DRAWN IN DRAWN OUT David Hansen
Back and forth. To and fro. In the making of this work there is always movement: between subject and object (the eye and the hand, the looking and the drawing); between thought and action (the plan and the attack, the careful, measured laying-out and the dynamic informalism of the execution); between home and away (the house and the gallery, Poland and Australia, Perth and Melbourne and Canberra). The drawing is a trace, a residue, a means of making concrete what is in many ways a performative practice. Skin of the Wall is a time-based work; a year and a half of living distilled, stilled.
Unlike the automatic drawing of surrealists like André Masson, where the line is allowed to run off into thoughtlessness, pattern, the imaginary, Wlodarczak's drawing is directly, even tightly calibrated to the visible, to the specifics of retinal perceptions. When she draws, she walks around, stands still, sits, lies down, looks around, moving her head up and down and side to side, and each new position or transition creates a revised perspective, a refocussed field of vision. From this cascade of visibility in motion, from what the 19th century psychologist and philosopher William James called the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of sensory inputs, Wlodarczak isolates and records precise, momentary recognitions.
There are details of interior architecture and furniture: corners, cornices, window frames, light fittings, chair legs and tabletops. There are the casual accumulations of domestic space: coffee cups, power cords, ornaments, fruit, even text, in odd letters from the spines and covers of books. Finally, there are bodily encounters: fragments of her partner and collaborator Longin Sarnecki's face (curiously, most often his nose), glances down at her own limbs, even occasional fingers - the artist's hand drawing itself.
Significantly, none of these glimpses is developed. While some objects are immediately recognizable, it is often difficult to identify precisely where a motif or form originates, what a particular rectangle, circle or ellipse describes. Things are not given a prolonged or dedicated examination, but rather just enough attention to register a simple shape, a form, an element which can be lassoed by Wlodarczak's relentless contour line before the eyes move on to the next object, the next vertical accent, curving profile, geometric detail…
This is a severe and constant mental and spiritual discipline, to (as Wlodarczak puts it) "record the present time continuous moment". Located somewhere between Buddhism and existentialism, the project involves the conscious creation of unconsciousness, of a kind of "flow" state in which the artist can see (and transcribe) without comprehension, without identification, without desire, without bad faith. Distractions are helpful: constant motion, conversations with Longin ("mostly gossip"), the regular castanet rattle as he shakes up the pigment ink of the white felt tip pen.
Through this drawing-performance, she valorises the act of seeing, raising it from a preliminary to an instrumental role in art production, making it the vibrating, shimmering centre of her practice. She restores independence and equality to the act of seeing and to the things seen. It should not be thought that this hyper-spontaneity, this free, eurythmic, Pollocky dance against the picture plane is some kind of conceptual toss-off, a random neo-dada slacker gesture. Far from it. Wlodarczak's ice-skating tracks are only the tip of a vast berg of process. The lightness and looseness is only possible because of the sturdiness and strength of the underlying infrastructure.
Skin of the Wall begins with the physical substance of its eventual destination, the west wall of the Helen Maxwell Gallery. This site was first carefully measured, drawn up and plotted with a rectilinear grid. With adjustments to accommodate interruptions and obstacles (beams, windows, exit signs, power points) and with a contingency allowance of four millimetres spacing between individual units, the wall was thus divided into a mosaic of 676 panels (most measuring 40 x 25 centimetres, some 20 x 25). There followed three months of measuring and cutting cardboard to size, then four months of cutting, folding and gluing the panels' wallpaper coverings. Only then could the drawing begin, and that was a further five months' work. And finally, at the end of that last process comes a reversion to the architectonic. The delicate, continuous breathing of the drawn line is broken up into panels, arranged in stacks, packets and boxes for transport, and a wall is erected in Canberra.
In addition to these material and technical systems there is another scaffolding, a grid of ideas. The ideas stand hard up against the vertical plane of the wall, the plane of division, the horizon beyond which sight cannot reach. What Skin of the Wall describes is its own physical limitations, and by metaphorical extension, the boundaries of the self.
Wlodarczak's life has been about transition. A sailor father and a restless mother, regular childhood moves, travel across Europe and Asia, migration to Australia in 1996, relocation to Melbourne last year, five houses in the last ten years…this state of unbelonging informs much of her work. For all its tenuous, fragile, momentary character, her art provides the constant referent, the psychic refuge, the safe zone. Against the threat of insecurity she also falls back on her immediate environment, the domestic space, conflating home and possessions and the act of drawing them in a reassuring ritual of place-making. Skin of the Wall can thus also be read as a house open for inspection, a progression from one room to another through a semi-detached residence in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, each room identifiable if not by the abbreviated and interrupted sketching of its contents, then by its distinctive wallpaper ground. In a further complication, some of the panels are darker than others, more heavily worked, making schematic, pixellated shadows: the modernist ghosts of chairs, a table, a desk lamp from the Melbourne flat Gosia and Longin rented before they bought the Richmond house.
This is Wlodarczak's remarkable achievement: the binding together in a tangled skein of lines both private and public action, private and public space. Coming from the intellectual tradition of Eastern European communism, it is perhaps not surprising that her art is constructed in terms of Hegelian dialectics, of opposition and synthesis, tension and resolution. Or perhaps she is simply sensitive to 21st century globalisation-displacement. Either way, the result is a species of betweenness-work. The character of her line falls somewhere between the precision of an architectural blueprint and the chaos of automatism, or of Henri Michaux's mescalin drawings, between Poland's strong graphic culture of printmaking, book illustration and poster design and Australia's scribbly identity draughtsmen: John Olsen, Mike Parr, Bruce Petty.
Skin of the Wall, like many of the artist's previous projects, defies conventional curatorial definition, being neither simple drawing nor installation, nor performance, but a combination of the three. All and nothing. Neither and both. Description and abstraction. Melbourne and Canberra. The rigorous-casual, nervous-dogmatic, attentive-informal artist and the standing-moving, admiring-baffled, scanning-peering viewer. To and fro. Back and forth.
Melbourne, July 2006
DRAWN IN DRAWN OUT catalogue essay, Skin of The Wall exhibition at Helen Maxwell Gallery, Braddon ACT, Australia, 4 August 2 September 2006.
When René Descartes made his famous statement ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ he created a foundational element of Western rationalism. But for Gosia Wlodarczak’s this notion of perception is fine-tuned. For Gosia, it is more apt to say ‘I look therefore I am.’
Melbourne, September 2006
I LOOK THEREFORE I AM catalogue essay, SHARED SPACE exhibition at Arc One Gallery, Melbourne, Australia, November 2006.
|Gosia Wlodarczak (2006) SKIN ESSAY, digital archival print/artist book-catalogue, edition 50, size: 20 x 71cm.|