When two years ago I was talking to Marcin Zawicki about his new project, there appeared the idea of colonial expeditions and the conquest of Brazil, inspired by Frans Post’s Brazilian Landscape (1612–80) from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw. At that time, I wouldn’t have thought that we would be meeting at an exhibition drawing from antiquity. Marcin was busy exploring the boundary between a forgery and an original. Post, a Dutch painter of exotic landscapes and the first European painter to have documented the early colonial landscape of South America, offered promising tropes.
Since then, Brazil had become my persecution fantasy, personified bya Dutch draughtsman of fortifications and structures who accompanied Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604–79), governor-general of Dutch Brazil and an eminent patron of science and the arts, in his expedition organized by the West India Company (1637–44). Among other things, it resulted in the publication of Historia naturalis Brasiliae (1648) and De Indiae utriusque re naturali et medica libri quattuordecim (1658) by Willem Piso and Georg Marggraf. Until the 19th century — as has been written by Antoni Ziemba — it was a “fundamental corpus of the natural history of Brazil, illustrated with maps and prints”; it represented a priceless collection of over 750 illustrations documenting unknown plant and animal species, and included images of Indians portrayed, for example, as cannibals.
The Chorography exhibition reaches deeper into the past, borrowing its title from De chorographia — an ancient compendium of geographical facts concerning populated areas written by a Roman geographer Pomponius Mela around 43 AD. Marcin has thus introduced a new thread to his art: archaeological finds.
He found the empty photographic album at a flea market in Gdańsk. Zawicki likes such historical “rubbish dumps,” metaphors of the erosion of a consistent vision of history. This has been his inspiration for years. Here, page by page, he was again able to exercise his anatomical passions, with a gaze reaching where the vision of others is obscured by culture. A chance encounter with a remnant of history, a trace of someone’s unwritten (or interrupted) story, served as a pretext to begin work on the exhibition.
In the album, the conventions of “scientific” reproduction are juxtaposed with unbridled invention, blurring the boundaries between document andfiction. In the words of the artist: “I would like the viewer to somewhat believe in a kind of quasi-scientific systematization of the reality I created, so as to allow him to discover, like in a cinema, a section of a world that only exists in my imagination.”
This world is governed by the grotesque. The grotesque, as was once written possibly by Mary Russo, is associated with the register of otherness, a fascination tinted with disgust. Let us not be deceived by the cold appearances of a scientific study. At the exhibition in Zielona Góra’s BWA, the grotesque permeates everything: from the miniature drawings of repulsive botanical and zoological creatures in the album, through their enlarged details on the walls, to finally become dismembered in the 3D landscape brimming with dead plastic insects and animals. As we ought to remember, the grotesque imagination feeds on instincts coming from “the region in which the fear of death prevails and the impulse toward destruction is born.”¹ Our only reaction is laughter. Lee Byron Jennings writes that “the grotesque object always displays a combination of fearsome and ludicrous qualities [his italics] — or, to be more precise, it simultaneously arouses reactions of fear and amusement in the observer.”² At one point, during the “Brazilian phase” of Marcin’s project, I wanted to see these small hills overgrown with moss and caves blocked with dead corpses of toys as a metaphor of cataclysm, of the deconstructed promise of a capitalist resurrection through consumption powered by the conquest of New Worlds.
Yet Marcin, insensitive to the colonizers, did not allow himself to become colonized either.
The 3D model is excessive in a way that cannot be systematized. Nor can it be taken in with a single glance. Or locked in a familiar convention.
If we try to describe the reality portrayed by Marcin like, say, Ernst Jünger in Tiger Lily³ described Lilium tigrinum, with its speckled, open petals that reveal “Stamens of a narcotic tone of deep, red-brown velvet that has been ground to powder,”⁴ our endeavours will be thwarted by the monochrome drawing.
If we play the artist’s game and believe that drawings in the album — the studied grotesque with motifs of a DNA chain — act as a document, we have to inquire about the ancient source of these representations. A document establishes reality as a copy — one that is not metaphorical, assimilated or idealized. In other words, a document does not invent itself. “It has not yet been assimilated by aesthetic metaphorization.”⁵
So, if we follow the trajectory of album — drawings on the wall — 3D model, suspended between the insoluble “neither – nor,” we should not despair. Let us cling to the Dictionary. As we have learned at school, the etymology of the term grotto-esque refers to an authentic historical event: the 15thcentury discovery of Nero’s Roman Domus Aurea and unearthing peculiar and unexpected wall decorations that combined elements of the flora and fauna with the human body.⁶
- Lee Byron Jennings, “The term ‘Grotesque,’” in ibid., The Ludicrous Demon: Aspects of the Grotesque in Post-Romantic German Prose, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963, p. 13.
- Ibid., p 10.
- Ernst Jünger, The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios, New York: Telos Press, 2012
- .Ibid., as cited in: Tobias Lanz, “Anarch’s Journey,” in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, available at: <http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2013/May/37/5/magazine/article/12281>,accessed: 16 APR 2015.
- Denis Holier, “The Use-Value of the Impossible,” transl. by Liesl Ollier, in October, vol. 60 (Spring 1992), Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, p. 20.
- Mary Russo, Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity, New York: Taylor & Francis, 1994.
Ewa Toniak, The colonizers of imagination, in exhibition Marcin Zawicki. Chorography catalogue BWA Zielona Góra Gallery / Green Carrot Art Development Foundation, Zielona Góra, 2015
Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska