A Chamber of Mirrors / Krystyna Ziach, text by Reinhold Misselbeck
Reinhold Misselbeck, 1994, curator for photography and new media at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany. Guest curator of the solo exhibition A Chamber of Mirrors / Krystyna Ziach at the Netherlands Photography Museum, Sittard, NL, 1994.
The person who looks in the mirror, imagines that he sees himself. Yet ultimately everyone knows that the reflection is a mirror image - it shows things the other way round - and that the person facing one is not identical with the original. In the course of the history of mankind, the mirror has nevertheless evolved into an object with a high symbolic value, standing for truth, purity, but also beauty. The searching glance in the mirror is part of femininity. Yet the breaking of one’s mirror image is a symbol of one’s death. The mirror stands for transience, it is a Vanitas symbol. The mirror also allows us to compare what is opposite. In her three-dimensional photo sculptures Krystyna Ziach places the mirror on the floor, or within the photographs. Reality and the mirror image of reality become comparable, the mirror image allows for the view from another perspective. In her art work Krystyna Ziach always made use of dualities, brought contradictions together, in order to allow us to form an opinion. In her early work she combined corporality with geometry, sensuality with science, concrete matters with abstraction. She was fascinated by Leonardo Da Vinci’s research of human anatomy and confronted elements from his drawings with images of her own body. She incorporated the body into the drawings, by overpainting she created a unity, made an effort to attune reality and science within the image. Much as this combination of Leonardo Da Vinci’s research of the human body, human measurements and their relation with geometry and universal measure has personal and deep roots in Krystyna Ziach’s own work, it is nevertheless interesting to perceive this ‘bridge to the past’ as an expression of the Zeitgeist. If one can say about the Renaissance that it discovered man and the human body, made them into the object of art, and that the artist considered himself to be a shining example of this new sense of self-esteem, the eighties of the twentieth century were characterized by an intensive exchange of ideas concerning man’s relationship with his social environment, with the artist conceiving his or her own person as a model in the depiction or presentation of situations in which the relationship between man and contemporary culture was explored in its social, philosophical, psychological and sexual dimensions. In this respect female artists in particular were role models and took leading positions, from Valie Export, Katharina Sieverding and Nathalia LL, to Colette and Barbara Hammann. In all her work, however much it may have changed over the last ten years, Krystyna Ziach put the emphasis on duality. Human beings were shown in their relationship to an environment which, although situated outside the self, was nevertheless characterized and formed by it. In the series Metamorphosis with which Krystyna Ziach succeeded her first breakthrough towards art criticism, she focused her attention on the dissolution of the self, its merging into the painted backgrounds. These works evolved to a large extent from the image, showed expressivity and spontaneity, developed their issues and their philosophical foundation in the reflection of the painted image. In these works Krystyna Ziach already showed herself to be an early representative of staged photography and photo performance. Her successful combination of painterly and conceptual principles transformed the act of taking photos into the mere final execution of the already completed art work. For Krystyna Ziach photography is the medium through which she fuses the varied constituents of her work – painting, performance, concept and later also assembly and sculpture – to a new whole. Through photography she can join the heterogeneous parts and give the art work a new identity. Her subsequent series with the title Japan was based on a two-months’ stay in Japan and deals with the relationship of man with religiosity. Buddhism with its deep roots in the daily thoughts of people challenged her to examine the problem. Again she demonstrates her capacity to think in images and while doing so to bring up the essential elements of the intellectual formulation of the problem, such as the meditative element, omnipresence, transparency and the spirituality of Buddhism. Formally the sculptural element enters into her work with the ‘object’ character of the work Infinity. Even here, in this series, thematic aspects are dealt with. The expressive, spontaneous element of her early work takes a back seat to the simplicity, clear composition, perfect aesthetic which to a large extent characterize Japanese thought. Melancholy thematically returns to the rational element in the dialogue with Leonardo’s drawings on human measurements, yet confronts this rationality of the Italian Renaissance with German emotionality, in that the artist refers to Dürer’s copper engraving ‘Melancholie’ in the title. In doing so she acknowledges Dürer’s outlook, who in his copper engraving links the clarity of technique and visual means with melancholy. In her works Krystyna Ziach achieves a similar duality, in that she confronts the Renaissance motifs, the geometrical drawings or photographs of Michelangelo sculptures, with gestural painting and wedges the human bodies inside triangular forms. Especially in Space of Imagination the tension between the folded body and the light, hardly perceptible triangular line inside which it is framed, gives the feeling of aching, grievous immobility. The lightness of the white geometrical drawing hovering in front of the black background puts a particular emphasis on this contrast of geometrical clarity and unconcern versus wedged animal corporality. Unlike with Leonardo Da Vinci, whose human figures firmly define geometrical measure, the contradiction between spirit and body dominates in Krystyna Ziach’s work as a rather grievous experience. In Garden of Illusion Krystyna Ziach returns to the aesthetic of the Japan series. The separate photo works are assembled into installations, their visual means are reduced and metaphorical, her own person is withdrawn into the image and her emotions. The ecstatic face of a woman, a woman’s lap, are the few unobtrusive allusions to former expressivity. In Garden of Illusion the observer must fill the part which the portrayed person played in the earlier works. The immanent contradiction of the early work is replaced by the confrontation of the observer with the spatial installation. The clarity of shapes – for geometry has now moved to the frames of the images – the irritation by mirrors, the secret of the curtain, the enigma of the opposites, do not allow for univocal explanations. As the images reflect and duplicate each other, the observer becomes merely conscious that he does not face copies of reality, but illusions of reality, the content of which has to be explored. The Garden of Illusion is a place where the observer first has to define his position. The place certainly is variable, depending on the person trying to fathom it. It is with good reason that Krystyna Ziach, in this work, has chosen the language of objectivity, of the cold surface, of aesthetic smoothness. Titles such as The Inside of a Dream and The Curtain of Pleasure merely arouse expectations which the greater part of the photo objects, with their cool appearance, cannot and will not live up to. The portrait of a woman, the female lap, a hand, grass, broken surfaces, signify where the counter position is to be set. Their titles are Diary of Desire or Breathing I and II. It is in these unobtrusive black-and-white photos, not in the Cibachromes with their shining colours, that references to life, to emotion are to be found. With Garden of Illusion Krystyna Ziach seems to break away from her former expressivity and to assume a rather more conceptual, minimalistic posture. Yet it would seem to me that her work, when seen in retrospective, evolves as a pendulum with emotionality and rationality alternately dominating the visual means. In its contents it anyhow remains focused on this area, Krystyna Ziach seeing the rational, the transparent, as containing human culture, yet always defining it as something to be found outside the real self, in particular outside the emotional self, and thus also outside of self-realization and fulfilment. Her work is certainly informed by this contradiction and not least by the fact that it does not find clarification in reality. It is remarkable though that in Krystyna Ziach’s work the rational always goes hand in hand with smoothness and inaccessibility, whereas life is in the emotional. Despite all its delusions of perfect beauty, Garden of Illusion testifies to the search for the real, for life itself. Translation: Hanny Keulers