Jacek Wasilewski, Neutrina 1, 120 x 160 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Agnieszka Apoznańska, Misty landscape, 120x130 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Paulina Rega, Casiopeia, dia. 100 cm, own technique, 2021

Milky Way. A galaxy enclosed in a painting. An interview with art curator, Łukasz Huculak.

Łukasz Huculak is a painter, professor of painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, and an art curator. On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Stanisław Lem, Poland’s most famous science-fiction writer and futurologist, Huculak organised an exhibition called “Milky Way” which was inspired by Lem’s literary work. The display features paintings created mostly by students and graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław associated with Huculak’s painting studio. The exhibition can be seen until 12 February in mia Art Gallery in Wrocław.  

"Milky Way" exhibition, photo by Jerzy Wypych
“Milky Way” exhibition, photo by Jerzy Wypych

Katarzyna Boch: One hundred years have recently passed since Stanisław Lem’s birth, but his works are still widely recognised and rediscovered by the successive generations of readers. What made you choose his works as the theme of the exhibition?   

Łukasz Huculak: Exactly. To be honest, I am surprised that last year we did not see any spectacular exhibition that took up some sci-fi themes based on Lem’s literature. If you look at the cinema production and the content of streaming services, sci-fi is a topic of considerable attraction and unlimited capacity and we can see that in Dune, Matrix, Rick and Morty, etc. We send probes into the depths of the galaxy and giant telescopes into orbit; we delight in the acquired documentation, update our observations, explain the physics of black holes and warn about approaching asteroids. Meanwhile, the Lem Year passed almost unnoticed. The exhibition features the works of students and graduates connected with the studio I run together with Paweł Baśnik. These works are, of course, mainly the paintings referring directly to outer space. They were sometimes created with the help of interesting formal experiments (for example, electromagnetic interaction instead of a brush) or composed with the use of artificial intelligence. However, some will notice also the metaphors linking the idea of a thinking ocean-planet with the process of painting, or the trans- and post-humanist themes present in Lem’s work, such as “the problem of corporeality, which is difficult to part with.” 

KB: What exactly is the visual potential of Lem’s work exploited by the authors of the paintings?   

ŁH: It is enough to reach for Solaris in order to immerse oneself in an incredible, highly plastic space whose form, shape, and toponymy directly stem from the visual culture of modernism and post-war abstraction. The reality built from “gravitational jelly” along with the mimoids, symmetries, hogsheads, and longboats, is even more painterly, not only because of its visuality but also because of its ontological status. It is, after all, a peculiar representation – an artefact, a copy, a product of the “thinking ocean,” which, with a fluent stream of shapes, reacts to the conscious and unconscious mental processes of earthly explorers. It seems that Lem drew here directly from the iconosphere of the surrounding art. When I read about the rings of collapsing waves of the abortive mimic or the “polypoid growths” of the mature mimic, I immediately see compositions by Tadeusz Brzozowski, Konrad Jarodzki, Jadwiga Maziarska, Zofia Artymowska, Marian Bogusz or Jerzy Tchórzewski. Lem was aware of how his contemporary art uses the mechanisms of perception. The phenomena observed by the members of the mission are illusions “caused by the search for any analogy among what is known.” At times, Lem directly refers to the theoretical setting of cubism: “the soaring gothic symmetries” akin to Lobaczewski’s cones and Riemann’s curves “weave into their form the parameter of time and the aspect of a changing view.” And there was an opportunity to update the reception of Lem against the background of the currently discussed problems of the anthropocene, posthumanism, or transhumanism. When talking to other people, I realised that for many of them Lem remains the ironic futurist from “Fables for Robots,” whose visual potential is exhausted by the illustrative grotesque of Daniel Mróz. Meanwhile, this is a work offering a very deep vision of a potential future, firmly rooted in a thorough knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms and the physical and chemical basis of biological life or information processing. These are not just showy fireworks; Lem outlines a perspective behind which stands a coherent and well-thought-out scientific theory. This is literature that helps us to understand reality and to guess the future more accurately. It is a great example of how a work based on scientific achievements can make us sensitive to potential problems, make us familiar with the unknown, and prepare us for scenarios of the coming future. 

