Krystyna Ziach
Solo exhibition A Chamber of Mirrors 1994, installation,
The Netherlands Photography Museum, Sittard NL
Curated by Reinhold Miesselbeck, former curator for photography and new media for the Ludwig Museum Cologne
This installation is composed of photoworks and photo-sculptures from the series : The Garden of Illusion, Melancholy, Japan and Metamorphosis, made in the period between 1984-1994

The Infinite Reflection of Everything in Everything, A Chamber of Mirrors

Krystyna Ziach never renounced the education as a sculptress she received at the Academy of Fine Arts of Cracow, Poland. A feeling for space is apparent in al her photoworks. In the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Sittard, the Netherlands, the emphasis is therefore on her three-dimensional work. A Chamber of Mirrors is not an indiscriminate retrospective of ten years of photoworks from the period 1984-1994, but rather a carefully thought-out exhibition with a leitmotif: the illusion of space. Even the use of colour is geared to creating unity. For the first time photographic objects from different stages in her artistic career are cautiously confronted with each other / .. / All her photoworks, which are created thematically, centre on the illusion of space as a philosophical issue. Her work may be called self-willed; it cannot be categorized under a certain trend or style. Ziach’s recent work most reminds us of some of the photographic installations of the British artist Helen Chadwick, even though there is a world of difference as far as content is concerned. Ziach talks about her ‘photo sculptures’ when commenting on the ten objects from her most recent series, A Garden of Illusion (1993), part of which was exhibited in Gallery RAM in Rotterdam last year. The series is all about the mystery of reflection and centres on ‘mimesis’, or the infinite reflection of everything in everything / .. /
The mirror, a constantly recurring and dominant element in her work, refers to the introvert narcissistic character typical of the artist. In an iconological sense the mirror represents transience, it is a vanitas symbol. The mirror appears for the first time in the triangular photowork Infinity from the series Japan (1987/88). In this work a small sculpture of a Buddhist monk is multiplied and endlessly copied in a lying, similar mirror. Indeed, in the land of the rising sun the mirror is an essential part of culture and refers to the infinite imagination of the gods. It is a project full of symbolism created after a stay of several months in Japan, by which Ziach introduced colour photography in her work, as well as the first spatial objects. The project Japan has been on view in its entirety at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam in 1989. Associating with the dualism typical of the melancholic character, the mirror in the subsequent project Melancholia (1989/90) rather refers to confusion. In this project mirrors are emphatically used to create confusion in a rational set-up. These are sometimes chaotic scenes, in which sculptural space is created in a more or less strained manner, yet everything remains compressed in the plane. A more tangible sculptural quality is created by the heavily executed, hand-made frames of the photo-graphs. The dark frameworks of tropical hardwood force the images into taut geometrical shapes, Ziach calls them ‘archetypical’ shapes. A third meaning to be attributed to the mirror fits into the tradition of the so-called trompe l’oeil; the illusion of space and infinity in art. In Space of Imagination, from the series Melancholia, the search for the imaginary space is presented in a special way. A woman, posing in an awkward foetal position, is cut off from all kinds of mathematical elements above her, by a horizontal line – the symbolic separation of the ‘imagination’. She stares at this setting of spatial drawings which seem to float in a cosmic universe. Even in her earliest work, the series Metamorphosis (1983-1986), Ziach already showed her fascination for the shapes and symbolism of mathematics and astronomy, seen as separate from their theoretical foundations. In Sittard a modest selection from this first black-and-white series is shown in order to create a more complete picture. In this work intimate performances concerning the relationship between painting and photography are embodied in a number of photographs. Among these early works Geometry I (1985) in a sense occupies a key position, because in this work Ziach already plays ingeniously with the illusory effect of space. The photograph is a prelude to the later Melancholia series. Geometry I shows how, within a painted setting, her body seems to be part of the supporting construction of an imaginary cube, her painted body forming a chameleonic whole with the background. For this occasion the photographs – which originally were of modest size – have been blown up to more than one meter by one meter. This violates the intimate nature the work, the series is hanging in a corridor of the museum, separate from the other work.
