|A Journey into the Body and Beyond.
The Art of Alicja Zebrowska
|"Identified Plastic Object": Exposition|
|It's quite simple: a garish, red pipe,
six meters in length, connects two jutting, snow-covered cliff peaks at
the summit of the Tatra Mountains. Everything here is (still) nature -
with the exception of this single object.
Art is a manifestation of physics, commented Alicja Zebrowska on her installation "Identified Plastic Object" in the Strazyska-Valley of the Tatra at the turn of the year (1992/1993). Continuing in this vein, we can extrapolate: Art is a materialisation, an intelligent manifestation of the physis. Alicja Zebrowska reminds us, that, according to the cosmic Big Bang model, matter came into being perhaps ten seconds after the original explosion. Everything in existence is a configuration and metamorphosis of matter. Even the thinking mind, which creatively and productively acts upon matter, is a modification of this same substance.
In Stanley Kubrick's film "2001 A Space Odessey", an absolutely regular, black cube towers up suddenly and without warning over a prehistoric human horde. This same cube is later discovered by space travellers on an unknown planet, but even then, in the farthest technological future, it retains its mystery. Like Alicja Zebrowska's pipe, the cube is the epiphany of a substance, which is material, but which also displays its artificiality. It is the birth of intelligence. Art is physical labour, labour on the physis.
|"Onone: Between the Sexes"|
- World after the World (1995) is a video installation projekt realized
by Alicja Zebrowska in 1995. As in various other video projects, Dariusz
Baster contributed the electronic music. "Onone" is an artificial
word composed of the Polish words for "he/she". This word provides
the titel for an androgynous or transsexual phantasy. In this project,
Alicja Zabrowska's early artistic and explorative work on her own body
and its phantasms reaches a new, synthetic niveau. In a loose series of
seenes which don't tell a story, we sec young human beings, almost still
children, who, through artificial sexual implantations, leave their sexual
identity behind to form new, transhuman hermaphrodites.
This is not about science fiction, and the video technique doesn't evcn try to compete with the spellbinding technical imagery of futuristic Hollywood film. The acting is done by amateurs and the camera operates not at the technical state of the art. But in artificial naivity. No high-tech laboratory is to be seen, no hyperreal environment, no spaceship, no laboratory for genetic technology. Even the conclusion of the film, which shows the elevation and weightless flight of the transsexual being through a black outer space twinkling with starlight, is without technical finesse. In spite of the electronic music of the spheres, no associations with the perfect outer-space simulations of science fiction movies arise. No masculine, heroic phantasies of conquering new galaxies or of the creation of transhuman lifeforms are acted out here. On the contrary, these playful dreams suspended between bucolic, grotesque and humouresque are the dreams of a woman on the border of the symbolic and physiological order of the sexes.
Some American feminists dream of transcending the repressive order of the sexes through technical manipulation, as if freedom is to had on the other side of a meanwhile fully abondoned natura, in whose name women have since times immemorial been oppressed. Alicja Zebrowska, in contrast, does not borrow from the hybrid phantasies of genetic medicine.Instead, in a witty and astute manner, she presents different themes and scenarios of occfidental art and shapes them into ironic studies on one of the oldest cultural motifs, namely on androgyny and hermaphroditism. In this manner, she lays a female body in a meadow of wildflowers bordered by a bubbling creek. The woman is naked. Up to this point, everything is clear. This is nature. But we sce that the woman's bips are gurted by a transparent plastic foil. A huge, tube-like penis glistens through the plastic. Plastic phalli cover her breasts. Tubes attached to the glans connect them to the water and to a mechanical pump-aggregate next to the creek. Everything here is also clear. This is artificiality.
The small creck forms a vaginal incision in the meadow. Yellow-red balls shine out of the lush growth around its sloping bank. They arc apples, but, like the woman's hips wrapped in plastic, they are coated with silicon. Delicate tubes run out of the apples, connecting them to the crcek, to the pump-mashine, and to the body of the androgynous being. The mashine is a pump similiar to those used to milk cows. The body, nature, and technology combine here in a strange synthesis that leaves all three behind.
