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Pawel Leszkowicz

On Both Sides Of The Mirror.
In Search Of Sexuality Of The Third Millenium


That which is lost or out of reach, in reality returns through the unconscious to be projected through visions, dreams and fantasies. Figures, symbols, relationships, personalities and experiences which give life meaning, security, a feeling of ecstasy and fulfilment essentially return as pictures of the imagination creating a fantazmatical moment of fulfilment, happiness and harmony.

Alicja as ONONE (HEHER) undergoes hypnotic regression. In doing so she grasps at her fears, dreams and desires. Out of these desires ONONE was borne - a new species, a new dimension. ONONE is a self-erotic, self-cynical "world after the world, a world for the self" yet at the same time a visually enticing rampant futuristic fairy tale meant for an audience. Through hypnosis and dream the artist has created utopia and a new genetic mutation soothing the pain of a divided and fallen world.

ONONE is subject to cosmic immortality. A FUTURISTIC ANGEL that does not die, but sets out on an intergalactic journey in the search for other dimensions. Energised by cosmic rays and the strength of her own subconscious ONONE devours her own death in the strive to discover other galaxies. In a state of dream, she translocates through outer space towards other, happy stars. (photograph Autonecrophagos).

Infinitely boundless, unfamiliar and mysterious cosmos is a powerful symbol fuelling the artist's imagination. A concept of infinite space yet reflecting the confines of human recognition. Cosmos is irrevocable proof of the restrictions imposed on man. The artist desires discovery of cosmic secrets as cosmos forms an allegory of the subconscious - its very portrait. Cosmic flights are nothing more than a journey into the depths of ones own inner-self towards unknown yet existing spheres. Recordings of the hypnotic seance form an integral part of the cycle of photogrammes ONONE - A WORLD AFTER THE WORLD. Through them Alicja describes the transformation she undergoes in cosmos, on board a space ship or a cosmic laboratory (photograph: "Hypnosis"). Regression into the subconscious evokes memories of encounters with an unidentified STRANGER; the stranger (subconsciously) within one self or perhaps with the absolute and universal stranger from another planet. Alicja as the androgynous ONONE is with child (a simulated pregnancy). Protectively embracing her belly, almost ready to give new life into the world she dreams of a cosmic metamorphosis which transferred her into current existence and in the future will lead to other reincarnations.

Chris Carter `s American cult science fiction series "The X Files" concentrates on themes relating to the paranormal - the probability and possible dangers which could emerge from encounters of the third degree are one of the more dominant themes. In the episode entitled "Ascension" FBI agent Dana Scully is kidnapped by beings from outer space - or at least that is one possible interpretation of her disappearance. Dana`s professional approach is quite contrary to that of her on screen partner, agent Fox Mulder. She represents a level in touch with reality and rationality, a doctor engrossed in the very physical world, in reasoning and the scientific reconstruction of events founded on marks left on the body. Mulder on the other hand, specialises in a quite different dimension - in a mental, emotional and intuitive one. Unlike Scully he is open to the existence to paranormal activities. As the series and its exceptional mythology develop the attitudes of the two main characters begin to penetrate each other and even exchange. "Ascension" carries the breakthrough, religious symbolism playing a decisive role highlighted in Scully's Catholicism accentuated by the cross around her neck. What she undergoes while kidnapped is revealed through Mulder's visionary premonitions. Veiled by a luminous light, pictures reveal a sleeping Scully lying on an operation table evidently in the laboratory of a space ship. She has become the object of genetic experiments. A metal drill ruptures her pregnant womb (X Files fans know Gillian Anderson was expecting) retrieving an inhuman, mutant embryo. As the drill punctures Scully's body, she opens her eyes for a split second, only to be blinded by a bright light. In a future episode, "One Breath", Scully who has now been retrieved, lies on a hospital bed in a coma balancing between life and death. The audience has access to her mind through more visionary pictures - her body rises above a rowing boat and glides along the top of peaceful blue lake. Water represents the unconscious, a readiness to accept its influences and secrets, to be plunged into an unknown sphere of the imagination.

Agent Dana Scully pulls through. However, her adventure has changed her. She more readily accepts and appears to have a better understanding for paranormal and psychic occurrences as though the body has connected to the soul, the mind to intuition. Touched by "the Gods" from space, Ascension on a higher level of development took place.

