/+ - ∞
/Esprit de corps
/Living Rooms
/a fleeting peripheral phenomenon
/Places of Sacrifice

/Maria Szymańska-Korejwo, Ciało doskonale czarne.
/Aurelia Nowak, Sanatorium.
/Laundry Lung interview by Joanne Ambia.

/Agata Dąbrowska, Ciało - obiekt - relikwia.
/Aleksandra Gieczys-Jurszo, W pułapce subiektywizmu.
/Joanna Tokarczyk, Artysta jako genius loci.



Joanna Tokarczyk,
Artist as genius loci
translation Anna Nowaczek

'Myth is a true history of what came to pass at the beginnig of Time' – wrote Mircea Eliade. In the rush of the present we often seek a break, a kind of inner asylum. A personal myth, outside the limits of chronology, within a spiritual topography, is something we carry inside. Not only does it serve as an asylum, it becomes a proof of identity. Timeless space of the past defines us as beings. Sacrum is a map of places held in our memory, materializing itself in prop-relics. Natalia Szostak, by means of self-analysis, reveals her private sanctuaries to the audience.

Her first solo exhibition, entitled 'Places of Sacrifice,' creates an atmosphere of confession and poetic magic. The artist, born in 1980 in Szczecin, graduated with a BA in Painting from San Francisco  State University. In 2005, she received the Emerging Artist Special Award, granted by X-Power Gallery in Los Angeles. She has exhibited her paintings, photographs and video installations in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and London. Living between Szczecin and New York makes Szostak a citizen of the world. The problems raised in her art, like the question of identity and the creation of an individual model of reality, are a natural consequence of this fact. This model of identity is based on the artist's own symbolic representations of the objects of sacrum. She reconstructs repressed feelings buried deep within her soul, which makes her a genius loci, a protective spirit of the place to which she invites her audience. The place of worship, brought into being as a result of intense emotions, is filled with deities owing their existence to the artist's commitment. Creating an environment according to one's own needs allows self-definition. It is like drawing a mental portrait, starting at the roots of existence.

The exhibition in Lentz Villa consists of paintings, drawings, photography, video installation and artefacts. Employing a variety of media, they form a distinct route of metaphysical trails. The first piece, 'After I Was Gone' (2008), is an installation composed of props, featuring a kind of domestic altar hung on an antique wardrobe. The framed images preserve the person despite the elapsing time, symbolized by the clock placed on top. A motif of passing is also implied by a falling feather, attached to other elements of the composition. The feather, as if frozen in movement, reinforces the impression of the whole piece being suspended in timeless space. A domestic sanctuary, besides being an expression of sentiment, is also an act of putting a spell on eternity – a kind of departure from the inevitable process of dying. This piece evokes some questions: What remains  after someone is gone? Is it a mere collection of objects? What will become of these objects when those who worship them no longer exist either?

Other pieces are an attempt to contemplate matters of eschatology and definition of oneself.   Coherent meaning is a characteristic feature of the photographs 'Self-portrait in Wedding Dress with Burnt Hand' (2004), the drawing 'Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost' (2004) and the polyptych '(Un)dress Me' (2007). Remnants of devotion, hope, memory and sacrifice define the characters associated with the works. It is the case of the bride giving up her innocence  (white dress) and suffering (burnt hand). It can be seen in the portrait of a child, resembling old frescos (Gather up the fragments so that nothing be lost), raising its fingers as if in a gesture of triumph over demise.

These pieces are concerned with a hidden life through the objects, history and other people, in material and nonmaterial reminiscences of the past.

­­­Places and things can become an emanation of a person and eventually gain their own independent life. Determined by the subject, they somewhat extend their existence. The white dress (The Offering 2010) is a repetetive motif in Szostak's actions. On one hand, it is a question of identity – an empty form waiting to be filled with flesh and soul. On the other – it suggests a potential exposure, a revealing of the inner side. Consequently, the images living within a person, growing up with them, are released – as in the polyptych '(Un)dress Me'. Fragments of an abstract landscape, with bits of notes, hand drawings and maps in the background, are poetic visions referring to places and emotional states. These inner retrospections are separated by the image of a dress, suspended in the void. Its colour and shape resemble a ghost figure – a spirit we get to know when we discard the outer shell.

