2003-07-16 - 2003-08-01

Curated by: Magdalena Lewoc

Artists: Agata Zbylut, Hanna Nowicka

Dangerous Relations presented works of Hanna Nowicka and Agata Zbylut. Both artists by means of photography and object art address the issues of gender as a socially constructed notion while investigating the cultural patterns modeling the individual identity and interpersonal relations.

Hanna Nowicka’s and Agata Zbylut’s work can be located in the mainstream of critical art with a distinctive feminist coloring. A gender reception of the reality and re-reading of the ‘universal’ cultural tradition has become, without doubt, one of the most fascinating intellectual tropes of the recent years. The 1990s have introduced into the Polish artistic life a number of names and productions with a heavy critical and political load which have left a permanent mark on the repertoire of Polish art of the past decade presenting an image of the world shot through with the new sensitivity. Photography and video, remaining in a close mimetic relationship with the reality and yet giving unlimited possibilities of transforming images and integrating them with other media, with installations or objects, have naturally become the main means of artistic expression.

In the landscape of Polish feminist art which often reaches for drastic means of expression, simplifying the gender issue to its biological and physiological dimension, Hanna Nowicka’s productions have found their own special place. Her penetrating insights into traditional cultural codes focus not so much on deconstructing the standards of collective life as on the attentive recording one’s own, intimate situation of being entangled in belonging to one gender or the other, and on the fatalistic need of re-integration confronted with a sense of individual freedom reappraised by feminist critique. The archetypical vision of overcoming the sex polarity and the impossibility of realizing it within the framework of the current discourse create a network of tensions and associations ever present in the consistently conducted and inter-related productions of the artist. Nowicka’s camera’s lens is almost always directed towards herself and her partner, but despite her own image being so prominently exhibited the artist is far from uncomplicated, spontaneous autobiographic narration. While looking at her photographs one is always certain that she herself composes those bitter clashes of the two invincibly different worlds. Her analysis of the levels of dependence, domination, and manipulation concerning intimate contacts of a woman and a man is always shot through with a feeling of loneliness that does not even fade in the moments of erotic contact.

Nowicka’s photographs, which function as independent productions, are often accompanied by rubber made inflated objects whose global shapes leave no doubt as to their identification with real objects and characters. The surface of these objects, their color and texture resemble human skin which in a realistic and metaphoric way separates us from the rest of the world making it possible to define one’s own individual identity.

Agata Zbylut in her work explores the issues of identity and its susceptibility of being influenced by cultural patterns. The artist has been present in Polish art since the late 1990s and her productions joined the Polish feminist art after its most breakthrough manifestos when it had already lost much of its driving force and had been subdued by the mainstream culture while at the same time losing most of its influence on the social and cultural norms (except for very limited in number liberal-intellectual circles).

The extreme visual attractiveness of Zbylut’s productions and their apparent naivety display their second meaning and subversive potential. The artist actively faces the reifying male interpretation when she appears in her own pieces of work in poses and clothes promising a maximum of erotic satisfaction. Zbylut’s sweet, discretely inviting images reveal the cultural tropes of a woman’s identifying herself with an object of consumption, being submissive and accepting the lower status of a mere companion or a mirror, thanks to which the man is able to confirm his value. Those old truths learned during a lesson of feminism seem to gain in Agata Zbylut’s work a fresh visual form.

Photography constitutes an integral part of larger projects for both Agata Zbylut and Hanna Nowicka. Zbylut’s favorite prop is a dress, understood as a cultural costume which is not always made to measure. The huge, loose wedding dress from her work entitled ‘In Excess, But Not Above the Norm’ and the artist’s tiny figure lost in it clash the world of internalized values and aspirations learnt in the process of being brought up thanks to which almost every young girl sees in marriage and maternity the fulfillment of happiness and social acceptation with one’s own predispositions and lulled desires.

A man appearing in Hanna Nowicka’s photographic frames and his decisive influence on how we interpret the images through his totalitarian absence from Agata Zbylut’s photographs are not isolated objects of compulsive fixation. Instead, they are the partners of a drama whose footnotes are slowly changing, shifting the accents and leading us to new interpretations.

Translated from Polish by Marek Stelmaszczyk. Proof read by Simon Bretherton.

Text originally published in Mare Articum Baltic art Magazine, 1 (12), Szczecin, 2003.