DISAPPOINT OF VIEW
—text from the book—catalogue Disappoint of View
accompanying the exhibition of the same title, BWA Wrocław 2012
Disappointments are the theme of Kama Sokolnicka’s latest exhibition. In her view, they are not only inherent in the transformation that our country underwent, but also refer to the modern times in general. If modernism was described as the disenchanted world (Max Weber), then the world after it may be called the disappointed world. The matter of disappointments is not only woven by scientific revolutions, biographies, geography, architectural utopias, space exploration, advertising photography of the seventies or the contemporary information bomb. The recent financial crises also show the true face of post-capitalist disappointment, laying bare the mechanism of constructing monstrous expectations which have suddenly collapsed (again).
The exhibition is a summary of the Disappoint of View project on which the artist has been working for the last two years. Coexisting during this time with parallel emerging ideas and interventions, the cycle has become a kind of a diary, with its successive fragments attached to, or detached from it:disciplined post-media painting, installations balancing on the fine line between illusion and its discredit, but also effects of a nostalgic photo session, found objects and, last not least, collages made from black-and-white newspaper clippings from the times when they described the determined optimism of the post-war, and then cold-war, modernization.
The pun title—Disappoint of View—is a subversive semantic operation replacing the moment of a picture’s construction with its partial disintegration. In the representative sphere, the instruments of this operation are perspective and scale, key elements both for the picture and any other illusion. The term “disappoint of view” is chosen by Sokolnicka to mean “the point of view from which everything tends to look disappointing.” The late-Baroque illusionist painting built its perspective calculating with scientific precision the model, ideal viewpoint, from which the viewer could fully appreciate the proper meaning of the image. Here, the works constituting the cycle deny the very existence of such a point, with all the consequences resulting from it. The picture is lit against the perspective of an immanent viewer. And thank God for that.
Kama Sokolnicka locates her “disappoint” of observation right in front of the disappointed condition which is inevitable. Disappointment with one view sets us on a journey, is a crisis that mobilizes and activates a new chain of observations. It is at the same time a consequence of the world’s disintegration and its affirmation. It results from the realization that no matter how tempted we are, we cannot see things from a single perspective anymore, an experience which is attempted to be reconciled with the philosophy of suspicion blamed for the failure of modernity.
Acknowledging the drifting point of observation, in which criss-crossing, mutually exclusive viewpoints meet, normally leads to a loss of balance due to philosophical vertigo, whereas in Sokolnicka’s project it is a truly comical moment. No wonder—rationally or irrationally formatted expectations define the way we see things, and the disappointment resulting from the clash between those expectations and their actual realization is what fulfils the Aristotelian definition of comicality. That is why Kama Sokolnicka’s collages appear so funny, even though the way they are constructed are as abstract as Schwitters’ Merzbau composition.
The issue of viewpoint, perception and visualization, is in Disappoint of View—just as in the artist’s previous projects—connected with the mechanisms of our cognition, the way we project and validate them in the process of “producing knowledge.” The exhibition itself is meant to be a kind of a visual essay documenting the obscure, unclear processes and phenomena, just as in early experiments from the pioneer times of the scientific era, which—despite a number of disappointing explanations—never cease to fascinate. They also, or perhaps above all, clash with the revealed unsatisfactory condition we are in, as well as the positive potential of disappointment.
Tristes Tropiques may be seen as an introduction to the whole Disappoint of View project. It is composed of two elements, suggesting two interpretation strands, emanating from different points in time—a series of newspaper collages with the recurrent motif of domesticated exotic plants, and a photograph resulting from an absurd photo session. The elegant, full-colour photo shows common tents with flysheets (tropiki in Polish), the kind typical of the socialist-era campsites from the 1970’s and 80’s. It is a personal journey in time for the artist, who grew up in the crisis times of those two decades, further emphasized by the fact that the session was located in her parents’ garden farm. The simple construction of the tents has not changed since the times of the first explorers, but the contemporary, trivial meaning of the Polish word tropik (for the outer layer of the tent sheltering it from adverse weather conditions) now appears to have a more, so to speak, disappointing semantic impact.
The collages, in which the heavily framed images are composed within diptych or triptych sequences, bring to mind the Kuleshov Effect. They juxtapose the pictures of the tropical, if domesticated, potted or garden plants with the posed gestures of human figures, provoking the viewer to both reconstruct and question some strange, revue narrative. The moment in which the ephemeral, unclear visions emerge makes the recipient realize how active he/she is in creating the mental images and their exotic contexts.
The title of the cycle clearly refers to Claude Levi-Strauss’ fundamental, introspective book Tristes Tropiques. The French anthropologist and structuralist was described by Susan Sontag in her essay Anthropologist as a Hero as a typical representative of the modern era: homeless, intellectually mobile between the two contradictory impulses—the need to identify with the Other, and its colonization through understanding. His heroism is in renouncing a static perspective, both political and historical: “fatigued rationality seeks itself in the ecstasy of sex and drugs, consciousness seeks its meaning in unconsciousness, and humanistic problems seek their oblivion in scientific “value neutrality” and quantification.” Just as Sontag’s “hero,” the viewer, aware of his total commitment, becomes an “artist, adventurer or psychoanalyst.”
The motif of an exploratory mission returns in all her collages and paintings. Kama Sokolnicka expresses the inspiring ambivalence of the foundations of Western individualism, its products and consequences. The disappointment brought by modern undertakings, catastrophic for other ethnic groups and their cultures, has become the foundation of contemporary post-colonial awareness, which is especially important for the identities of the countries from the so-called former eastern bloc.
Using the quest motif, the artist “processes” one of the oldest matters in art, in which exploration is a special case characterizing modern times. Combining the acts of learning and expansion of power, the artist has found unique means of expression in cartography—she delves in the fully accessible and expanding Internet archive of images, descriptions and travel logs to select significant elements with enough illustrative impact to allow her to ignore words. She employs tricks typical of film editing, often making them actual subjects of her works, as in the case of suspense, whose meaning she extends to the mechanisms regulating the functioning of information flow and media presence in films, wars, history.
Associations with the cinema, avant-garde editing and the interpretation of suspense as a model of encountering reality – all redirect our attention towards another area crucial in reading the Disappoint of View collages. What we mean here is, of course, psychoanalysis, the issue which Kama Sokolnicka addresses directly in her Vienna cycle. It includes portraits of the actionist Hermann Nitsch and Viennese Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, two radical rebels whose work is both admired in certain circles and considered scandalous in others. Even today, their output is sometimes seen as a symptom of denying the existence of problems in modern-day societies. The works both reverse the conventional language of modern portrait. The curtain, which should provide the show with a frame, almost completely covers the characters’ faces instead. It is a literal visual representation of the denial mechanism, the cover and return to the anachronistic phase “before” revealing their obscene excess. Literalness, mechanical substitution and even slapstick constitute the formal repertoire of Disappoint. It is easy to notice that the collages use the syntax of psychoanalysis. Reversals, substitutions and inversions of relationships between elements is the rhetoric which constructs the comical situations and those which arouse fear. Both are connected with what is elusive and unclear, what tends to escape our attention in the smoothly integrated, illusory picture. In Sokolnicka’s collages, surprise and disappointment appear as strictly formal elements with such intensity that our attention focuses on them. They do not create new illusions. Quite on the contrary—they allow us to see our own gaze.