Apparently, we are witnessing a circulation of energies and flows, (...) of shifting exchange with one another: the apple of paadise, idyllic nature, milk-giving Gaia, the water of life, the sexual body, earth's lush fertility. The installation acquires a hybrid form. It proliferates. Michail Bachtin identified hybridity as characteristic for the early modern, grotesque body. This body is not at all smooth and continuous, neither clearly situated in the order of the sexes, nor of spiritual clarity. Quite the opposite, it is completely and utterly material, porous, without clear borders, and caught up in the flow of energies from within the body and energies pulsing through it from outside. Alicja Zebrowska creates such a body. Which is defined through its hybridity and junctions. But this body is not a remembrance of early modern corporeality. Nor does it cite Plato's version of Aristophanes myth of the hermaphrodite. Plato's two-sexed beings are an archaic form of human being, whose bisexual (and, thus, spherically round) perfection enraged the jealously of the gods, For this reason, the gods extinguished the androgynous race by cutting the spherical bodies in half and created, in this way, the bipolar order of the sexes. (Plato: Symposium).
One is reminded of this story, yet Alicja Zebrowska plays ironically with these associations with old European symbolic forms. She presents her system of the circulation of sexual energie and flows between natura, mashine and body without the pathetic seriousness, with which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari placed the unlimited pump-mashine of desire and the circulation of lust at the service of political emancipation (Anti-Oedipus, 1974). Alicja Zebrowska even frees her bucolic "Garden of .(...) .the demonic metaphysic ol sexus, which envelopes Hieronymus Bosche's famous painting (Museo del Prado, Madrid).
Instead, we sec a lighthearted experiment, the playful succumbing to a phantasy, for which the not accidentally red-headed creature would once have been considered a witch, a heathen demon of nature and devilish succubus of sinful lust. Here. Though, a carnavelcsque humour is having its way. With a carefree gesture, Alicja Zebrowska leaves myth and paradise, theology and morals, form and genre behind, in much the same way as she transends the borders of the body in which we are imprisoned, we dammed of the bipolar, oedipal sexus.
Later, we see androgynous clves (also a citation), who, tanked with tho onorgy of the (...), dance in the (...) with bouncing breast-phalli and enormous donkeys penises (the camera dances and reels with them). It's a bit of Shakspeare's "Midsummer Nights's Dream" Perhaps one is more inclined to think of the orgiastic, heathen, midsummernight's festival in Andrej Tarkowski's film "Andrej Rubljow", which played the counterpart to Christian piety and ecstatic mortifications of the flesh. But Onone's dance is clumsy, amateurish, awkward, and unprofessional. It is neither pure grace as an expression of nature, nor perfect style as an expression of artificiality. Onone is not a citation of the good and evil, eschatological and demonic phantasies and myths, which have been associated with dance since ancient times, as if dance revealed the abyss or its opposite, the salvation of human kind. The self-satisfield, self-sufficient hermaphrodite is a humouresque, not a tragical sister to Ovid's Narcissus. And when s/he sits on a cliff, chin in hand, in the time-honoured pose of melancholia, s/he dements with this gesture the melancholy and sadness of reflection: Onone, the carefree-abandoned, artificial, but not artistic creation, who has carefree-abandoned, artificial, but not artistic creation, who has completely and utterly turned into a polymorphous genital.