ONONE is to Alicja Zebrowska what "The Ascension" became to Scully. Her earlier works related to the body, bodily vivisection, a physiological approach to female sexuality, a reasoning analysis of socio-political entanglement of body and desires. In ONONE -A world after the world our artist ascends, attempting to embrace completeness, integrate sexuality and spirituality. She embarks on a world of vision and cosmic plenty. Medical sections are replaced by regressive hypnosis and in place of physiological revulsion appear futuristic angels. At this point, a pregnancy would assume key player position, becoming a bodily turning point for spiritual experience, a metaphor for the birth of new potential. The cosmic dimensions through which ONONE is soaring in the series of pictures entitled Autonecrophagos could just as well be perceived as deep waters, the unavoidable ocean of the unconscious in the process of change and development.

Photogrammes from the series Autonecrophagos and Hypnosis appear to be even more mysterious and incomprehensible when forming part of the entire cycle. The remaining pictures radiate a colourful brilliance. Scenes in surroundings of nature's greenery provoke an atmosphere of heavenly peace contrasting with the presented cosmic journey and in particular with the hypnotic seance which captivate by their exceptional obscurity. These pictures are maintained in GOTHIC AESTHETICISM. The rebirth of gothic imagination and sensitivity is but one symptomatic cultural feature towards the end of the millennium. Gothicism in these presentations is revealed by an evident fascination with various states of the mind - hypnosis, trances, dreams and theatrical stylisation which lend the photogrammes a sense of obscure, unnerving, mysterious, spacious and subtly perverse character. An atmosphere of obscurity is complemented by Alicja-Onone's portrayal of a woman possessed. Hermaphroditism exposed through costume and sexual toys transform the body in to a grotesque. The grotesque, in binding humour and horror is a primary figure in Gothicism. The scenes themselves take place in an atmosphere of Gothic potential - unknown depths and the historically reminiscent lounge of the hypnotist. Surroundings evoking fear of a psychological or physical threat.

Gothicism in contemporary art approaches subjects which step beyond existing definitions of normality and settles on spheres of the taboo directed at the spiritual or bodily extremes arousing fear and unrest. In her latest projects, Alicja Zebrowska acknowledges its meaningful potential and visual attraction. Effective gothic ideas help to create images easily remembered, influencing the imagination by appealing to the subconscious or fantasy of the audience. Gothicism allows for reflection on the complexity of human nature, on the uncovering of its darkest and most obscure spheres. It is in this sense, aided by Gothic aesthetics, that the artist tells the darkest part of her tale.

However, it is a tale in which futuristic optimism and a glittering, silver brightness of erotic science fiction are dominant. Alicja's main interests lie in contemporary reinterpretation of the age-long androgen myth. A myth that reappears with particular intensity within the frameworks of each fin de siecle culture.

Alicja first told me the tale of ONONE at the top of the somewhat bewitched hill at Przegorzaly just outside of Cracow. Undoubtedly it was the best place to hear it - somewhere beyond reality and surrounding life, in a transitory moment of suspended time and space.

ONONE is a perfect example of the human species existing beyond suffering, in a purely sexual and sensual dimension; deprived of sexual difference, possessing both male and female organs, masturbatory and androgynous; part of nature, suckling nutritious nectars yet benefiting from technological advantages of the future. ONONE exists beyond any shame or erotic taboo, dressed in transparent clothes that are there only to protect and not veil the allure of the body. A dextrous body ensures freedom, independence, unlimited pleasure and sensual delights of sweet perversions which do not entice the threat of punishment or condemnation. ONONE's desires are a closed circle only embracing and fulfilling oneself. She has a vagina and a penis long enough to provide self-satisfaction. Her awareness, unlike ours, is not founded on continuously experiencing wantings, longing and disappointments. ONONE has never experienced loneliness for the basis of her male-female oneness is the affirmation of love for oneself, love for the inner "different" self and complete identification with the mirror image. Her body, composed of strange sleek and lustrous fragments, hides a psychological and sexual completeness quite opposed to organically one-sexed humans whose souls are torn and desires prey on them. Even death creates but a turning point, a dream-like passage through to other worlds.

The magical evolution of the androgynous body has given ONONE a quite surprising particularity. Her teeth have grown together as her mouth has lost the function of feeding and talking. A new internal tongue has evolved that can be applied in two ways - either as a means to communication with other ONONE or more importantly for internal dialogue with oneself. This incredible autonomy and individuality manifested by developed self-eroticism and a highly advanced capability of self-communication develops to an extreme degree an inner dimension, an inner world that man constantly directed outwards is unable to imagine. However, it appears that inner wealth, like love, is the only universal remedy against illness and nervous conditions.

