Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało

—the text accompanied "Illustrated Long Ago"
exhibition in Contemporary Museum Wrocław, 2012

Pieces, fragments of images, cuttings from photos. Too little or too much. A bit of a dress caught in the corner of one’s eye, a profile, a face seen through a keyhole, a silhouette behind a windowpane. We look against the light. It’s too dark or too bright. We have the impression we are watching, hidden from sight, that we’ve been admitted backstage, into the dressing room, given inside information about what’s officially on display. Images and textures that have been deconstructed, removed from their contexts, acquire new meanings, becoming open to interpretation. When we break down rigid structures and break up images, we arouse emotions. It is witty and inspiring, but there is also an anxiety, a tension, a subconscious desire to restore the Earth’s order, to arrange the pieces of the puzzle, to seek a classical notion of harmony.

Regardless of the topic that Kama Sokolnicka takes up, certain themes recur obsessively in her work: tension and anxiety, the motif of a secret, blurred vision, and the deconstruction of the image all occur in the course of her work. This time, the spirits have been called up by the avant-garde. A topic perfectly suited to the artist because she loves bankrupt ideas, ideas that have lost out aside.

One such idea is the avant-vanguard, a revolution that has to take place, a transgression that is so desperately needed by the culture, but which is by definition flawed. As a rule, the storm, the noise, and the cry are child’s play, an intro., after which it comes time to become an adult. Sokolnicka brilliantly captures this thread, showing in her work all the retro toys of the avant-garde: woman as a toy, the idealized figure, a beautiful object, too distant to come into contact with him, to communicate in an earthly way. The dream woman of modernist artist—a lifeless muse, a bloodless doll. Cut from the photo and inserted into a frame. The collage technique that the artist uses brilliantly captures this sad origami. Or a woman as powerful as Alice after drinking growth potion, strong and dangerous, possessing secret knowledge and tools. The veil that Sokolnicka places on the faces of her heroines spin fairy tales and a narrative of objectification. It is mannequins that are ordered to play the roles of sad divas, reduced to mechanical beauty. It is—as Susan Sontag wrote in “On Camp”—the androgenic emptiness behind ideal beauty. References to Schulz’s dummies are contained in even more surrealistic and absurd collages by the artist. Plastic—this artificial skin, cold and hard to the touch, is inevitably associated with death. As do women “trapped in crippled, automatic identities”. Another toy of the avant-garde, exposed by Sokolnicka, is multiplication and reproduction. Here again, the collage technique permits the object to be multiplied, creating the illusion of an afterimage, a still, an error in the matrix, reality gets jammed.

This fixation on a single point eerily multiplied, looped, rhymes beautifully with the obsession and ironic neuroticism inscribed in Kama Sokolnicka’s work. Figures and matter, more or less literal repetitions—these famous avant-garde tools acquire a new dimension. She shows them in her own way to talk about the illusions and uncertainties of perception, or, more broadly—the nature of the world. But among these works we also find more literal references, such as those to Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke. The Młodziaks—clean and well ironed, are a caricature of contemporary celebrities. The stiffly posed and completely unnatural portraits from catalogues from the 1970s that the artist uses are reminiscent of Diane Arbus’s camp photographs—with its deliberate display of pretence, overt conventionality, and posing. The geometrically arranged hair and perfectly styled outfits of these models—youth, health and sport—in the contemporary context becomes a critique of the discourse of fitness: another pop-culture myth, according to which eating broccoli and jogging are recipes for a long and successful life. But in the works of Sokolnicka there is also an element of fun, and even a naive admiration of the avant-garde. The moment when art and life finally become something deliciously frivolous. This tone, strongly present in the exhibition, shows that the artist is, in the end, ambivalent towards the vanguard. Because she likes lightness and energy, the charisma of revolution, jokes and the audacity of the beatnik, without which transgression would be impossible. A moving faith in there being a place further out, where it is nicer and better. Because Sokolnicka likes bankrupt ideas. Ideas that have lost out.

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