1960s and who used time as the organising element in their work Kawara and Darboven being notable examples. For such artists ‘the notational systems for recording time and processes were intended…to constitute the real and complete art object.’ [vi]
Creating the Similitudes required collaboration with a composer. Wlodarczak and Noble first worked together in 2006 to create what was then called a ‘sound image’ for the drawing installation, Skin of the Wall, shown at the Helen Maxwell Gallery in Canberra. The Similitudes in this exhibition are richer and more complex, ‘multi-dimensional and cyclic rather than two-dimensional and linear.’[vii] While initially the musical notations were simply visual artefacts, prepared with no specific sounds in mind, the artist was involved in making all the crucial decisions during the process of transforming image to digital sound. The instrumentation of each of the three Similitudes is different, as is its texture and mood, and the person willing to spend time with the work in this exhibition, moving between the different components, will be richly rewarded.
Each of the three video soundtracks provides a different insight into Wlodarczak’s creative process. Where the focus in Desire 1: Yohji was on the process of transformation, from an image of the actual object to the multi panelled drawing, to the sound ‘score’, Desire 2: Phantom shows the artist at work drawing and piecing together the panels. Desire 3: Beo is the most abstract and also the most playful. Fragments of images and musical notes on staves weave in and out on the screen: sound has become image once again.
It seems so logical that sound would become a significant component of Wlodarczak’s practice. Her approach to drawing is itself much like jazz improvisation. While the latter assumes an understanding of classical harmony, Wlodarczak’s ability to effortlessly and spontaneously record on paper the minutiae of her immediate surrounds is based on a rigorous academic background in drawing techniques. Those fortunate to have seen her perform live ‘on stage’ in a gallery, depart with the knowledge that they have witnessed a virtuoso performer.
Adelaide, April 2008
Olga Sankey is Senior Lecturer, South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia
This essay first appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition CINDERELLA II - THE DREAMER at the SASA, University of South Australia, May 2008.
[i] Wlodarczak G, 2007, http://www.gosiawlodarczak.com/Pages/Gosia.html
[ii] Wlodarczak G, Cinderella II The Dreamer, Artist statement, 2007
[iii] Wlodarczak G, Similitudes, Artist statement, 2007
[iv] Bromfield D, NOW, 2004, Brown Art Consultants, Perth
[v] Cole H, Sounds and Signs, 1974, Oxford University Press, p128
[vi] Glimcher M, Logical Conclusions: 40 years of rule-based art, 2005, Pacewildenstein, p 57
[vii] Noble A, Sound Image, Artist statement, December 2006