ONONE has undergone an alternative development of senses, visual fetishism and the power of suggestive glances have lost their controlling and manipulative function. Other, more sensual and haptic senses together with intuition have taken over sight. Sexuality lies outwith the sphere of vision which dominated western patriarchal culture.

ONONE's sexual independence also refers to a painful social context. It appears to be an effective method of adapting end of the 20th century New Victorianism to reality. A period dominated by fear of infection and illness which decisively ended sexual freedom and to an overwhelming degree complicated love relations between people. ONONE's self-erotic fulfilment allows her own intimacy to be kept in safe and satisfactory harmony.

Being in ecological harmony and symbiosis with nature ONONE feeds directly on her (photographs from the series Assimilation). The river banks are lined with special fruit plantations producing nectar. These plants have long projections through which ONONE's breasts suckle nutritious juices. Breasts have changed form into a shape reminiscent of elongated dummies which makes possible this method of feeding.

The only difference in the reproductive cycle is self-fertilisation. Pregnancy, birth and child development is very similar in its course to that of man.

The beginnings of androgenism lie lost in dark crevices of ancient history. However the myth, present in various cultures and religions, has created an alluring but difficult subject for artists throughout history. It has always been difficult to imagine a male-female human body and solve the question of its biological and spiritual status. Sometimes androgenism is considered to be a metaphysical concept reflecting the synthesis of spiritual completeness between the male and female elements. Philosophical and mystical definition was introduced by Plato's explanation that the overwhelming need for love arose because the Gods halved the androgynous peoples and in doing so sentenced them to a search for their other half. Undoubtedly Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece "Mona Lisa" presents the most genial artistic representation of a spiritual androgen.

Hermaphroditism, the presence of both male and female sexual organs in the one body, creates on the other hand the physical, bodily side to the myth. Hermaphroditism is decisively sexual. It reflects erotic fulfilment in accordance with Ovid's "Metamorphoses". Hermes and Aphrodite's son Hermaphroditus was a handsome, youthful God lured into the water (repetitive symbolism) and seduced by the nymph Salmacis. During their love-making the couple experienced such intense ecstasy that she begged the Gods to merge their bodies into one forever. Thus the creation of erotic and sensual beings of perfection.

The Hellenic sculpture in the Louvre of "The Sleeping Hermaphroditus" in his sensual orgasmic sweetness is the ideal illustration of the myth's sexual interpretation.

Both the spiritual and bodily sphere of androgenism-hermaphroditism mythology and philosophy symbolises a mystical and existentialist completeness. An allegory of plenty, richness, perfection and the promise of eternity.

ONONE, as created by Alicja Zebrowska, relates both to Plato and Ovid's models being simultaneously a sexual oneness and invincible angel. Her body has been stamped by contemporary culture, its complicated and exaggerated politics, struggle of the sexes and sexual differences. Today the androgynous myth has been replaced by transvestite theatre and transsexual tragedies, deliberations on sexual orientations, genetic deviations and censorship which excludes the right to view negatively those marked "different".

To create ONONE Alicja had to enter an area of sexual ambivalence. She searched for "natural androgynous" models. The athletically shaped girl or effeminate boy, young but although sexually mature, wavering in their own sexual identity. She herself became the model for the expectant ONONE choosing a child, a boy, who before reaching puberty would play a young ONONE to denote the sexual ambiguity lurking in every child. The rest was supplemented by substitutes, artificial vaginas and penises from sex shops and costumes specially created for the occasion. The introduction of computer effects to the theatrical production smoothed out the body and mixed the characters features making possible the final, removed from reality yet aesthetic, effects of the photogrammes.

Research on the sexes and sexuality plays a significant role in contemporary humanities and artistic practices. Especially in post-modernism it is one of the "great narratives" simultaneously provoking thought and a revision of the past, history of art and culture. Great, international expositions follow, analyse and deconstruct traces of: femininity, masculinity, sexual orientations and androgynes. Summarising 20th century art are such important exhibitions as "Femininmasculin. Le sexe de l'art" organised in 1995 by the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, or the New York "Gender Performance in Photography" (1997) at the Guggenheim Museum viewing contemporary art through a prism of sexual differences and its innumerable incarnations. Another form of expressing the androgynous concept became artistic transvestism, cross-dressing, putting on clothes that are a visual attribute of the opposite sex. This tendency is identified with sexual minority cultures or feminists although it has also been strongly linked with one of the patriarchal fathers of the avant-garde, Marcel Duchamp. For him, eroticism and desire were strengths exceeding classical gender and sexual limits. Duchamp's art forecasted our contemporary situation characterised by a perspective that is increasingly androgynous, bisexual and homo-errotic. In the 1921 photograph by Man Ray "Rose Selavy", the artist is presented wearing a female hat, furs, clothes and poises of the 1920's. Many of his sculptures and ready-mades posses hermaphrodite traits - phallic-vaginal forms accentuating male and female sexual organs complementing each other rather than being in opposition. The metal "Object - Dard" has an organic shape that is reminiscent of not only a penis but also the vagina.

