Portfolio rubrieken
Krystyna Ziach
Sweat, 1995, photo-sculpture
Two lambda-prints, 175 x125 cm each, diasec, wooden frames
Solo exhibition Archê, 1995-96, installation
The Netherlands Photography Institute, 1996, Rotterdam, NL, curated by Frits Gierstberg

Archê - The Ambivalence of Water and Fire,

Archê is the prefix of the Greek word ‘archetype’ which literally means origin. It is also the title of a recent exhibition by Krystyna Ziach who lives in Amsterdam. This universal concept refers to the leitmotif of ‘water’ which is inherent in it. The seven photo objects are essentially concerned with fleeting time, with transience. In this context water can be conceived as a metaphor for the passage of time. Thales (640 B.C. to 546 B.C.) was the first Greek philosopher who made the elementary statement that ‘everything is water’. In his opinion, water is the Archê, i.e. the origin of all things, in the sense of the primordial matter all things are made of. With this, particularly for those days, revolutionary statement Thales made the first attempt to understand nature on purely scientific grounds.
The liquid element
In this context water should certainly not be conceived in the sense of sensory perception, but rather in the more general sense of the ‘liquid element’. As such it appears to have organic, cosmologic and more substantial characteristics. In many creation myths water, understood as the primeval ocean, is the source of all life, with life emerging from it, but it is also the element of dissolution and drowning. ‘Subterranean’ waters are sometimes associated with the chaos of primeval times. As one of the elementary symbols, water is ambivalent, because on the one hand it gives life and fertility, while on the other it represents doom. In Christian iconography water mainly plays a role as the purifying element, which during the rites of baptism and initiation washes away the blemishes from sin. Ritual baths were known in many ancient cultures, baths that not only served hygiene, but also worked as symbolic cleansing and purification /.. / In depth psychology water is understood to be the fundamental symbol of all unconscious energy and is therefore also conceived as dangerous, when it rages or ( in dreams) when in a flood it overflows its boundaries. Water creatures are seen by depth psychologists as the embodiment of certain living ‘entities’ from a deeper unconscious layer of our personality and as mainly having a female form. These female forms are then associated with concepts such as fertility, progeny and marriage. Water is an archetype in its three known states of aggregation (vapour, water and ice), but simultaneously evokes many clichés that are stored in our image-saturated culture.
Water as a source of inspiration is not unfamiliar to Krystyna Ziach. In her previous project, A Garden of Illusion (1993), water(vapour) also was an important visual element. Volatile vapour (water) or thin smoke (fire) symbolically represent the transformation from the material to the spiritual. In fact, this transformation is the pivot of her work since her project Japan. In Archê Krystyna Ziach restores water to prima materia and in this way adds a more esoteric dimension to her work. In prior series she used sand, pigment and minerals to the same end. Several layers can be distinguished in this project. Ziach chose two points of departure within the theme: flowing and stagnant water. Flowing water has to do with purification and unconscious energy. This more positive force is conveyed by three of the photo works, most exuberantly in an almost three meters high and slender image of a waterfall. With its wild downward stream it is symbolic of the dynamic, enduring influence of time. As the key work of the series it was given the title Archê. Water purifies the skin, but it also affects it; a slow, hardly perceptible process of erosion. The self-portrait in The Fountain of Time which in an almost serene way shows part of her face, eyes closed under a cleaning jet of water, enters into this thought /.. /
Turbid water
Stagnant water by contrast reeks, sows death and destruction. It has an almost morbid quality. It refers to the disruption of a natural balance, to instability. Ziach devotes three works to this concept, which all have a suggestive depth represented by the mysterious attraction of static, dark water. In The Spiral of Memory the inward spiral movement of a whirlpool announces change. It signifies flux, turmoil, chaos and confusion. Rolled-up photos with images of human body parts spin round in the vortex, swept away by the movement of the water. Algae and duckweed are a central theme in all three of these photo works. They are among the few organisms that survive in turbid water and overgrow, or literally suffocate, every other form of life within it. In a biological sense a purifying function has also been attributed to weeds and algae. One might call this a positive element in an otherwise corroded environment. Ziach has photographed a water surface covered with an infinite, dotted pattern of algae and duckweed. When blown up to a large size they obtain an irregular, almost abstract structure. Aqua Obscura shows us a puddle in which a series of contact prints showing the portrait of one and the same person float around, half hidden between the duckweed, as human residue. Photos within photos produce the effect of consummate memories /.. / Initially Ziach used mirrors to create confusion in predominantlyrational set-up. The mirrors were used in the series Melancholy (1989/1990) and A Garden of Illusion, Ziach being each time concerned with the surreal power of reflection. In an iconological sense the mirror represents transience, it is a Vanitas symbol. In Archê, the symbolic and spatial effect of the mirror is omitted, perhaps to be substituted by the water and the special glass.
