Agnieszka Brzeżańska’s World National Park is akin to that first moment after waking from an intense dream. Brzeżańska’s collective works—paintings, drawings, collage, some sound and video—suggest a story of earthly, human existence through time. They are stories of mark-making, of record-keeping, of illustrating ideas and dreams and stories, both real and invented.
The first room contains a series of works on paper, double-exposed/collaged photographic images, two videos which create a soft buzz of energy in the space, and a triptych of rather casual, atmospheric paintings that echo the late afternoon December sun I catch on the other side of the windows. Darkening branches and tree trunks against a pink sky before the sun goes down. These paintings force themselves into our physical space, coming away from the wall becoming sculptural yet never losing their quality as paintings. This is one of the key curatorial decisions that triggers that feeling of knowing/unknowing, a theme running like a thread through the exhibition. Simultaneously setting the stage yet keeping the viewer unprepared for the unfolding of the works to come, the diminutive wall pieces here are aesthetically beautiful, graphic, sexy. They feature flag-like color blocking; strong shapes like the totems of Hilma af Klint. I’m not shaken until the next room. Almost fully consumed by this next installation of paintings, hung edge-to-edge, forming an object that leaves just enough space to walk the perimeter of the room without touching the walls or the work, the construction is impossible to view holistically. It’s almost indescribable, how these works transcend their materiality while fully, consciously remaining paintings. The power that comes from this is arresting. You can feel it, you can see it playing out in your mind’s eye, watching it dissolve in the same moment you attempt to name it.
There is no language for what you’ve just experienced, it hovers above too slippery a ground, occupying everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. As we track the surfaces and observe the details of the canvases which are painted in warm, bright tones with pattern details recalling Indigenous Australian art, they give the impression of a very deep, almost pre-human timescale. The next room is filled with three arrangements like this, floating structures of paintings, as well as two notable textile-based works. The mark-making shifts to a more fluid, gestural approach where the artist’s hand in the act of painting is similarly obvious yet secondary to the echoing of water flow, wood grain, or other patterns found in nature. The textile is similar in scale and weight to a throw blanket or bedcover. Cała Ziemia Parkiem Narodowym (“World National Park’) is woven into the double-warp textile commissioned by Brzeżańska. The weaver, Ludgarda Sieńko, was only given the title of the work and was asked to interpret the phrase as she saw fit.
On the other side of the wall in the third room, text-elements appear and the paintings become slightly more graphic. Fluorescent colors, a pedestal of little blithe, palm-sized sculptures called Oyster Spirits, and another on the opposite side of the room holding a cavernous, brown coral-like vessel with female vocalizations emanating from it. This piece is the artist’s vision of a sculpture made by the Vistula river (which bisects the city of Warsaw). An unstretched canvas hangs on the wall echoing Sam Gilliam’s drape paintings, again confronting us with this flexibility of form and meaning-making: this gentle refusal to be confined to a medium/format/mode yet never once hiding/refusing/obscuring the materiality or context of the works. These pieces are haunting, playful, commanding, and beautiful, and communicate a genuine curiosity and deep reverence for the world.
The next and final two rooms become more focused on sculptural works and the tone shifts to one that is slightly more pedagogical. Ceramic urns arranged on pedestals stacked three deep and lined up against the wall call to mind displays at an ethnographic museum. Sprays of dried wildflowers in a few are a cheeky domestic subversion. Along another wall, smaller mythic ceramic figures and objects, some holding iPads or iPhones displaying videos of underwater environments and large format prints of blurry microscopic bio–material and drawings in clay adorn the wall. Elements of mysticism, fantasy, feminism, primitivism, object-making; of the communion between the body and nature, pull us back from the cosmic, theoretical space into the space of the body, the vessel.
The final room is intensified by the architecture of the ornate, two-story rotunda. The centerpiece is a fountain that is slightly larger than human scale; atop the mound sits a female figure spreading her vulva, letting the liquid flow down into the pool below. A few lit candles are set into arched, organically-shaped candelabras that sit on circular mirrors on the floor, reflecting the architecture of the
windowed dome which catch last moments of the early winter sky. Off to the side, a pile of books becomes the pedestal for a tiny figurative sculpture, illuminated by a spotlight casting its shadow across a vignette of wall space. The feeling here is again distinct from the other spaces; Brzeźańska seems almost to answer the rhetorical questions posed throughout the course of the exhibition and for a moment I feel a tiny grain of regret about this. But instead of dwelling there, the stillness of the room activated by the candlelight and running water return me to the spirited tenor of ritualism and authenticity, and the deep reverence for generational time and meaning-making.
I feel like I’ve been endowed a sincere and generous wisdom and immediately after leaving the last room I head back into the first room simply to complete the circle.
Volume 34 no 3 January – February 2020 pp 33-34
Agnieszka Brzeżańska, World National Park 26th November 2019 – 1st March 2020. Królikarnia / Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture, Warsaw.