Since the 1960's, gender and sexual analysis has become an integral part of self-awareness politics so evident in activism and the arts of feminist, gay and lesbian movements. A key principal has become the idea of "masquerade" based on the so called constructivist trend on studies of gender. Constructivism claims gender and sexual identification have no biological character, but are social and political constructions, changeable depending on context and historic conditions. Gender and sexual orientation is therefore not a result of natural, biological determination, but an imposed cultural function. Gender is identified with a theatrical role, a spectacle, and in particular a masquerade. Gender is played through the exchange of attributes, gestures, costumes, and languages. Cross-dressing in contemporary art shows the entire array of male and female masqueradity. Artistic transvestism in portraits by Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jurgen Klauke, Michel Journiac, Lynda Benglis, Annette Messager, Cindy Sherman, Nan Golding, Zoe Leonard, Catherine Opie unveil a conventional catalogue of costumes. Destabilisation of self awareness serves the individual and political purpose of tearing down restrictive customary frameworks and building hierarchic, patriarchal gender arrangements.

This deconstructive approach to the question of self-awareness became contemporarily meaningful when all forms of gender and sexual alternatives were precisely labelled and the people concerned excluded and discriminated by society. The best form of resistance became exposure of the artificially constructed and relative character of the so called norm.

Contemporary reality treats all forms of apparent Hermaphroditism with particular ruthlessness.

As a genetic pathology occurring incredibly rarely it is treated immediately after birth by radical hormone and surgical intervention as well as an ongoing processes of socialisation. Robert Gober's wax sculpture (1990) best deplores modern degradation of the ancient myth of perfection. The object takes the shape of a male-female breast. In its entirety it resembles nothing more than a bag with a female breast to one side and a male, adorning hair to the other. The bag, like one used when buying groceries, accentuates the status of gender as being nothing more than yet another product, socially and economically determined. Its curiosity eludes customary gender taxonomy and therefore is marginal and disgusting. Viewed as such, exposition plays a vital role in its meaning. Gober displays this rather small hermaphroditic bust in an empty gallery hall, placed in the corner, as though in the margin, on the verge of being visibile. In so doing he draws an allegory to the present social approach to Hermaphroditism.

On the other hand, on the modern market, Hermaphroditism is subjected to perverse eroticism. In the daily newspapers of London, Paris, New York or Berlin there are numerous ads placed by transsexual prostitutes. They are expensive and have their own special clientele. Sex with a person who has breasts, a penis and vagina has its own price and ardent supporters. It is all immediately picked up on by the pornography industry providing a western catalogue of ready made pictures.

The vision of androgenism created by Alicja Zebrowska in the series ONONE - A world after the world rises high above a brutal and political reality to merge entirely with a world of desire and imagination. Ancient mythology and science-fiction fantasies seem closer to her than the reality of political self-awareness. The artist is making an attempt at getting back to the forgotten metaphysical and sensual interpretation of the symbol creating, to a greater degree, ANGELS rather than transsexuals. Her pictures however, highlight some of the issues facing the present direction of gender research. The figure of ONONE ties in with constructivist concept in its quite evident portrayal of an artistic construction - a mosaic of body, sexual substitutes, costume and gestures which have undergone theatrical and computer graphing. Just as strongly accentuated is her natural identity, her relation with nature and biological determination. ONONE is defined as a new genetic mutant by the very essence of her identity which is in accordance with the natural order of her world. It is the merger of constructivism and essentialism, the world of technology and nature that reflects the latest theory attempting to reinstate a certain range of inborn and non-changeable subjectiveness which only when developed could submit to cultural conditioning. This suggests that masculinity and femininity are certain permanent extremities never however appearing in a clear and opposing form but circulating in various different permutations. Identity is manifested by grouped combinations of both possible extremities. In practise this means there are not merely two genders, but infinitive combinations further complicated by polyphonic sexuality. Each subject is a certain mosaic of femininity and masculinity forced to negotiate its existence in relation to the accepted cultural norm which allows fulfilment to one form of gender to the exclusion of its opposite. In its popular approach this concept pervades common feminist, even increasingly sexual, gender demands and sexual elasticity on the constantly merging feminine and masculine identity of man, the disclosure of the hidden within (oneself) opposite sex and its role on the road to love-erotic happiness.