Alicja Zebrowska calls this configuration of Onone "Assimilatio", "adaptation", "re(as) sembling". The verb assimilare also means: to make similiar, to show in a similiar manner, to imitate, to reproduce, to compare, to simulate, even to feign. All of this is the busines of art. In Onone, alicja Zebrowska has created a reflexive allegory of art. Androgyny reflects in a mythical form the structure of art. Art makes the dissimiliar similiar and lets it correspond - it is regio assimilationis. One must call to mind that, in the theology of the middle ages, the regio dissimilitudesi - the land of dissimiliarity - was the land of the debil, the land of fools and sinners, the land of absolute distance from God (according to Huldebert of Lavardin in the twelfth century). From this, one can deduce that Onone, who, in the circulation of resemblances assimlates everything and is assimilated by everything, also plays a game with piety. To be more exact, Onone is the playful production of the very resemblance, that brings humans close to God (assimilatio is the path to the image dei). God is, as we know, God, because he is an Onone - the perfect androgynous being, as is His son Jesus, who, in the middle ages, was often phantasized as being androgynous. (Aurnhammer, Achim: Androgynie. Studien zu cinem Motiv in der europ(ischen Literatur: Cologne 1986; Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Chirst).
|Autoholos or: Self-sufficiancy|
|The remaining scenes in Onone
take place not in open naure, but in artificial interiers (ir in outer
space). In Autoholos
which means "he, who is complete unto himself", Alicja Zebrowska
creates an angellike being. Autoholos
stands on a podium coveredin silver foil, in front of a wall of silver
foil. Wrinkels in the foil in the backraund create the impression of a
decorative wall. From a slightly lowered point of view, we look frontaly
at a strangely removed Onone.
S/he resembles an idol. Frozen like a statue, her/his slightly spread
arms form a bell, as if s/he was frozen as s/he was about to bring the
arms into the classic orantepose. The unmoving gaze stares slightly diagnonally
past us and out of the picture into an undefined, empty distance. We are
ourselves brought into the orante-pose. This is truly a cultisch idol
wrapped in a transparent garment of plastic foil, which magnifies the
body form like an aura, bell-like, but spread like wings, angel-like a
crown. Framing the face, it is also a halo, a nimbus. The phallic nipples
are wrapped in a plastic sheath that awakens associations with a condom.
A gigantic male genital stretches snake-like out of the female lap and
curves back to the vagina, as if the figure wants to fertilize itself:
This image is most definitely playing with the tradition of cult idols, with statues of saints and (swxual, sacral) fetishes. Every worship of the sexus bring it close to sacrality. But perhaps it's the other way around. Perhaps the sacral, to which we devote ourselves with such fervour, is merely re-routed erotic energy. We con't know. The elevation of this androgynous fetish into higher spheres reminds us that all redically self-referential sexuality revcals, in its closed circle of self-sufficiancy. A truly godly form, and that for this very reason, it is considered perverse and pathological, when it enters into the human world. The Autoholos is absolutely untouchable, pure, "Noli me tangere". His aura surrounds him like a body-condom and lets the sexual flows of this Onone circle around themselves. This is a different circulation from the one, which sets the "assimilatio"-body, mashine and nature into a circulation of fluids.
Here, Alicja Zebrowska's aesthetic play with traditional form operates, as it often does, on the border to kitsch. Not without an amused irony, the installations demonstrate that those arcas most important to us - the religious and the erotic - have always cultivated an especially close relationship to kitsch. Alicja Zebrowska nearly always plays a daring game with tastelessness. The outer limts of this game are in danger of becoming desgusting and ridiculous. In this manner, she mixes here citations of the Sublime and the elevated with the grotesque and the theatrical. This method of citation creates a kind of manneristic syncretism, a travesty of sacralized sexus and sexualized sacrality. The aesthetic of travesty protects Alicja Zebrowska's installations from turning into kitsch.