If the earlier work centred on expressiveness in painterly elements and the treatment of imaginary space in the plane, ”with her project A Garden of Illusion Ziach started the sculptural conquest of the (exhibition) space itself”, according to Iris Dik in the accompanying catalogue. It is work which radiates more quiet, as opposed to the previous Melancholia series which is laden with symbolism and art-historical references. Ziach consciously limited her means, the nature of the objects is monumental and minimalistic. The series is made of solid three-dimensional objects: floor and wall objects with volume, based on simple geometrical shapes such as the circle, the triangle and the square. The spatial floor object A Memory of Rain, on which the exhibition is centred, has the most complex and at the same time the most dramatic shape. It looks like s huge open slide frame, threatening to slam shut. Its position largely determines the placement of the other objects in the bright exhibition space which is several times reflected in it. Ziach calls this ‘a way to create negative images’, as it were behind the mirror. Seen with the eye of a sculptor, the exhibition has been arranged in dialogue with the elongated room offered by the Nederlands Fotomuseum. In their ‘physical’ confrontation, the ‘Gesamtkunstwerke’ have been clinically arranged. The different series are kept separate from each other, in the central room only two spatial objects from the series Japan are cautiously confronted with the recent works. In A Garden of Illusion, Ziach partly worked with photographs from her archive, setting them anew in black hardwood frames and combining them with mirrors which have been treated in such a way that the glass seems weather-stained. The blown-up photographic image and its reflection have been corroded by time. The work is more and more about the surreal power of the reflection. Her own body, the model – so present in all her previous work – has had to make way for the mirror as space-creating and nostalgic element. A total of ten photoworks have been executed partly in monochrome blue and partly in sepia tones. From these tones the initially black-and-white image acquires an entirely new dimension. Ziach associates the deep blue with the imagination and with dreams, the cool touch symbolizing feeling in a spiritual sense; whereas the warm sepia colour has to do with earthly things, in a more metaphorical sense with things of the flesh, with plain eroticism. The photoworks in sepia are mostly shown as floor objects, literally as ‘pedestrian’ objects; together, by the purity of their form, they have to create an equilibrium. The title The Curtain of Pleasure incites the imagination to perceive an erotic element to be looked for behind a ‘Magrittian’ triptych. It is a large surrealist folding screen. An auburn, neatly-draped curtain reaching to the floor constitutes the centre panel; the smaller volets infinitely mirror the curtain in weather-stained glass. The work raises questions and challenges the imagination. The counterpart of this rather closed object is the work A Sense of Time, another huge ‘folding screen’ consisting of a central photograph of an blue sky that is reflected in the weather-stained glass of the volets. In fact this is a documentary photo about the illusion of time and timelessness. This is one of the photographs from A Garden of Illusion with an iconic character, pictures of rising wisps of smoke, clouds and streets have the same quality, because they are permanent and as it were unaffected by time. Other photographs have a clear autobio-graphical, sometimes nostalgic, character. Detail shots of facades from the Jewish ghetto in Cracow and of a large wet kerbstone in Paris are embodied in a heavy, conceptual form. The choice is made quite intuitively, even in the way she presents things Ziach is not rigid. The order of the works is variable, she likes to be guided by the atmosphere and the architectonic surroundings where the work is shown, which inevitably leads to compromises. As from her participation, in 1992, in the international group show Outer Space in the UK – where she was represented with three installations from the Japan series - Ziach has also been using the space around the photo sculptures. On the floor in front of some of the works she sprinkles geometrical patterns of shell sand, charcoal and pulverized marble. A rigidly raked field of immaculately white shell sand in the shape of a semicircle - with a centre of charcoal – suggests a small part of a meditative Zen garden at the foot of the triptych The Anatomy of the Big Buddha. The object In the Mirror of Your Eyes is like a large eye without the white, lying on the floor. The iris is blue and made of the street shot from Paris mentioned earlier. The pupil consists of a velvety layer of cobalt blue pigment. With the use of sand, pigment and minerals as a kind of ‘prima materia’, Ziach refers to a more esoteric dimension in her work. The series A Diary of Desire entrances the soul. It consists of six existing photographs in sepia tones. The order of the pictures is not definitive, it is a wall object with a mobile shape. Part of the photographs have an abstract quality. Yet cut-outs of cell structures and foliage, as well as vague plane divisions, get more emotionally charged in the vicinity of detail shots of a woman in ecstasy. Her portrait is shown several times in the exhibition. Behind wisps of dark dishevelled hair her face, each time with a slightly different expression of pleasure, is partly hidden. These are subtle variations on the same theme. The concepts of ‘polarity’ and ‘stability’ do certainly apply to the series A Garden of Illusion. Indeed there is a pleasant paradoxical contrast between the rational outer form of the objects and the sensitive, vulnerable themes of their content. Translation: J.M. Keulers
The Infinite Reflection of Everything in Everything, A Chamber of Mirrors; Ten years of Photoworks by Krystyna Ziach On View at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Sittard, NL, text by: Mirelle Thijsen, Het Financieele Dagblad, NL June 1994