Clothes are like a second skin, a fellow traveller, a silent witness of experiences. If old dresses could speak, they would certainly tell a lot about their owners...This essential feature of Szostak's works appears to be some kind of potential for existence in various contexts, a tabula rasa, an empty form collecting sensations. The substance here seems to be representing a person to whom it belongs, participating in the events which have happened to her, or could have happened to her. The white dress, like a detection device or a contour of a presence, is put by the artist in various situations and places. It is evident in the series of polaroid pictures 'No Single Place' (2007), in which an abstract entity explores space, not being limited by a body. This potential state is fulfilled not in reality, but in art, a fact which by no means makes it less real. No Single Place is a multitude of territories gone through in search of oneself. The territories we do not belong to, but without which we would not be able to define ourselves. How many of such stops await on the way, what is the end going to be like? What ultimately defines us?

Embodiment of space and materialization of a person are the parallel phenomena in the video installation 'Liminal' (2008). The white dress disappears and reappears in a sequence of changing surroundings, sounds and geographical coordinates. The action comes to an end when the frames of landscape are reduced to the inside of a room. It becomes the liminal space of existence – the phantom of an elusive gown materializng into a person hidden behind it. The space is personalized, and simultaneously it constitutes the person. This inseparable connection is the reason why the place and its characteristics are such an important means of psychological expression in Szostak's works. Surpassing, exposing or concealing it, reflects the states, emotions or – like in the video installation 'End of the World' (2010) – fears and limitations of an individual. This piece, produced in collaboration with Matthew Schroeder, refers to a passage in the novel '2001: A Space Odyssey' by Arthur C. Clarke. Put into the context of human relations, this text gains some new significance, maintaining however its fixed meaning, which is a desire to go beyond limits, to enter alternative dimensions of life, or – in fact – the inability to fulfill those wishes. 'End of the World' depicts a human being caught in a circle of his reality, thus raising a question: Is there anything beyond all the characters, the frames of existence we all operate within? The surroundings change as the argument between a married couple unravels. The closed area of the house transitions through a number of places (hospital, streets) into an open space – a forest, where a woman is running away from a man. The recurrent demand to open the door is not fulfilled, despite the paradoxical fact that the characters are out in the open, without any physical boundaries present. The growing tension seems to be a blockade posing a threat. The film was accompanied by a wedding album in which, instead of the pictures of the bride and groom, were the pictures of streets, portraying a dull, monotonous reality. The video implicates that identity conforms to some fixed patterns, making it difficult to clearly define it. The characters in  'End of the World' actually sacrifice their ego, giving it up to this mundane everyday life, symbolized by the wedding album. There is, however, no escape from the 'place of sacrifice' in which they now find themselves. Who are we when stripped bare of the world of interrelations we all live in? To what extent do these relations constitute ourselves, limiting us at the same time? The artist directs the question of the essence of ego mainly at hereself, in an attempt of self-definition. It also applies to her self-portraits, for example 'I Am Double, Triple, Quadruple' (2009). In this piece the artist's face, drawn on two identical xerox tranfers, differs from one another only in slight details, like the look or the facial expression. It is a subtle way of capturing uniqueness – the basis of a personality.

In another work the surrounding in which Szostak places her character completes the overall meaning (the two photographs I Am Not There, 2009). The substantial space encloses a black human figure, contrasting it at the same time. The figure is a deeper, almost abstract being. It is independent – contrary to the trivial matter around it, it has its own mystery.

Yet the most important way of expressing herself is setting up the artist's own intimate places of worship. This is where she places her 'deities' – the portraits of her relatives (like an eight -piece painting 'Family Portrait' 2007-2009) and the images of her pets ('All My Dead Pets' 2009-2010). The recurring motif of passing (as in the painting 'Bird Alive Bird Dead' 2006) disappears in the area called 'places of sacrifice'. It is represented by a stopped clock with an hourglass inside ('Without time there is only space' 2010). In this object the two symbols of time neutralize each other like a pair of positive electric charges – the slipping of time is withheld. Places of sacrifice are a space ruled by personal deities, over whom death exerts no power. 'Family Portrait' and 'All My Dead Pets' have a manifold yet symmetrical composition, like a kind of painted altars, with the images resembling icons. This personal sacrum is suspended in eternity, serving as a basis for the artist's identity and her own metaphysical language.

Not only is Natalia Szostak a genius loci of her places of sacrifice, she is also an innovative artist –  searching for means of self-expression both in audio-visual and more traditional media. She creates a new dimension beyond the limits of time, where art and emotional relics gain immortality thanks to her existence. Szostak employs space as an intruiging element of metaphysical expression. By exploring the past and her own beginnings, she forms an individual myth for her personal use, necessary for self-definition. A myth that is unique, yet profoundly familiar.

Natalia Szostak - Places of Sacrifice
Lentz villa, al. Wojska Polskiego 84 in Szczecin
May 27th - June 30th 2010