|Affirmatio, or: Permenent Auto-Arousal|
|Affirmatio is the name of the installation, in which another Onone, who is also arranged upon a silver podium, gazes into a mirror, a classic atribute of Venus, assuring itself of its bisexuality. Or Onone is shown from the side, sitting with drawn-up knees, its grandiose and grotesquely long penis building the base of the knees triangle. In both images. Onone seems withdrawn into itself, fully engrossed in the gaze directed at its resplendent hermaphroditic genitals or completely absorbed in concentration on the overly extended penis, which forms the body into a pyramid. Without a doubt, the phallus is here the 'master trope' (Paul de Man), without which affirmation would be impossible. Affirmatio is here nothing other than self-affirmation: the hermaphrodite needs no communicatio. Androgyny is stricktly asocial. It is a differentation within itself and needs not refer to an other or an outside of itself for self-identification. Androgyny is the methical dream of absolute self-reference turned sexual. This self-reference would be barren, if its bisexuality didn't create something similiar to an internal polarity, a tension holding it upright like a perpetuum mobile. The permanent auto-arousal is an eternal baptism of the self in itself, a final absence of need, dependant on nothing and on no one. It is a yearning that never reaches aoutside itself for something else, but circles in intself. In short, it is a whole that exists in itself. Here, one recognizes that exists in itself. Here, one recognizes that Affirmatio, as well, is an allegory of the autonomous work of art. Its radical self-affirmation is a radical negation of everything not itself. The hermaphrodite is the mythical form of the work of art.|
|Continuo or: the Dream of Art and the Second Skin|
|The Onone scenes with the blond-haired
double-figure are titled Continuo.
This means "I arrange in a series", "I gather together".
"I connect", "I attach", "I set in a row",
"I round off", "I continue without pause". That the
verb continuare is in the first person singular in presence form is revealing.
The titel refers to the artist's self, who, through this titel, points
not only to the portrayed, but to the portrayer, as well. As in the other
images, androgyny is one theme. The scenes also comment allegorically
on the question of aesthetic production. This has a correlate in the long
tradition of the phantasm of androgyny. Since the beginnings of modernity,
that is, since the Romantic, the motif and the contents of androgyny have
dissolved or shifted. In the century between Friedrich Schlegel's "Lucinde"
and Robert Musil's "Vereinigungen" or Virginia Woolf's "Orlando",
the question of physical androgyny has been more and more closely tied
to the question of the hermaphroditic nature of the poetic and artistic
process. Alicja Zebrowska's installations are concerned with this process,
in that the artist portrays androgyny as the utopien, yet already travestized,
location of the bisexual body. At the same time, she emphasizes the ambiguous,
discontinuous, artificial, phantasmatic, no longer dual, but now polymorphous,
ironic scintillation of the artistic process. For this reason, we must
subject all installations to a doubled gaze, a doubled reading. In the
decoded subject, the partrayed image, we must also recognize the structure,
the portrayal. In this manner, Alicja Zebrowska realizes one of the unavoidable
requirements of modernity, aesthetic reflexivity, which, thus, enters
into the structure of her work.
In Continuo, the same acters as in Synchron and Sexfantilis are dressed, like the actress in Autoholos, in transparent body foils that leave only head and hands free. Oversized phalli and enlarged nipples stare from underneath the plastic sheet. The foil surrounds the bodies like a second skin grown too wide. Under the plastic skin, the natural surface and form of the silhouette cannot be seen clearly. In this manner, the foil visually dissolves the borders of the body. This effect is made stronger by the light reflexions on the plastic skin and by the silver underground and backround, which can barely be distinguished from the foil dress. The dissolution of borders is an effect of the Onone-Principle, of androgyny. Androgyny is this 'continuation over borders', a Continuo, a continuation and arranging in a row, a carrying on without interuption, a connecting and a bringing together. In this context, the light effects, which send strong beams onto the figures and the backround to create intense light reflexions, play a central role.
