Interview

The fusion of form, nature, and emotions Katarzyna Przezwańska’s New York art residency

Located in East Williamsburg, amidst the post-industrial area of Brooklyn, the International Studio and Curatorial Program brings to New York young and mid-career artists. Three times a year, the ISCP welcomes creators from all over the world. I went there on a hot summer day to visit Katarzyna Przezwańska, who had been selected to participate in the 2021 summer edition of the program. It took me a solid hour and a half in the subway to get there and I was thankful for the AC in the ISCP building, as I followed Katarzyna to her studio on the 2nd floor. We had never met before; I was on edge because I had long admired Przezwańska’s art. I wasn’t alone in my admiration: since 2017, when Przezwańska made her famous installation Early Polishness, she’s risen to prominence; now her works are in collections of all major institutions in Poland. Her witty, ingenious sculptures fuse organic shapes of natural materials with geometric and anthropomorphic forms, often referencing classic artists of European modernism.

Przezwańska’s art combines beauty, humour, and tenderness towards materials she uses, which can often extend into the spaces she works in, as architecture remains one of her artistic interests.

Katarzyna Przezwańska
Katarzyna Przezwańska

The studio was filled with found objects Przezwańska managed to collect since her arrival in New York. A plethora of branches, sticks, seeds, leaves, and rocks lay on a long desk, organized in categories by size and shape. The scrupulous arrangement of this organic miscellanea was enthralling as it revealed subtle aesthetic affinities between the discarded, insignificant objects. These bits and pieces were too small to notice in the hustle and bustle of urban life. The New Yorker’s pace is brisk. Katarzyna told me that some of the objects that were laid out on the table were picked by her in Mexico. When I raised my brows, she proceeded to explain that due to the COVID-19 migration restrictions, it was not allowed to enter the US from the Schengen Zone unless one spent two weeks in a safe zone. One of such safe zones was Mexico and it made the most sense to stay there during the interlude in the journey. In Mexico City, Przezwańska met with a group of artists from Central Europe, who had also gotten into the program. This unsolicited detour turned out to be an artistic treat for Przezwańska, as it had long been her dream to see the iconic buildings designed by Luis Barragán in Mexico City. During the fortnight-long impromptu vacation, the Polish artist gathered a handful of jacaranda tree pods, which added to her collection of stones, shells, sticks, and dry leaves. As Przezwańska admitted, her suitcase for the trip to New York was filled not only with an inventory of natural materials but also with necessary tools like a rotary Dremel tool or a UV lamp to harden the nail polish which she often uses to embellish various details. I was amazed by how many small, yet beautiful objects Przezwańska had managed to collect on the streets of New York since her arrival in the city 10 days earlier. As she told me, attentive strolls have become her everyday ritual; a part of her artistic practice. It made me realize that her beautiful, delicate pieces exist in an expanded timeline, as the materials are carefully sourced and picked by the artist on her many trips. The allure of a flaneuse permeates Przezwańska’s work.

Katarzyna Przezwańska
Katarzyna Przezwańska

The ISCP is known in the city for its open studio days, during which one can meet up to 30 artists, researchers, and curators from around the world and hear about their practices. Artists in residence usually mount a small improvised exhibition of what they are currently working on; sometimes adding photographs or projections of their past works. I went back to the ISCP building a week after my first meeting with Katarzyna, curious about what could have happened in such a short time. To my surprise, there were several small sculptural sketches and finished works in her studio. A stick figure was standing on a shelf, launching its feeble leg into the air, as if making a step. I noticed a skeleton hand on the table, made out of thin sticks, stones, and leaf veins. Przezwańska had also recreated her earlier piece that consisted of a small tower of various beans, standing atop each other. It seemed as if the artist magically infused the pile of natural artifacts with life, as they began to take anthropomorphic forms. It was incredible to see Przezwańska at work and witness how she animates ordinary objects with a sense of life and humour. Although she had less than two weeks to prepare for the open day, she had managed to create several sculptures and the effect was mesmerising. As I lingered in the studio chatting with the artist, I witnessed how these small-scale sculptures enchanted the audience: many people curiously leaned over the table to study the compositions in detail. They had asked many questions about the materials, despite the fact that most of them overflow in the contemporary landscape. Children compared their own palms with the skeleton sketch of a hand, while their guardians were taking pictures. It was clear to me that Przezwańska’s work speaks to its audience regardless of age and education, urging the viewers to rediscover the beauty in the quotidian.

Katarzyna Przezwańska
Katarzyna Przezwańska

The residency was two months long, although oftentimes artists decide to stay longer at the ISCP; it all depends on individual circumstances. Przezwańska came to New York thanks to a grant from the Visegrad Fund which allowed her to stay there for two months. Her colleagues from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary also had their residency funded by the Visegrad Fund. Some artists manage to find funding for longer periods and stay in the ISCP studio for up to two years. All year long, the program organizes gallery tours in the city and trips to upstate art institutions like Dia Beacon. Most importantly, once a month, the ISCP invites local curators and art critics to meet with the artists in the residence and talk with them about their art. These critiques are the hallmark of the program, as it’s an opportunity to deepen one’s practice and establish relations with local art professionals. 

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About The Author

Dominika
Tylcz

Dominika Tylcz – born in 1996 in Wrocław, graduated in History of Art at the University of Oxford in 2019 (BA). Art historian, art writer, occasional curator of independent projects. Her main area of interest is the intersection of art and politics, with special emphasis placed on contemporary dance, on which she wrote her dissertation. Published in Polish and international magazines and zins. Based in Paris.

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