“Homoiomerie” and “Ergot” by Marcin Zawicki
I see Marcin Zawicki’s artwork as a subversive and extremely timely voice inthe context of art operating with organic forms, referring to Baruch Spinoza’s idea of natura naturans. Organicity is a phenomenon that essentially exposes the processes occurring in nature.¹ It was Johann Wolfgang Goethe who held that while perceiving organic forms, we will not find anything peaceful and static in them; on the contrary – we will see that they are in constant motion.² More or less the same concerns Zawicki’s paintings; they vibrate with life, with seeds bearing a new micro- and macrocosmos. In spite of the stasis of the medium with which the artist works, these representations optically pulse with change, ooze with processuality, and ripple before the audience’s eyes. However, their subversiveness in relation to the artistic tradition consists in the fact that there is no pure nature nowadays, and thus the hybrid creatures, plants, or organisms on canvas are the products of natureculture³ – and we should at last get used to the fact that there is no possibility for a “return to the nature”⁴. In some of Zawicki’s paintings, rhizomes split soil, meddling into the leftovers of civilization, dumped toys and sprouts of mycelium, proliferating in a strange light of an unidentified source. From today’s perspective, therefore, the phenomenon of natura naturans includes the process of nature and culture permeating each other – the artist exposes this aspect also in the catalogue-like, orderly way of portraying the “inter-mixed” elements (plants’ sprouts next to plastic legs of dragons or dinosaurs), placed on “shelves” or in “cases”, or collected on the pages of a secret herbarium. The incessant motion, pointed to by Geothe, requires, after all, a distanced and objective point of view, so as to – at least superficially – understand the processes of nature-culture or culture-nature.
In the Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń, Zawicki presents the two most recent painting series: ”Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot”. The paintings are accompanied with installations and objects created by the artist as a base for constructing the peculiar, visual world of his pieces. As he writes in a text commenting on these works: ”Homoiomerie, a term introduced by the first philosophers who studied the nature of reality, most probably by Anaxagoras, denotes the seeds of all things; the basic material of the universe”(transl. mine). Zawicki paints these seeds, then, concentrating on the processes occurring in nature, the dynamic proliferation of plants and other organisms. The microcosm of his works is the site of growth for mycelium, tissues, starfish, vesicles, shells, mitochondria, corals, limbs (also human), cerebral ganglia or sprouts – and we cannot be sure whether we are watching this organic phenomenon under a microscope or in its natural size. Zawicki – similarly to Olga Tokarczuk, when she describes the village of Primeval – is sensitive to the presence of the biomorphic world: ”Mycelium grows under the whole forest, perhaps even under the whole Primeval. Deep in the ground, beneath the soft undergrowth, beneath the grass and rocks, it forms a plexus of cords, threads, and hanks, with which it entwines everything.”⁵ The artist uses the concept of seeds; the writer, in turn, characterizes mycelium as follows: ”it is like mould – white, soft, and cold – an underground lunar lace, moist hemstitches of thallus, greasy umbilical cords of the world.”⁶
In some of the pieces, Zawicki catalogues the biomorphic forms as in a cabinet of curiosities, placing” them on painted shelves and, by that, creating an ever greater tension between nature and culture. At the same time, the paintings of ”Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot” retain their peculiarity, mysteriousness, and inaccessibility, still being an attempt at cataloguing the expansions of hybrid forms which proliferate all around us, in forests, landfills, and all the places that are a site of the fusion between the leftovers of human presence and the potential of nature.
The artist – apart from choosing the right themes – is also well aware of his medium, as he is able to translate the materiality of paint onto the fleshiness of biology and/or the illusionism similar to that of trompe-l’Oeil. The strokes of the brush seem greasy, as it was managed with absolute confidence to turn the paint into cogent, organic, heterogenic forms, growing rapidly over the surfaces. These paintings are elegant and sophisticated; they comprise the heavy and moist beauty of moss, within which some ophidian shapes, caterpillars, intestines, or cerebral ganglia are curling. The decorativeness seems almost perverse, and this impression correlates with the eroticism and phallicism of particular forms dispersing their seeds. We can observe numerous ejaculations and spillages that have the power to fertilize (the imagination).