The skin is our largest organ. It delineates our border to the external world and is, at the same time, the medium of communication with this world through touch. Skin is also the medium through which fluids are secreted out of pores and the medium of injurious penetration. Alicja Zebrowska's hermaphrodites, whose transparent garments emphasize the aspect of transition, have become completely surface and skin. Not the continuous skin, one must add, but the mediating, membrane-like, porous, and reflecting skin. The artificialty of the plastic foil emphasizes the skin's function as a medium. The bodies may be sealed in plastic like meat in a supermarket, but, at the same time, this second skin presents and exhibits. It is a theatrical moment, one that creates visual transitions and extends borders. In each arrangement, the Onone figures take on the classical pose often depicted on pompous roman sarcophagi, in which the dead couple presents itself lying on its side, on behind the other, in the eternity of a nature morte. Here, one cannot tell whether the Onones make up one body or two. Silent and statue-like, they depict androgyny.
|Tableaux Vivantes. Nature Morte and Felishism|
|As in Autoholos,
the motionless tranquility of the figures in Continuo,
springs to cye. Androgyny is not a reality, but an effect of the media.
Here, it is created in the aesthetic of the tableau vivantes. Alicja Zebrowska
takes on this old cultural practice, which was cultivatek drom the sixteen
to the cighteenth centuries as a form of artistic entertainment, and gives
it an ironic twist. It is not without intention that the child-like actors
sink into motionlessness. They close their eyes or stare into emptiness,
fall into the pose of the dead (Roman sarcophagus) or into an eternal
sleep, which finally welds both figures together and synchronizes them.
The hermaphrodite, this expresses, is not a figure in the world of flesh
and blood. It is a persona of absolute artificiality and suspended life
- the "still-life" of the sarcophagus (gr. "gr. "flesh-eater":
the space, in which meat is consumed). Androgyny forms a region beyond
the flesh, a region in which the living body is laid to rest by the still
breath of death and awakens again the artistic sphere as a tableaux vivantes.
Androgyny does not belong to our life. It shows the life of statues which
are supposed to portreay our phantasies and desires. Once again, a reflexive
level of art theory worked into the installation. Alicja Zebrowska uses
the theme of androgyny to develop her aesthetics.
This is done once again in the form of travesty and irony. This is especially evident in Sexfantilis, which can be translated as 'sexual adolescence" or 'sexual infantility'. In this scene, an Onone wrapped in plastic holds in its arms one of those cheap, grotesquely tasteless, blow-up sex-dolls in a garish red dress, the child-woman often depieted in pornography. Its red mouth is opened not to scream, but to reccive the user's organ. Alicja Zebrowska travestizes and contrasts this sex-doll with her own procedure, the Onone-Principle. As a matter of fact, the cambarrassing kinship of Alicja Zebrowska's figures to this most shabby of sexual fetish objects, is provocatively demonstrated here. The sexual phantasies are inhabited by a scurrilous, grotesque, kitschy, and alienating population. The dreamland of sex is amuscum of fetishes, which, for the most part, have their roots in childhood (infantility) and which later return perverted.
The word 'fetish' comes from the Portuguese feiti(o and the Latin factitius (artificial, constructed). This word was used to deseribe the magical, energie-filled, artificial objects, in which Portuguese travellers and missionaries believed to recognize the magical objectw of native cultures. Since the Nineteenth century, 'fetish' has not only been the expression for the fatal magical powers of the commodity (Marx fetish character of the commodity). Since Alfred Binet and Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the word 'fetish' means in sexology the passionate sexual occupation of partial objekts, which then serve as substitutes for real people and partner relationships. Fetishes funtion as intermediaries. They allow the fetishist to disengage himself from the material reality of flesh and blood and the strenuous and frightening world of social-cultural relationships and to create an autonomous, completely artificial world that functions only according to his phantasm. Every fetishism functions as derealisation. Alicja Zebrowska shows us one such world in Onone. This pure world of fetishes presents us with the way in which fetishistic desire funtions. We can now understand the dominance of the phallus in the Onone installations: The phallus is the fetish per se. Nevertheless, sexual fetishism (and, as we have seen, art, as well) operate androgynously. The fetish's mystery and fascination is precisly, that the fetishist creates in his fetish an object that is itself, but at the same time an Other. The fetishist negates desire's dependancy on an Other, in that this Other is lifcless, and can only be given life by the fetishist's phantasy. The fetish is always a form of nature morte, a tableau vivante, a living-dead or dead-living, in short, a transitory being, an intermediary substrate of desire. For this reason, art and fetishism maintain a close relationship. Without exaggerating, one can say that all works of art show the structure of the fetish. Artists are fetishists - how could this be otherwise! By parading the logic of the fetish in her work, Alicja Zebrowska presents the libinal core of art. Here, as well, Onone is an exploration of what art is, a discourse on art theory.