Jacek Wasilewski, Neutrina 1, 120 x 160 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Agnieszka Apoznańska, Misty landscape, 120x130 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Paulina Rega, Casiopeia, dia. 100 cm, own technique, 2021
Jacek Wasilewski, Neutrina 1, 120 x 160 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Agnieszka Apoznańska, Misty landscape, 120×130 cm, oil on canvas, 2021; Paulina Rega, Casiopeia, dia. 100 cm, own technique, 2021

KB: How does the name of the exhibition, “Milky Way,” connects the exhibited works?  

ŁH: The issues addressed by Lem are obviously very broad and not limited to space exploration, but the distant, phenomenal shape of the galaxy brings very painterly associations: a patch of white on a vast, dark background. The exhibition space is, indeed, dominated by a cosmic abyss. Some visitors will see in it a dark and threatening boundlessness while the others an alluring and mysterious promise. In some paintings, cosmos is an orderly structure, in which specific points of space pull drifting fragments of matter, forming recognisable shapes. In other works, it is still a nebulous, undefined form; a “mimoid” with open “morphological” potential, whose illusory shape will seem familiar only to a properly armed imagination. Perhaps the milky way is a state in which the gigantic scale of certain phenomena does not allow us to see any meaningful regularities in them yet, and sometimes even makes it impossible to distinguish the phenomenon at all.  

KB: At the exhibition, we can see the paintings by many young, emerging artists. What vision of the future emerges from their works?

ŁH: It seems that Lem was a moderate sceptic, although today it is probably easiest to identify directly apocalyptic themes in his work. The dangers stemming from the uncontrolled development of artificial intelligence (Golem IV), contact with an alien civilisation, and the impossibility of effective communication between organisms with radically different nervous systems and evolutionary levels (Eden, His Master’s Voice). The dystopia of “The Futurological Congress” perfectly fits into the post-apocalyptic trend. The problem of corporeality and avatars in “Solaris” that allude to Berkeley’s solipsistic theories of perception, in which the world does not exist and everything is created by our brain, which with sufficiently advanced means can be manipulated. The exhibition is basically dark, but, as the title suggests, it also has some “sweeter” moments. The cosmos is both scary and beautiful, appealing just like the future. As a matter of fact, the cosmos is a kind of metaphor for the future – on the one hand, an unknown vastness and on the other, an unlimited potential. The central figure of the exhibition is Solaris, which is a completely alien and incomprehensible organism and a wonderful metaphor for the creative mind at the same time. After all, the activity of this planet is limited to the processes of modelling and visualising the mental life of the people living nearby. The whole planet is a specific metaphor of a painting process, reaching to the category of mimesis. Lem reverses the vector of imitation according to the intentions of modernism: the landscape of the “thinking planet” is not so much the external world, but a simultaneous reflection of the “internal world” – the mental states of the beings perceiving it and the members of the solar mission. Who among us would not want to be on Solaris, at least for a moment, to experience these processes? For me, as a person working with perception, the colossal nervous system is not only a question about the limits of human cognitive abilities. The “ingenious ocean” that models the metrics of space-time is engaged in a thousand transformations – ontological self-morphosisis a new biological form, generating physiological states without the mediation of the sensorium directly in the brain. Instead of moving and traversing space to gain access to energy sources, it triggers all the processes necessary to sustain life directly in the organ responsible for monitoring them. In an evolutionary perspective, such a “plasmatic reservoir” which “wastes time on […] pondering the essence of all things” is a kind of vision of a post-human optimisation of biological life.

Kami Mierzvvinsk, OM, 100x100 cm, mixed technique, 2021
Kami Mierzvvinsk, OM, 100×100 cm, mixed technique, 2021
read also Thomas Herbrich, The Truth about Moon Landing.