Sometimes they reek of mould, and – if we prick up our ears – we can also make out the sounds of seeds rippling and springing, splitting up their coverings. The greasy umbilical cords of the world are rubbing against each other, putting up to the surface their ”antennae” and nematocysts like biomorphic periscopes. Paraphrasing Michael Podro’s⁷ words on Chardin’s still life paintings, I would say that the sheen of lumbricidae, annular abdomens and undulate forms resembling coelenterata seem to loom out of the materiality of the pigments. The paintings bring out this moistness of the world, its debt to water, the incessant overflow of different fluids – they are the essence of greasiness and mucus. The materiality of the paints is employed to celebrate this splendour of biomorphic forms, and the white space of the canvas sometimes becomes a background for the catalogue. Then, they can be viewed detail by detail, studying their shapes and trying – often without success – to untie the contexture of natureculture. Some of them – both in paintings as well as in the tridimensional objects – resemble, in turn, centrepieces and other table decorations that can be bought in a flower shop. Only after a closer examination, this association disappears, as the paintings are revealed to be unfit for familiar categories. I would call the author of ”Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot” an Arcimboldo of the natureculture epoch – for while the works of the famous mannerist painter portray only forms known from the world of nature, Zawicki’s pieces include hybrid elements with the plastic products of industry that grow into nature, since they never undergo biodegradation.
Moreover, Zawicki escalates this heavy atmosphere by the use of an uncanny light. Uncanny in the sense of the Freudian concept of Unheimlich, as it evokes the feelings of anxiety and fear, at the same time displaying the unknown and the familiar. The author of ”Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot” has learnt a lot from Caravaggio so as to create a completely novel – organic – variant of tenebrism. The light slides over the chosen elements of the compositions, bringing out their biomorphic features and augmenting their mysteriousness. The chiaroscuro seems sharp, and many corners are filled with deep darkness, which additionally stirs the imagination: this is where the hybrid organisms lean out from, where the seeds of all things germinate. It is them – this time welllighted as in a laboratory – that we can see on the pages of the herbarium or in the cases of the cabinet of curiosities to which Zawicki introduces us not only in his paintings, but also within the space of the Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń. I would also add that the eponymous ergot is not only a resting spore ofa parasitic fungus, but also a source of psychedelics…
However, the output of the artist – a collector and a creator of naturecultural hybrids – stems not solely from observing the reality and the imagination, but also – never mind whether intentionally or not – from culture. For both ”Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot” can be compared to Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations: ”the publication of his Kunstformen der Natur in 1904 had a great impact in the field of art. It encompassed 100 lithographic cards, on which Haeckel had worked since 1899. They created a chart of motives and a source of inspiration for the artistic circles. The lithographs, colourful, decorative and full of symmetrical elegance, portrayed the forms of crustaceans, starfish, corals, strange insects, plankton and magnified microorganisms. These were a fragment of the descriptions and depictions of living organisms such as fluorescent radiolaria, multicellular sponges, gelatinous jellyfish and polypoid siphonophorae, systematized on over a thousand of pages. Their mysteriousness or picturesqueness created the first modern dictionary of biomorphic forms”⁸. What resembles Haeckel’s lithographs the most are those of Zawicki’s paintings that retain the symmetrical elegance, placing separate objects against a white background – as if preparing them for a scientific analysis and cataloguing. In the rest of his works, however, the author of Homoiomerie” and ”Ergot” abandons this elegance for the sake of a robust biomorphicity, contextures of organic shapes, protrusions, greasy umbilical cords of the world and expansive sprouts that at times wind around the leftovers of civilization, and that cannot be untied. The paintings then become a site of an almost alchemical spectacle of matter and existence emerging.
- Isabel Wünsche, Lebendige Formen und bewegte Linien: Organische Abstraktionen in der Kunst der klassischen Moderne, in: Abstract Art Now.Floating Form, hrsg. von Ulrike Lehmann, Bielefeld 2006, p. 18.
- Astrid von Asten, In der groβen Werkstatt der Natur. Biomorphe Formen im Werk von Hans Arp / In the Great Studio of Nature, in: Biomorph! Hans Arp im Dialog mit aktuellen Künstlerpositionen, hrsg. von Oliver Kornhoff, Köln 2011, p. 13.
- Natureculture understood as in: Donna Haraway, How Like a Leaf. An Interview with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Routledge 2000, p. 105.
- Monika Bakke, Bio-transfiguracje. Sztuka i estetyka posthumanizmu (Bio-transfigurations. Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism), Poznań 2010, p. 60.
- Olga Tokarczuk, Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times), Kraków 2005, p. 188 (trans. mine).
- Ibidem (trans. mine).
- Michael Podro, Vom Erkennen in der Malerei, aus dem Englischen von Heinz Jatho, München 2002, p. 160.
- Andrzej Turowski, Metafora biologiczna w sztuce XX wieku (między biomechaniką a biomorfizmem) (Biological metaphor in 20th-century art [between biomechanics and biomorphism]), typescript, 2016, p. 1–2.Courtesy of the Author (trans. mine).
Marta Smolińska, Greasy umbilical cords of the world “Homoiomerie” and “Ergot” by Marcin Zawicki, in exhibition catalogue Marcin Zawicki. Germs, Wozownia Art Gallery, Toruń, Poland ,2016