|Hypnosis and Trancc or: Art Sleeps|
|This dimension is especially evident in
those parts of the Onone-Cycle, in which the artist, Alicja Zebrowska,
sets herself into scene, as she has done in many earlier videos and installations.
A chaiselongue with a cover in the ornamental style of the nieteenth century
stands in a dark, cave-like room. The backround of filigreed, refracling,
silver foil turns the room into a stage. Two phallic glass objects, presumably
belonging to an unused ceiling lamp, hang into the picture. Suspended
over the face of the artist, these are the crectile organs of phantasy.
The artist lies on her back, naked, on the chaiselongue. A nineteenth-century
lamp stands at her head. It is the only source of light. The lamp shines
directly onto the brightly lit face of the artist, who has closed her
eyes. She seems to be asleep. We do not immediately notice a man sitting
in an armchair in the dimly-lit left foreground of the scene. He is the
hyponotizer. Alicja Zebrowska has wrapped her breasts, which havc been
lengthened with phallic prostheses, in plastic and covered her hips in
a skirt of foil. She holds a tautly rounded bubble on her stomach, an
artificial uterus, that announces its pregnancy. At the same time, though,
a thick, dark, cucumber-like penis grows out of her vagina.
With its atmospheric references to the nineteenth century, this scene cites the classic era of hypnosis, of therapeutic trance, and of the hysterical woman. Couch and armchair call to mind the psychoanalytic setting (although the chair should actually be behind the head end of the couch). This ritual exorcism of female phantasm by male therapists, which was developed under the sign of science, has been artificially theatralized here and has, once again, been placed on the border of kitch. The scenic atmosphere also awakes associations with the charlatans, magicians, fortune tellers, sorcerers, mesmerists, magnetizers, spiritists, astrologists, and spiritual healers, who, since the eighteenth century, have subsisted on the interior design of the bourgous psyche.
In the state of hypnosis, in the trance-like elevation of consciousness, the body of the artist is metamorphosized. It becomes hybrid and takes on all features of sex and generation. In the cave of dreams, the body may appear in all imaginable metamorphoses and metaphors. It seems, though, that the polymorphously sexual artist lends an ironic form to all phantasms hatched out by psychoanalysis on, as Freud put it. The "eternal riddle of woman", as well. At the same timc, the hyponotizer is an allegory of mediation. He is the personified metaphor of the mediu, with whose help Alicja Zebrowska keeps the process of (physical, artistic) metamorphosis going. This is made possible through a mode of possession, a trance. The elevating and displacing, or, in any case, transforming power functions simliarly to the artistic phantasy. What we are seeing herc is the artistic process captured as a theatrical scene.
|Trans-fero or: the Inversion of Time|
|the concept of metamorphosis not only determines
the Onone project
and Alicja Zebrowska's variations on Body Art and the aesthetik of the
hybrid body. It has for a long time been inherent to her work and can
be found in the Land Art projects as well. In 1992, sho installed a brightly
shining, four-cornered stele at the peak of the Koscielic mountain in
the Tatra mountains, not far from her place of birth. On a small plateau,
she constructed a circular pyramid of fine, light-coloured sand. The project
was titled Trans-Fero
(from the Latin word transfero - I cary over, I transplant, I shift, I
transfer=metaphor, I change=metamorphosis). The material Alicja Zebrowska
used had been extracted from a quarry 150 kilometers far away.