Thus, ONONE can be viewed as the PROTOTYPE OF POLYMORPHOUS GENDER AND SEXUALITY, a reflection of the spiritual and sensual capabilities lurking in man. The same symbolism is often conveyed in contemporary art by flowers, by their androgenous and sensual nature. Photographs by Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe of flowers blooming in full colour and form conjure up infinite erotic associations.

Alicja Zebrowska's art is an incredibly rare Polish voice in the international artistic discussion on the contemporary condition of the androgen myth - surprising in its optimistic and captivating vision as though defying its own dismal, backward and repressive cultural context.

Within the ONONE cycle, the series Hypnosis and Autonecrophagos are situated precisely opposite Assimilation, between Affirmatio and Continuum. Colour defines the boarder as though differentiating the various stages, phases in life, time of day and seasons of the year. Dark Gothic shades of the hypnotic seance, highlighted by the unnatural yellow light corresponds to the deep hallucinogenic blue of the cosmic metamorphosis. The futuristic, glittering silver of artificial dimensions of childhood and self-awareness lead towards a vivid explosion through greens and yellow brightness of revitalised and sensual nature. Alicja has chosen to confront two forms of beauty. The gloomy beauty of the subconscious and the rampant beauty of full bloom and joy. She encloses both in one cycle accomplishing an alchemic synthesis of opposites. Her alchemic RE-BIS is in fact ONONE spinning in the continuous process of change leading towards perfection.

Scenes in green meadows and forests are characterised by a specific mood of bliss, delight and happiness. They are heavenly and idyllic landscapes of abundance. The phantasm reaches culmination attaining physical fulfilment. These pictures are astonishingly reminiscent to Duchamp's last great masterpiece, the installation "Etant donnes", in which after a period of experimentation the artist returned to presentation and colourful visualisation. Through crevices in a wooden door the spectator can observe an extraordinary, hyper-realistic panorama of a naked woman whose face is hidden, lying amidst a green landscape at the edge of a small waterfall and holding in her hand a gas lamp. This piece of work contains and closes Marcel Duchamp's entire symbolism of art. Its open eroticism affirms and unmasks voyeurism.

In Alicja Żebrowska's photogrammes, ONONE is arranged in a similar, but symmetrically reversed position, in an identical idyllic landscape at the edge of a stream. The lamp is replaced by an astonishing machine which pumps the nectar. In this analogy voyeurism determines an excellent interpretational track. Just as Duchamp for his own and his audiences' pleasure eventually introduced "la fiancee" naked, declothed of masking mechanisms so Alicja visualises ONONE exposing her to us. This piece, like Zebrowska's entire work is obscenely voyeuristic. The spectator is placed in the position of a peeping Tom to a separate and closed world with its sensual experiences. In addition, the pictures have been so constructed that they seduce visually and symbolically, allowing to draw pleasure from them. These presentations of strange delights were created for the pleasure of looking at them and being a plaything for the imagination.

"The X Files" episode entitled "GenderBender" tells the tale of a closed religious sect whose members have developed through genetic mutation the ability to change sex. This process is linked to regeneration and death which have become a transformation stage between one gender and the other. Some of these beings can change sex immediately, at any given time, taking on a form that makes up part of their unusual identity. In addition, due to the animal like phenomena of luring partners, these paranormal beings possess extraordinary powers of sexual attraction. However sex with them is inevitable brutal death for the human. The apocalyptic "X Files" is a catalogue of fears and nightmares of the end of a millennium - its darker side. Thus this is a typical, for the series, reinterpretation of a cultural archetype.

According to Alicja Zebrowska's vision, androgenism is the exact opposite, penetrated by luminous New Age energies. Fantastical pictures and symbols created by the artist astound by their colour, wonderfulness, strange beauty and secretiveness in correspondence with iconography and visuality of art towards the end of a century, and millennium, where the aesthetics of the extraordinary and the androgen myth have regained their central yet newly defined position. In experiencing the breakthrough of time, Alicja is looking at the world after the world and is introducing into it an audience starved of the imagination and hope, escaping from a civilisation that almost believed in its own end.

ONONE is a picture of a NEW PARADISE in which original sin, banishment and separation have not occurred and have no right to existence. It is a PARADISE created in the imagination of an optimistic and perfidious visionary who is attempting to change a fear in the approaching apocalypse to feeling of a better eternal happiness.