The seemingly living element of fire - which consumes, warms and illuminates, but can also spread death and destruction – has a similar ambivalent symbolic meaning. Fire can extirpate, but can also have the quality of a purifying flame which ‘burns away’ evil, pain, sin, disease, torment and suffering. Fire then is the symbol of vitality. Ziach makes the two conflicting elements complementary by literally uniting them in the installation Quinta Essentia. The title indirectly refers to a symbol recurring in several cultures in the form of a hexagram, a six-pointed star composed of two triangles overlapping each other. It is generally assumed that this figure consists of a combination of the ‘watery’ female element (oriented downwards) and the ‘fiery’ male element (pointing upwards). Combined the two triangles represent a harmonic duality. Whereas alchemistic reflections went so far as to subsume all four primordial elements (water, fire, earth and air) under the hexagram, this symbol today mainly reminds us of the Star of David of the state of Israel. Since water and fire do not merge, the alchemists assumed that a fifth element, the quinta essentia (absolute life energy) had to dwell in the centre of the figure. Ziach endorses this thought in the water object of the same name. In this robust spatial object on a pedestal, water is present as an element of experience. The watercourse is physically present in the space, tangible and audible, in a downward movement. The water, in an undulating filmic layer, splashes straight down, literally spilling over the photographic surface which shows the capricious and inevitably rising direction of fire, in the form of burning sulphur. It is the ultimate merger of two impossible entities, of two absolute poles. A pulsating pump action sees to it that the circulation of the water - and thus the passing of time - is uninterrupted. The object is entirely made of oxidized metal. The chemical process of corrosion is another metaphor for transience.
Water and time erode even the hardest metal. The rust-coloured steel of the massive frame and pedestal refers directly to the ruthless influence of the ravages of time. The heavily oxidized unruly metal may be associated with Mars, the ‘red planet’, which is warm, dry, sharp and cruel. It stands for unexpected accidents, confusion and aggressive sexuality. A person who is dominated by the planet Mars is said to be ‘martial’. The weather-beaten metal also returns in the form of a trompe l'œil in The Fountain of Time. The image of the ‘skin’ of a sheet of corroded steel is shown, as a counterpoint, next to the washed face of the artist mentioned earlier. The colour of the photos has been adjusted. A rusty sepia tone determines the like-minded feeling of transience in all of the photo works. The added colour has something earthly about it; in a more metaphorical sense it refers to carnality, to plain eroticism. In art the fascination for the seeming incompatibility of these two primordial elements is not new. In 1961 Yves Klein with his ‘water and fire fountains’ already attempted to tame these two primordial elements and tried to realize a synthesis between them in his fire paintings. He had his models with their wet bodies drip water patterns on card board and subsequently exposed the card board to fire. Since the wet spots held out longer in the fire, the body prints appeared as floating shadows of colour in the fire.
The Energy of Darkness in an enlargement shows us the dead cuticle structure of head hair. The water drops on the long carefully combed hair remind us of dew. /.. / The alchemists were wont to collect heavenly dew in a cloth. In many cultures beautiful hair still refers to temptation and seduction, but as the years pass it loses this power. Ziach joins the two halves of the image like the two cerebral hemispheres in a cranium. The downward direction of the growing hair contrasts with the depth in the right half of the image. From a high position we look down on stagnant water covered with a blanket of duckweed. Both organic structures – the duckweed and the hair - are prone to unbridled growth. In a certain sense they represent chaos, unless someone intervenes. In old Chinese literature, the word ‘source’ is associated with eroticism. This theme is taken up in a subtle way by a spatial object on the ground, entitled The Embrace, consisting of two slanting surfaces in the shape of an open book, on which a male and a female back touch each other in a straddle. Water as a bodily fluid is the third dimension in the project Archê. In the form of sweat it oozes out of the pores and covers both skin surfaces, a form of secretion which refers to fear, aggression, physical exertion and sexual excitement. Up to this point, the concepts of ‘polarity’ and ‘instability’ were central to the entire body of work of Krystyna Ziach, but contrary to the monumental presentation of earlier projects, Ziach puts in Archê less emphasis on the gravity of things. The accent is not on the frame and the objects are less sculptural. Ziach is now more concerned with the suggestion of depth, as an experience within the photographic image itself. This series is rather founded on intuition and a personal frame of mind than on the art historical and mythological references that were explicitly present in her earlier work. The autobiographical component is slowly becoming more visible in her oeuvre. The soul is emerging.
Translation: Hanny Keulers
Archê - The Ambivalence of Water and Fire, 1996, text by Mirelle Thijsen, from the book Infinity & Archê / Krystyna Ziach, published by Thieme Art, 2006, NL