Cutouts / Wycinanki, 2019

Cutots / Wycinanki, 2019
Textile (polyester) 190 x 150 cm
Wood, plywood, paint, textile 4 [x] 172 x 66 x 4 cm
Ceramic, 39 x 3 x 3,5 cm
Exhibition view, Wolskie Centrum Kultury, Warsaw, 2019

For years, my grandmother Halina Bielawska has been making cut-outs inspired by Jewish tradition.

Paper cut-outs are used in Jewish culture to decorate the home, but are also closely related to religious customs and ceremonies. My grandmother has been learning this craft under the supervision of Monika Krajewska, an artist whose work focuses on Jewish paper cutting.

My grandmother cuts out small pieces of paper and slowly shapes start to emerge: symbolic floral (grapevine, tree of life) and animal (deer, tigers, fish, birds) motifs, as well as menorahs, crowns, and houses. These shapes blend seamlessly to form a unified design on the paper’s surface. Between the shapes are empty areas of dark background, which make it possible to see the images. Cut-outs are often symmetrical, with motifs repeated on the other half of the sheet of paper. Each cut-out creation may take many hours spread over several days. These cut-outs are not only images, but also a record of precise hand movements.

In my works, created in dialogue with my grandmother’s works, I reproduce these cut out, empty fragments in other materials – fabric and plywood. I select only certain details, enlarge them, separate them from the original images in order to discover new arrangements and constellations.

I impose the openwork nature of cut-outs onto objects that relate to everyday life – a screen and a curtain, which suggest separation or covering something, but they are also light and movable. The holes cut in their surfaces reveal what is beyond them; they don’t create concrete images. In the screen and fabrics, empty spaces are arranged in undefined patterns and repeated in the rhythm of reflection, similarly as in the cutting out of a folded sheet of paper. They reveal things, in contrast to my grandmother’s cut-outs where the empty shapes make the images emerge.

Traditional Jewish cut-outs were used as interior decoration, but the purpose of their symbols was to protect the house. In addition, precise cutting is associated with a kind of contemplation of shapes and time; gestures of covering, revealing, and seperating have a power to tame and create space. In my works, I transform the images of my grandmother’s cut-outs into understated and repetitive patterns. I focus on details and gestures – my grandmother’s and mine – which intertwine in these moments, intertwine in the folding of fabrics, the movement of curtains, and the braiding of hair.

Alicja Bielawska