AN AESTHETIC OF ALIENATION
—text from a publication summary
the residency in la Malterie,
translation from French: Ellen Leblond-Schrader
Today, creation is subject to production demands, just as all communications are subject to the same unrelenting speed, and so is the rest of society. Forced to compete with others, the artist multiplies his/her movements, traveling from one creation space to another to insure a maximum of visibility. Kama Sokolnicka highlights this phenomenon in the project Jet Lag. The title refers to “jet lag,” the physiological condition affecting a person who has traveled quickly across several timezones. It generally manifests as extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration. But, what interests the artist goes beyond these symptomatic discomforts caused by disrupted circadian rhythms: it is the relationship that has formed between this type of dysfunction and the acceleration of transportation speeds due to the globalization of the economy.
In fact, the artist’s interests are part of a larger dialogue concerning our relationship with time that was initiated by intellects, including the philosopher and sociologist Hartmut Rosa. In his text, Alienation and Acceleration, he suggests that the phenomenon of social acceleration leads to forms of alienation relative to time and space, to objects and actions, and to oneself and others. He defines alienation as the feeling of frustration concerning our own actions even though they result from decisions made of our own volition: it is the sum of the profound structural distortions in our relationship with the world. In this era of globalization, time is increasingly thought of as an element of compression or even the annihilation of space. We are no longer attached to the objects around us because they are quickly replaced, an attribute of the concept of planned obsolescence. We multiply our experiences and meetings without ever really taking ownership of them. Therefore, we increasingly become strangers even to ourselves.
Yet, it seems that Kama Sokolnicka’s project Jet Lag adopts an aesthetic of alienation. According to the artist, the semantic analysis of the words in the expression “jet lag” in fact reveals ambivalence specific to our time. On one hand, the word “jet”—signifying speed—evokes the performance demands and competition that push us to continually go faster and faster. On the other hand, the term “lag”—signifying truancy and slowness—assumes a desire of deceleration in order to fully take advantage of life’s experiences. This apparent paradox could bring about a form of inertia but instead finds resolution here in the artist’s creative process. Kama Sokolnicka makes use of an imaginary world that stems from transpositions and she multiplies the associations linked to words and ideas to produce metaphors concerning this particular state of ruin as well as individual and societal disorder. Her solution of found objects and fragmented images, isolated from their original context, translates the individual’s broken relationship with his/her environment. However, this group of works (whether collages or installations) comes together in the end and combines into one multiform and polysemous artwork.
It is doubtlessly helpful to recall that the first leg of the project Jet Lag took place June 2013 in Wroclaw within the framework of the event Bazaristan, which mixed thoughts on architecture, economy, and art, concerning the uncertain future of a fruits and vegetable market. On this occasion, Kama Sokolnicka proposed a plaster cast of an unfolded paper airplane, which mimicked the wavy pattern of the market’s sheet metal roof. The artwork was displayed under glass, set away from the back in order to create the illusion of suspension. It was perched on a wooden pedestal and displayed between rows of food. This small cabinet, a sort of “white cube” extracted from its artistic context, was inserted like an alien form into the market’s heterogeneous make-up. With this stealth gesture, Kama Sokolnicka attempts to capture the gap between the field of artistic practice and everyday life. The use of plaster, a poor material if ever there was one, reinforces the hypothesis of interdependence between the plastic form of an artwork and its original context of creation. The work’s fragility thus refers to the urban market’s precarious state, subject to the good will of real estate developers. It is interesting to note that in English the term, “Krach,” designates the collapse of the stock or goods exchange on Wall Street. It has now been assimulated into the word “crash,” which is also employed for an airplane’s forced landing. Here in Kama Sokolnicka’s artwork, the paper airplane appeared as a symbol for the failure of ideals, such as a child abandoning his fantasy of flying, but also of a society in crises, victim of the disillusionment and errancy.