Nothing Is Impossible. On Authenticity Of An Image

Patrycja Głusiec Jul 20, 2019

In the year 1969, audiences found themselves enraptured by the Apollo 11 mission. The events transpiring over fifty years ago, on the 20th of July, have forever changed the public’s view of the world. Up until that point, people could have only imagined what space would look like. The man did ultimately walk on the moon and more importantly return safely to earth. The mission continues to stimulate our imagination and provide hope for other astonishing discoveries.

KB: Lem’s works are full of scientific ideas and futuristic visions. How can art convey what science communicates? Where do these two worlds meet?     

ŁH: They meet everywhere. For me, the cognitive potential of these two human practices is complementary, and we have more and more art programmes that quite honestly call themselves Art&Sci. It’s becoming more and more common to see artists in research centres. I find it is also very important that, thanks to successive scientific discoveries or even phenomena such as pandemics, reality and nature regain their mysterious, amazing, non-obvious character. Increasingly, science – designed as a tool for the ultimate explanation of nature – is an accelerator of its spectacular singularity. It is strongly visible in the entertainment industry – in films and TV series which draw extensively on scientific theories sometimes trivialising them. This phenomenon is also visible in a wide current of philosophical futurology (i.e. Donna Haraway, Timothy Morton, Ray Kurzweil) for which Lem may be a point of reference. Thus, both worlds inevitably intermingle; science inspires art very directly, while art possesses tools that can subject complex scientific theories to a wider reception. 

Łukasz Huculak, Evil Demiurge, 160 x 85 cm, tempera and acrylic on canvas, 2020
Łukasz Huculak, Evil Demiurge, 160 x 85 cm, tempera and acrylic on canvas, 2020

KB: In which direction do you think art is heading in at the moment? How will technological development affect the nature of artistic creation, especially in its traditional form, such as painting? Will it pose a threat to it or will it open up new possibilities?    

ŁH: I am not worried. Technological development will certainly expand the possibilities and update the iconosphere of the visual arts, just as it has at all stages of civilisational development, when the emergence of new technology changed or supplemented the tools, props and staffage. Perhaps, the dynamics that distinguish the intensity of digitisation from other historical moments will lead to a permanent redefinition, but the vector of this change need not be entirely in line with the current trend. In general, I hope that technology will enable us to refine our knowledge of the functioning of the nervous system and the mechanisms of processing stimuli into mental models for functioning in a complex, probably soon to be extended, reality. I have in mind both artificial intelligence and the whole issue of its “embodiment” as well as a better understanding and use of how other organisms process information. Besides, all scenarios are possible. I can imagine a total triumph of electronic media, which, due to their unlimited availability, universality and modality, will replace the traditional artifact of painting. I can also imagine a reality in which we return to the simplest technologies due to the energy crisis, and images actually become an invaluable resource, serving not only the satisfaction of sensory needs, but also the analysis of perceptual data. It is likely that both technologies will accompany each other. Perhaps with access to intuitive-to-use implants that record, modify and share dream visions directly into the users’ nervous system, everyone will feel like a creator. On the other hand, this does not have to mean the depreciation of collector’s objects, which emanate simplicity and, surrounded by the aura of relics, three-dimensional objects created by human hands.

Paulina Rega, September Virgo, 120 x 160cm, own technique, 2021
Paulina Rega, September Virgo, 120 x 160cm, own technique, 2021


Curator: Łukasz Huculak
17.12.21 – 12.02.22

Artists: Agnieszka Apoznańska / Aleksander Baszyński / Paweł Baśnik / Wiktor Gałka / Łukasz Huculak / Zuzanna Janosz / Justyna Klecka / Tomasz Kwiatkowski / Kami Mierzvvinsk / Paulina Rega / Jacek Wasilewski

Plac Solny 11
50-061 Wrocław


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About The Author


Katarzyna Boch is an English Studies graduate (BA) currently pursuing her master’s degree in Warsaw. Interested in psychology, translation, and Victorian and modernist literature especially from the perspective of feminist studies.

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