Space of Imagination / Installation
Traces of Life
Into the Void
Dark Street Revisited
A Spiral of Memory
Archê / Installation
The fountain of Time / Installation
A Chamber of Mirrors / Installation
A Garden of Illusion / Installation
Outer Space / Installation
Japan / Installation
Books & Catalogues
Documents & Press
Work in Collections
Krystyna Ziach - Where Emotion Meets Reason, by: Cees Straus (English)
Kunstwerk, magazine, NL, summer 1994
photo : Black Cross of Malevich I, from the series Melancholy 1989-1990
Collection Museum Het Domein, Sittard, NL
There is little that shows Krystyna Ziach is of Polish descent. She has been living in the Netherlands as of 1979, has mastered the Dutch language to perfection and has found her niche in the art world. She has also gained recognition for her high-quality and above all intriguing work. Indeed, the first large retrospective which the Nederlands Fotomuseum, housed in Het Domein in Sittard, has devoted to her work is well-timed. It allows not only the public, but herself as well, to acquire an overview of the work she has made over the past ten years.
When Krystyna Ziach (1953) came to the Netherlands in 1979, her decision to go abroad was prompted rather by artistic than by political reasons, as is often thought. She had spent several years at the art academy of Cracow - mainly studying sculpture and art history - and had always wanted to complete her studies abroad. At the end of the seventies the political climate in Poland was liberal enough to allow for such a wish to be easily granted. It was not her first journey to the West; as a student she had visited Italy and France, primarily with a view to seeing the art in situ as part of her art history course.
Her training as a sculptor has been classical. True to communist tradition, she had to learn to design sculptures of socialist heroes, which were customarily executed in solid materials such as marble, stone, granite and bronze. Her shining example had to be the director of the school, who managed to deliver his casts of Marx and Lenin as far as Cuba and Iraq. Ziach learned to work on a monumental scale and even though she saw the limitations of the education she received, she would not easily react against it. That she finally opted for the Netherlands, for the AKI in Enschede, resulted from her wish to add to her knowledge of video, photography and graphic art. “I only went abroad to study another art form. In Poland the situation in the arts was not so bad at the time. There was even an avant-garde movement, to which Roman Opalka (the painter who fills canvasses with rows of numbers) belonged. In those days there was a lot of conceptual art, much more than there was Socialist Realism”, Ziach says. That she ultimately stayed in the Netherlands is a mere coincidence. “I was allowed to stay a few years at the AKI, had a really good time there. In 1981 matters suddenly went wrong in Poland. Things became very precarious, also as far as Solidarno?? was concerned. It really was a time of social upheaval. Being at the AKI was quite interesting, I did not have to leave, had special residence status. I went back to Poland by train in December 1981 to spend a few days there. On arrival it turned out that the military had just intervened. Since I had a passport for a stay abroad they took me for a foreigner. Poland got locked up and the only thing I could do was turn on my heels.” One year later she completed her course at the AKI on the subjects of monumental design and photography. Returning to Poland was a rather uninviting prospect. She had grown accustomed to the cultural climate in the Netherlands which she experienced as very positive. Amsterdam seemed to be the right place to use as an operating base not only for her journeys, but also for her work. “What I particularly like is the well-known cliché. Amsterdam is a village with the mentality of a large city. That is very pleasant.”
Politics did not interest her in those years. “Political matters do not concern me, they are not important. Being an artist is much more important. My mentality is totally apolitical. I am aware of things but have developed a great aversion to politics. I have never shown anything political in my work either, it simply has got nothing to do with it. In my country politics equalled propaganda, meaning lies, games, manipulation. When you have grown up in a communist country you are no longer innocent. It always surprises me that people have such naïve thoughts about politics and politicians in this country; they do not see at all how things work.” Her work may not be concerned with politics, but all the more with art history. Her art history course provided her with insights into themes and subjects, which she incorporated in her images. “My work is always on the verge of matters. It is about the combining of techniques, of points of view placed in a new context.” Thus in her series on the theme Melancholia (1989-1990), she entered into a dialogue with the famous work of the same name of Albrecht Dürer – of whom she borrowed as a motto for the series, the statement ‘was aber die Schönheit sei, das weiss ich nicht’ (‘what beauty is, I do not know’) – and also used elements from the work of Malevich and Leonardo da Vinci. With Melancholia Ziach created a series of intriguing images in which the quotes of elements from the aforementioned masters look less emphatic than they may initially appear. She used Malevich’s black square and black cross as backgrounds against which a nude figure is photographed after having been painted quite intemperately. This combination of performance, painting, photography and graphic art has been a fixture in her work for quite a while. It is remarkable though that their interrelation is subject to change. In the latest works the human figure is rarely painted: the shape is allowed to speak for itself, or it is sent into a state of ecstasy which has its own expressiveness. In that case the camera has assumed the role of the paintbrush and registers the movement. Ziach is also indebted to the art of painting when she uses the time-honoured effect of trompe-l’oeil. She admits to being highly fascinated by the subject of illusion, as may appear from the series A Garden of Illusion. She not only made photographs but also installations incorporating photographs as independent sculptures in a particular layout. In A Garden of Illusion (1993) the subject of illusion is much more than an effect. To herself it meant a confrontation with what she experienced as confusing, matters on which she had not yet formed an opinion, which made her also ponder over that which she considered as ‘certain’ in her life. The series consists of a number of portraits not meant to be viewed as psychological but rather as examples of a state of ecstasy, and of registrations of weather and light situations which take the form of an installation. The predominant colour in the series is blue, symbol of the imaginary and the spiritual, alongside the colour sepia which symbolises elements such as earth, body and eroticism. In the series she uses mirrors a lot, which allows her to work with deviating perspectives. She furthermore draws on a range of geometrical shapes (a late echo from the work of Malevich) which give the work a certain degree of architecture. These are rational shapes that are filled with emotion, a combination which Ziach often uses. Apart from art history, she is also deeply influenced by journeys she makes. In this respect her visit to Japan in 1987 made a lasting impression on her. After Japan the use of performance in her images became a thing of the past, she relied solely on the power of the installation. She also discovered the importance of colour as an influence in her work, a fact which she wanted to demonstrate in a broad programme going from introvert to extremely extravert. In Japan she several times photographed landscapes which included specific elements such as Buddhas. She took the photographs home to her studio and arranged them into new compositions. Working outside was new to her at the time, before that she was very keen on the safety offered by her studio. Photographing outside, where things can change faster and cannot easily be controlled, resulted in a more intuitive registration. The final choices she would make afterwards in her studio. In this way she made an impressive installation, a triptych in which a huge Buddha arises, photographed from the back and stripped of his inner self and subsequently filled with a mysterious interior. “I can now say that my work is obtaining its final form. I have largely parted with the physical aspect, which is still visible in A Garden of Illusion.” Things have become more tranquil, less expressive and more poetic, but also geared to the effect of contrast resulting from emotion meeting reason. Krystyna Ziach works at this interface, always confronting the viewer with questions, to which he will have to find the answers searching in the image as well as in himself.
Translation: J.M. Keulers