Candles, incenses, vases endowed with luscious breasts, horses against the backdrop of an endless horizon, burning sun, chanting female voice and a staggering fountain, stream of water flowing straight out of woman’s womb. No, it’s neither the island of the Amazons, nor a shaman’s own dwelling. This scenery is part of Agnieszka Brzeżańska’s retrospective “The National Park All Over the Earth” held in the Gdańsk City Gallery (GGM).
Brzeżańska graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. After many years, she returns to the city to stage an art show that features not only the early works she made as a student, but also found footage films – such as “Artemesia” (2001) and “Dharma TV” (2005) – as well as the most recent premiere pieces, most notably “All the Tributaries of the Vistula” (“Wszystkie Dopływy Wisły”) that signifies the twenty five-meter painting on canvas and sound installation vocalized by Barbara Kinga Majewska.
The pieces on display are arranged in two separate exhibition spaces. Upon entering, one is blinded by the burning sun accompanied by the inscription reading “IT IS SAID THE SUN WILL RISE AGAIN.” Quite depressing for a start, I must say. Fortunately, it does get better – all you’ve got to do is move forward. Right next to the entrance, there’s a clay vase with enormous breasts attached to it. The processed fragmented images and a piece of erotic cinema are screened on the nearby monitors. The latter piece tells a story an amateur painter who – not unlike the viewer – must yield to the male gaze and subject herself to the sexually charged initiation ritual in order to become a rightful member of the art world. Though aesthetically appealing, I found the presentation in the first room rather underwhelming. However, there’s something intriguing to it that propels you forward, deeper, scurrying through the narrow pathway into the adjacent room, passing by the abovementioned Vistula piece. Here, Agnieszka Brzeżańska finally spreads her wings serenaded by the trance-inducing song. The monumental two-meter fountain of a woman sitting on a pedestal comes to the fore. She exudes power as she sits comfortably on the throne, her legs spread apart. Water sips from the space in-between. Her stature is humble yet majestic, amicable and serene amid the power she’s fully aware of. Could it be the Mother Earth?
In addition, large-scale paintings by Brzeżańska are hanging around the gallery – they’re fastened to protruding surfaces, hanging on the walls and under the ceiling, which gives them the appearance of the levitating placards. Yes, those abstractions are indeed floating in the air. Consequently, your experience of the exhibit depends entirely on an assumed vantage point. The paintings conquer the space, transport the audience into another dimension. The earth touches the sky, the sky envelops the see, the big bang erupts in close vicinity. Her geometric constellations are reminiscent of the fractal sets – the imagery could as well be created by someone under the strong influence of psilocybin [naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms – ed.]. Artist and shaman. Herbalist and painter. Her piercing authenticity allows you to settle in the world you constantly try to reach, the world of nature, the world of truth, the inner world of your own.
Brzeżańska has drawn inspiration from her surroundings for over twenty years. She reimagines the fragments of a reality while using a vast spectrum of art mediums, such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography or film. The interiors of the Gdańsk City Gallery are devoid of the daily hustle and bustle, political shouting matches and manipulative news reports by the media. Harmony, tranquillity and nature – these are the words that convey the atmosphere of the exhibit. Upon a closer examination of Brzeżańska’s long-standing art practice, one can tell she feels more at home in the meadows and forests rather than an urban jungle. Her art has always addressed the most pressing issues of the time. There’s no need for editing and postproduction of her sublime and honest film material. It’s genuine resounding authenticity permeates a cinematic portrayal of the sudden fleeing moments. That’s life, that’s her performance that enraptures the audience. Her use of the raw footage draws on the found footage technique. At times, Brzeżańska resorts to film editing in order to highlight the juxtaposition of two extreme opposites or bring out the main concept-thought. On the November evening, the exhibition staged at the Prowroźnicza Street seems as if it were a soothing oasis of peace and warmth removed from the city’s usual buzz. It’s worth stopping by even for just a second.
Written by Daga Ochendowska
Translated by Karolina Jasińska
Gdańsk City Gallery 2,13/15 Przewoźnicza Street
26th of October – 2nd of December, 2018
Artist: Agnieszka Brzeżańska
Curator: Agnieszka Tarasiuk
Coordinator: Andrzej Zagrobelny