(Phot. Bartosz Górka)
Starter Gallery, Warsaw, 2014
Some thoughts on the artistic practice of Alicja Bielawska
We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.
John Berger, “Ways of Seeing”
Each piece in Alicja Bielawska’s body of work stands on its own, yet taken together they reveal a modular significance, unfolding among and between them a set of multiple layers and vectors like puzzle pieces, a complexity immediately apparent. This idea of a whole becomes even more obvious through titling; works often bear the same title as the exhibition, with the addition of a subtitle or number. Of course, this show is an exception, named as it is after the sculpture Mufka na trapezie.
Alicja Bielawska’s drawings, installations and objects are characterized by a delicate, almost fragile restraint, that belies a blade-like clarity in her approach to form. The sculpture Exercises for Two Lines consists of two metal rods bent into geometrical elements that form an arch within the gallery. This figure is repeated, upside down. The curved sections are covered with coloured fabric. The wrapping, especially in relationship to the drawings, frees the piece from the two-dimensional graphic line, revealing a haptic quality. Suddenly you want to touch it, to know what it is made of, how it balances, what it reminds you of. In spite of all its transparency it becomes a kind of hurdle; the gaze is caught and the viewer is captured in that triangle formed by himself and the work in the space.
Drawings, sometimes presented on shelves, become objects in Alicja Bielawska´s exhibition layouts. They are both prefigurations of spacial installations and independent works. In the shown drawings, the ink skilfully creates a continuous line – without breaks or correction. Juxtaposed against the sharp precision of the line are coloured balls balanced upon the the edges of the shaped
form. In other drawings colours are used to try out potential and suggested movements in a playful way that won´t happen in the realized sculpture. Colour (in the form of fabric, crayons, or modelling clay) is an important element in the language of Alicja Bielawska and adds a softness and playfulness to the always underlying sharpness of lines or metal rods.
This sharpness is an important part in her form-finding process, described by the artist as transforming and abstracting a taken form. The procedure of carving out a geometrical figure, searching for suitable materials, techniques and colours gives the sculptures substance, creates a certain atmosphere and tension as the works trigger a line of associations, connotations and faded memories – references to places and objects in everyday life. It sets thoughts in motion. If these works were shown in Kandinsky’s famous Bauhaus seminar Introduction to the Abstract Elements of Form, they would have been well received; Alicja Bielawska is interested in a sensitization of perception through form. Form, however, is merely one element used in relation to the others. Another reference could be the Open Form Theory of Polish architect and artist Oskar Hansen. This concept includes ideas on art process, interactivity, the revision of the artist-audience hierarchy through respecting the recipient’s individuality and creating a spatial atmosphere conducive to reflection. Alicja Bielawska’s works do this, calling up associations which with childhood memories of climbing scaffolds on play grounds. This “somehow familiar feeling” is a consequence of the fact that memory and geometry are bound up with one another in our brains. So one thought, link, memory leads to the next one; Alicja Bielawska’s works trigger a chain of associations in the viewer while resisting narrative.
Alicja Bielawska’s visual language unfolds through the gallery. At the end of the viewer’s journey is the name-giving work, Mufka na trapezie, a title which exactly describes its object, a muff on a trapeze. Having experienced the artistic language of the work in the exhibition, the viewer is ready for this final exercise; the game starts again.