Anxiety: On the Painting and Objects of Bogusława Bortnik-Morajda

Andrzej Bednarczyk

Anxiety shows through an unclosed door. Between me and the world there is just a narrow gap and a streak of light, to which I cling with the eye of reason and heart. The gap is large enough to accommodate one eye only. Perhaps this is why I see indistinctly, or rather inaccurately. I am aware that this singleness takes away the depth, that what I see is more complex than what I perceive. I perceive things the way they appear to be; since they seem now one way, now another, I am filled with anxiety, and there’s nothing strange about that. Everybody would like to know that their eyes and mind don’t deceive them.

Anyone of sound mind will shudder at the sight of a dead, porous rock watching them with a thousand of crocodile eyes, as in the work Schron 1 (Shelter 1) from 2014. The rock and the eyes are too real to secure peace of mind by writing them off as fantasy or regarding them as inhabitants of the land of Morpheus. So what are they? I’m not sure.

There seems to be a closer affinity with dreams in a work from the series ‘Światło nieba’ (Light of the Sky; 2016), where material objects are ‘inserted’ in the space of a large-format print depicting probably the structure of diatoms. But this concrete identification of the type of vision does not eliminate the feeling of anxiety, probably because the viewer and the dream vision remain in the same, real space of the exhibition room. Imagine you wake up from a nightmare and it’s still there, it’s real.

Also real are the stones from which the tree grows in the work Rajska jabłoń (Paradise Apple; 2014), but the tree in question is blatantly artificial, not even trying to pretend it is real. The biblical archetype has turned into an immense plush materialization of a phantom, or is it a safe piece of furniture that belongs in the madman’s padded cell in a mental hospital? I don’t know.

I cannot arrive at a definite understanding of these works. They continue to elude my attempts at grasping their meaning. Every time, the unbearable gap of uncertainty remains. And again I press my eye against that narrow gap in the hope of seeing through to the other side and achieving a calming certitude. But I continue to suspect myself of overinterpreting these works, so I remain anxious.

The anxiety does not go away even when I get to look from the perspective of the sky at the fate of wars and conflicts going on at my feet. In Wahadło Foucaulta (Foucault’s Pendulum; 2014) I can see that all the strategies of the toy soldiers remain hopelessly irrelevant in the face of the physical determinants which, like the old Greek fate, decide what is there and what it must become.

How did the artist achieve such powerful means of expression? For some time now, Bortnik-Morajda has used specific perspectives in her works as an important means of expression.

I first noticed this device in the painting Małżeństwo M.G. (Marriage M.G.; 2007), where she used a bird’s-eye view, which expels me from the depicted space of interpersonal relations. Standing in front of this painting, I feel as if I were watching the event while remaining in another dimension of reality. No matter how close I may get, I will never be a part of the event. I am filled with a sense of my own powerlessness, inability to interfere in what is happening. Even if pity led me to try to join the irrevocably separated and remote islets into one, I am in a different, alien dimension.

It is also the case with the above-mentioned Foucault’s Pendulum.

By contrast, I have to crane my neck to see the work Cumulus (2014). The so-called worm’s-eye view was also used in the work Ulotność (Fleetingness; 2015), in which the motifs of weightless flowers and figures against the sky are seen from among the grass. In both cases, they are indeed parallel worlds, separated by a mutually impassable event horizon.

I regard these compositional visual devices as an important novelty in Bortnik-Morajda’s practice compared with her earlier works from the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s, such as Odbicie (Reflection; 1988), Kobiety – Beata (Women: Beata; 1998), L. E., cykl ‘Kobieta’ (L. E. from the Series Woman; 1996–97) and C. D., cykl ‘Dwoje’ (C. D. from the Series The Two of Them; 1999). In each of these instances, the motif is represented horizontally, which, together with the format of the paintings, introduces me and the figure into a shared space, a commonality of experience and fate.

Throughout her artistic career, Bogusława Bortnik- Morajda has made many stylistic, technological and articulatory about-turns. What ties her work together is an irremovable existential anxiety, mentioned at the very beginning of this text.

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