BWA Warszawa: Kama Sokolnicka/Rusty elements of our garden

The erudite joined together with the effortless – this appraisal may easily spring to mind when observing the works of Kama Sokolnicka. 

The young artist (born 1978) from Wrocław creates her projects accor-ding to a tried-and-tested scenario. Typically she begins with an exa-mination of the foundations of a particular site (most recently accli-matizing herself with the history of the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw – which houses the Centre for Contemporary Art – when working on a project there, drawing out the near-forgotten fact that in previous years the buildings housed a hospital for soldiers who had lost their sight). Next she takes these newly-discovered facts and builds a web of associations and contexts (in the case of a former hospital for the blind now housing a center devoted to the visual arts, the most com-pelling conclusion is to prepare a show about visual perception and memory, of the mechanisms of recalling and forgetting images, about repression and after-images).

In creating such a web, the artist doesn't refrain from citing major authors on the subject, from Levi-Strauss, Baudrillard, the classics of psychoanalysis. In the case of her latest work, she continues to do so without any reservations. Her exhibi-tions, nonetheless, have nothing in common with a university lecture. The particular themes in her work may appear entirely by surprise: alongside an image depicting Disko Island off the cost of Greenland she places a disco ball, which reflects light much like the snows of Greenland. The "Tristes Tropiques" of Levi-Strauss makes their way into the title of a photograph of three tents tucked away in some old, battered (apathetic and melancholic) tropics. 

Sokolnicka tends to take on existing cultural content and reinterpret it in her own way according to a process that may be considered anar-chic. The governing motive within her works is the clash of collective memory with that of the individual. The texts and imagery that are so solidly embedded in tradition are injected by the artist into unexpec-ted situations, creating, thus, an independent, unorthodox system of associations. Culture is filtered through the artist's own imagination, her own memory. It is no accident, then, that Sokolnicka's collages come about on the basis of found materials, items discovered in her home archive (consisting in major part of her relatives' diligent collec-tions of German publications of the '50s and '60s), that she often looks back towards her childhood experiences for inspiration. The viewer may have difficulty decoding such an esoteric, deeply internal code, yet the artist doesn't seem to mind. It is clear that for her the radically individualized lexicon is the most valuable instrument in the battle between the artist and her own autonomy. 

This strategy is evident in the exhibition at the BWA Warszawa Gallery. The starting point and initial inspiration for the "Rusty Bits of our Garden" was the environment surrounding the gallery – a townhouse located in Warsaw's landmark Saska Kępa district, an exemplary testa-ment to Poland's modernist legacy, now in large part a collection of ruins and half-ruins, sinking in a thrush of wild greenery that is gradu-ally overtaking such buildings. It is these plants in particular that have caught Sokolnicka's attention – plants that have been endowed with an extremely important role. The artist once again functions within a cloud of contexts and associations. The series "Locus Solus" series of collages is a throwback to the classical novel by Ramond Roussel. A significant choice not just because the term "cabinet of curiosities" typically used by the author in reference to the novel suits Sokolnicka's proposed narration quite well. In "Locus Solus" the inventor Martial Canterel has invited some friends to have a look at a store of curiosities that he has accumulated in the garden of a suburban villa. These strange, fantastic curiosities must have, in their time, satisfied the surrealist appetite. The novel can be read as a refined game with the mythology of the garden – and this is the path that Sokolnicka treads in her own garden, without necessarily treating it as a metaphor for the ordered world. It holds quite a number of meanings, but it is certain that this is not a garden that has not at some point been host to a barbarian or two.

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