The significance of this action was as a form of symbolic restitution. Through millions of years of earth history. The sand and sandstone of the Tatra mountains had been eroded, carried off, ground down, or compacted and brought to a place far from its origins. Alicja Zebrowska turned this process around. The arrow of geological time, which only knows one direction, is reversed in the artistic process. Carrying back the sand, the transfer up into the Tatra mountains becomes, thus, a symbol for time, in much the same way as the stele and the pyramid become ciphers for a geological point of origin. Here art means reading traces and interpreting traces on the horizon of world-time, beyond the time of human history. It operates aesthetically in theunimaginable. What are "millions of years"? Is the slow crosion of sandstone-massifs, their transportation over hundreds of kilometers, this decomposition of mountains into fine sand imaginable? Immanuel Kant called this dimension beyond the comprehension of the senses and beyond imagination the Sublime. Alicja Zebrowska presents the Sublime not through imposing gestures, but through minute sambols stele and pyramid may well call to mind monumental architechture, which demonstrates imperial power, but here these forms disappear in the rough, dark massivity of the Tatra mountains. Through their almost white liminousity and regular forms, though, the are unmistakeably symbols that could only have been brought forth by human beings. Simultaniously, the refers to something transhuman - to the monstrosity of geological time. This is not present, but presented. Faced with the colossal dimensions of nature, these unassuming symbols reduce the insolent monumentality of the archetechtonic will to construct to a truly human size.
Alicja Zebrowska also demontrates, what a sign can or should be at all. 'Transfer' means, namely, the same as etaphor', which in Greck is 'to carry over' (metaphorein). Alicja Zebrowska took this literally, when the sand was 'carried back' over 150 kilometers to the peak of the Tatra mountains. This procedure holds a mysterious deop dimension of the symbolic process. What the artist does here is to practice a ritual, a magical ceremony, in which 'something' is substituted and transformed. The transfer takes place not only between locations, but also from one status to another. The signs arc handed back at the very site of their material source. Is it possible that this structure, which follows the logic of sacrifice, determines the semiotic process as a whole? Is Alicja Zebrowska saying that our theories of the sign, which assume that the sign is arbitrary and donventional, are superficial or even wrong? Are there other processes in art, in which the semiotic 'reimbursement' is a reminder, that signs are a kind of sacrifice? A sacrifice, in which the signifier is set as a substitute in the place of a substance, a process from which even the 'forthest' sign in time and space remains dependent? These questions are too difficult to be answered here. One thing is certai, though. With her installation Trans-Fero, Alicja Zebrowska wanted not only to create a piece of Land Art. She wanted also to explore the process of semiosis, of metaphorisation, and of (geological) metamorphosis. This aspect connects the installation to the, at first glance, so different Body Art projects.
|To Stone: the Ritual of Death and Rebirth|
|One important project in which work with
natural materials and self-explorative Body Art intertwine, is the action
To Stone (1993).
In this project, Alicja Zebrowska created a hollowed-out sandstone block
about two meters long and sixty centimeters high and wide. The block was
divided lengthweise, and the top part was divided into cight horizontal
segments. The stone was left unpolished and relatively rough and was not
cleanly cut into pieces, but cracked and split. In this manner an archaic
sarcophagus was created.
As a matter of fact, the stone block fulfed this function in a literal sensc. It ate flesh, namely, the body of the artist. Alicja Zebrowska was bedded down, naked, in the sarcophagus. Then, the strone coffin was covered sucessively with lid segments. The timing of the action was determined by physical processes. The sarcophagus was first warmed to 37o Celsius, the temperature of the human body. When the temperature of the stone had sunk beneath 36o Celsius after about thirly minutes, the action was ended, and the artist was freed from the stone grave. The 'work' is not the stone grave, but the action, during which the artist is intered, lies buried, and is frecd.
Alicja Zebrowska exposes herself here to the experience of the "little death". This ritual is practised in many cultures and also plays an important roll in alchemy in the Nigredo - blackness/blackening. Il means not only exposure to the blackness of death, the darkness before birth and before all creation, but also the symbolic transformation back into anorganic material. The flesh-eating stone (gr. Sarcophag) turns flesh to stone. Alicja Zebrowska turns herself, so to speak, into a fossil, into stone. She exposes her organic body, the body of Eros, to what Sigmund Freud calls the death drive - the return to an anorganic state.
Stone is the absolute opposite of the human body, but we know myths, in which the human race is created out of stone. In the Greek version of the flood legend, Deucalion and Pyrcha, the only survivors, arc told by the oracle to throw stones backwards over their shoulders in a sacred, sacrifical ritual. The new human race is thus created. Pindar and Ovid, for example, call humans for this reason the "hard race" (genus durum). And stories of people with "a heart of stone", which stands for their coldness and lack of pity, can be found almost all over the world. Many myths revolve around stone statues come to life. Since Pygmalion, the dream of art is to create a living work out of stone. The ritual Alicja Zebrowska executes here knows, that animation is always reanimation. This means, that it must be preceded by a mortification (like the deluge). In daily life, we would call it experiencing and surviving a crisis. Art is both. It is an animation, that must be preceded by a mortification. This means that only one who is willing to go through death (the Nigredo) can experience the wonder brought about by art, when it places producers or recipients into the manifestness of the living. The return to the state of stone and rigidity, thy symbolic mortification, is the prerequiste for an animation, that reconnects us to the anima mundi, the breath of life.
Two moments in this installation maintain connections to life. The first is breath, the anima, the second, warmth. Enclosed by the sone uterus, the artist lies naked and bare as an unborn child surrounded by human warmth. Cut off from all sensorimotor stimulation, she feels the fundamental rhythms of life, systole and diastole, inhaling and exhaling, the rhythm recognized by Goethe to be the elemental polarity of organic life. These two moments, which I call the symbolic umbilical cord, turn the action in its entirety into a ritual of death and rebirth. What we call life is a conglomeration of both. Thus, the ritual death of the artist is an atempt to reconnect to the fundaments of life.
Sigmund Freud called this return to an anorganic state the death drive. The death drive is perhaps the most mysterious and objectionable aspect of his work. This idea probably did not arise out of insight into the rhythm of animation and mortification. Most likely, it was influenced from afar by the law of entropy, of heat death, which in the latter part of the nineteenth century was found more and more fascinating. Alicja Zebrowska's aesthetic experiment refers to this law. The process of warming the sarcophagus to the temperature of the human body, through which it becomes a uterus instead of a flesh-eater, and its cooling down show, that all material and symbolic procedures we undertake, and, especially, the rhythm of life, of animation and mortification, are tied to a circulation of energy, which creates the basis for the warmth necessary for life. When the level of warmth falls naturally in the installation, this not only leads to the 'end' of the action. It is also a symbolic reminder of the entropic end, in which all energy is locked in an irreversible state - heat death.
It is characteristic for Alicja Zebrowska, that she combines Body Art with cosmological dimensions and with the experience of antropological extremes. In much the same manner, Trans-Fero confronted the dimensions of human semiosis with the chronologically unfathomable dimensions of carth history. One is reminded of Novalis, whose romantic art consisted of carth history. One is reminded of Novalis, whosc romantic art consisted of an exploration of the correspondances between the physical space of the body and cosmic space, between minute human dimensions of time and the time of the world. Through this, Novalis could formulate his peculiar dictum, that the body is also a "Cosmometer". This could be the caption of many of Alicja Zebrowska' s installations, as well.
|Original sin - "The Mystery is looking": the uttermost end of art and the beginning of the body|
Occupation with the temporal or symbolic beginnings and prerequisites
of the body plays a central roll in the video project Original
sin - a presumable beginning of virtual reality (1994). The electronic
music is from Dariusz Baster. This project is about the religious (male)
phantasm of the birth of evil out of female sexuality.