Having grown up in Poland at the end of the communist regime in the 1980s, the artist witnessed political crises and important changes in her country’s economy. The arrival of democracy and capitalism provoked upheavals never before seen in the societal structures. Therefore, the gap between the young and older generations today seems irreconcilable. Lulled by aspirations of the future and wealth, the youth complain of the lack of ambition in the state’s vision, whereas the elders nostalgically recall the past. Now, we should look at the second definition of the word “alienation,” this time it’s employed as a legal term and not as a philosophical one. According to the dictionary, alienation is, a) the transmission of a good or a right to another; and b) abandonment or loss of a natural right . Words with two so contradictory definitions are rare in the French language. We can see here the metaphor for the postmodern artist’s condition; he/she is trapped between the refusing and passively accepting tradition. Kama Sokolnicka is halfway between these two attitudes: she builds an artwork on civilization’s ruins. She appropriates the remainders of the past without critically judging or accusing them and reorganizes them according to a new thought logic. She destroys, pastes over, smashes, cuts, and knots, these fragments from her immediate surroundings and also incorporates elements of the past, such as architectural magazines from the 1960s and 1970s that once belonged to her father. Here, personal and societal histories are concertinaed.
After her intervention at the Wroclaw market, Kama Sokolnicka was invited to continue her project Jet Lag at two residencies, one at OMI international Art Center in New York State, and the other at la malterie in Lille. She found herself immersed in two creative contexts that were foreign to her. The contrast between Eastern European and North American culture provoked fascination as well as fear. The series of artworks Sundowning emerged from this period of creativity and includes the collage Vanishing Point (Empire). Here, skiers tread on mountains of untouched snow under the Sun’s bright light while a lion authoritatively gazes at them. The sun and lion are symbols of power associated with royalty and intimate a downward motion. The artwork’s title might also allude to J.G. Ballard’s novel Empire of the Sun where the famous science-fiction writer tells the story of an adolescent in Shanghai the day Japan declares war on the US, England, and Holland. As a camp prisoner, he learns that his wrath is nothing compared with the cruelty of human nature. In this work, Kama Sokolnicka attempts to show that individual destinies are intimately tied to that of a nation. This parable of imprisonment also appears in the series American Dream, composed of photographs of typical American suburban homes immediately recognizable by their immaculate lawns, basketball hoops, and of course flags billowing in the wind. However, these photographs are prisoners behind a mashragiya that allows one to see out without being seen.
The residence in Lille is itself hatched from other preoccupations, relating to memory and forgetfulness. The blue-collar element of the Wazemmes neighborhood reminds the artist of her native Poland. Hence, she gleams or finds objects in flea markets—principally fabric and metal reminiscent of the industrial past of the Nord-Pas de Calais region—that she then brings back to her studio and incorporates into a mass that little by little becomes coherent. The artwork Heavy Metal (Jet Lag Flutes) is a good example of her act of appropriation. Here, she uses invisible nylon wire to suspend from the ceiling two oblong iron bars recuperated from outside la malterie residency. Air currents cause them to collide, creating a light and airy melody. In contrast, a hexagonal mass of a kilogram that supersedes a pile of plaster (Kilogram) reminds us of the contingencies of terrestrial attraction. Thus, the loss of spatio-temporal landmarks and the physical sensation of this discrepancy appears no longer as a theoretical subject, but as an eminent reality. This state of relative discomfort can be seen as materializing in the collages named after sleep disorders, such as Excessive Daytime Sleepiness or Restless Legs Syndrome. In the artwork Remembrane, several black fabrics have been draped on a metal support of the same color. The title is a contraction of two words: “membrane,” a wall that only allows certain substances to pass through and filters out others; and the word “remember,” the act of recollection. Together they symbolize the process of remembering which filters out specific elements, such as certain unhappy memories, and privileges joyful ones. Similar to an interplanetary traveler who arrives for her first visit to Earth, Kama Sokolnicka collects objects as if they were precious artifacts of a very recent past. She thus forms an archeology of our modern civilization, interpreting in her own way the use of these objects after a brand new score.