Oronsko Magazine
of Centre of Polish Sculpture
Issue 1-2/2015

Text by Anna Batko

Open Your Eyes, I Can’t See You: On Ewa Wesołowska’s Exhibition O=O

O=O is a metalingual equation. Zero signifying itself. A symbol referring to another symbol. An autonomic language devoid of capacity for expression. An hourglass that never runs out. Of sand, of powder, of dust. Or perhaps above all of light?

Ewa Wesołowska’s exhibition, curated by Jarosław Pajek and presented at the Kaplica Gallery, is an interactive installation of quasi-sculptural provenance, comprised of: relaxing music exuding from a music box, and a series of hourglasses of varying size – some suspended above the ground, some set up on the floor and on pedestals, flickering, sparkling with light of varying intensity, illuminating but, at the same time, limiting and darkening the space. Rhythm, the place of its birth and fall. Visitors to the exhibition choose for themselves the path they will travel – by activating light objects, motion sensors set up in the space point out the path to the recipient, at the same time condemning him or her to randomness and repetitiveness. We have a choice, but we have to reckon with the fact that we are traveling in the previously-, though invisibly-trodden footsteps of other visitors. We repeat their mistakes, we travel in a circle like moths attracted to a light and, like them, blindly bumping off the surface, only to… right, perhaps to be burnt up in its brilliance? Or perhaps only to get scorched a bit?

In the curator’s text, we read that the exhibition deals with perception and memory [1]. The space created in the Kaplica escapes any attempt to put it in a box, opening itself up to many different contexts and orders; it can be perceived as a place of both contact and splitting apart, of what both limits and defines the boundaries of our cognition, for though O=O  is an equation, the equality is only superficial, and its actual result can only be that Derridian neither one nor two. The artist – in departing from classical sculpture, in abandoning such materials as plaster or clay, the possibility of modeling them in three dimensions, as well as the tangible marks of the human hand, of fingerprints, of manual work – simultaneously delves into the subject of the mark understood here as remnant and remainder, shadow and illumination. The installation tends towards Minimalism, or rather towards Postminimalism, and resembles works by such artists as Mirosław Bałka and Christian Boltanski; but at the same time, it is different. Even if it deals with memory, intimacy, universality of experience in a similar manner, it is difficult to rid oneself of the impression that it is typically feminine – perhaps because of the flowing forms of the hourglasses, or the music exuding from the music box? Initially pleasant to the ear, nostalgic, it gradually grows more insistent, invading the circulation, almost unbearable. It puts recipients into a paralyzing trance.

What if the world exists only when I look at it? – this naive thought strikes me while visiting the exhibition. The darkness at the moment of entry into the material of the sculptures is replaced by a musical score of light. The hourglasses appear to light up, only to immediately go out and, a moment later, again illuminate the space. They flicker. They sparkle. They shimmer. I blink my eyes. But from beneath my closed eyelids, despite everything, I see; I lose my sight, but not the capability itself of perception. I am caught by light reflections, gleams, glares. Sequences of changing forms and colors. After- images, that is, the famous internal images, images caught on the retina, subjective visual experiences. But an after-image is nothing more than sight in the absence of light [2], an extreme experience of darkness and the physiology of the eye inside itself.

Open your eyes, I can’t see you. The image looks. Sees. The light show directed by the artist is activated by motion, by someone’s presence, someone’s glance. And the installation returns that glance – the game seems to play out at the border between sight and feeling, knowledge without visibility and visibility without knowledge, as Didi Huberman wrote [3]. To see or to know – this is more or less how the situation of the recipient harnessed into an eternal recurrence of light and darkness presents itself. From extreme to extreme: either we see, allowing ourselves to be torn apart – so, losing the unity of an enclosed world and entering into an open, mobile space giving rise to contradictory senses, to the universe; or we know – so, we abandon the reality of the subject in the symbolic closure of the discourse, at the same time aiming towards synthesis, rationality and unity of thought, thereby ourselves constituting the subject of knowledge. In both cases, we lose [4], but as Didi-Huberman concludes, the making of a choice is not only unnecessary, but indeed undesirable. This dichotomy gives rise to a need to remain inside this dialectic, to reckon with the paradox of learned ignorance, as well as to an attempt to open the eye to a dimension of looking, to the making of a double incision – creation of a breach between the simple concept of the image and the simple concept of logic – In no case is this a matter of replacing the tyranny of the thesis with the tyranny of the antithesis. The point is only the dialectic: to think the thesis together with the antithesis, the architecture together with its deficiencies, the rule together with its transgression, the discourse with its slips of the tongue, the function with its dysfunction (going beyond Cassirer), and the fabric with its tearing…’ [5]. This kind of thinking about representation contains an entire array of contradictory possibilities; it is the breach into which O=O enters, and in which it functions.

English metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, in speaking of his friend Milton, wrote that the latter, in losing his sight, did not lose his eyes – quite the contrary, he began to think with his eyes – like Tobit, who saw light while having physically blind eyes, or the clairvoyant Tiresias, for whom the loss of his eyes became as much a blessing as a curse [6]. For Oedipus as well, blindness is both the consequence of knowing and the promise thereof, even though the oculis corpis do not refer us directly to the oculis mentalis. Blindness does not have to result in knowledge, because as Derrida indicates, revelation cannot be mastered by any conceptual framework; it is not given, but rather gives, thereby resulting only and exclusively in non-knowledge and non-enlightenment. He writes, I don’t know, I must believe; and in this sense, he goes out to encounter the impossible [7]. This irresolvable conflict was captured by Georges Bataille as follows: Ignorance lays bare. This thesis is a summit, but it must be understood as follows: it lays bare, so I see what knowledge has previously concealed; however, if I see, then I know. Indeed, I do know, but what I have discovered is again laid bare by ignorance.’ [8]

The matter is similar in the case of memory, which according to the dictionary definition is the mind’s ability to assimilate, store and recreate felt impressions, experiences and information [9]. It is something that is fundamentally fragmentary, selective, full of gaps and concealments. Not only of illuminations – so, those quick flashes of light; not only of darkness – so, an absolute ignorance and impossibility of reaching beyond it; but above all, of what is between, what appears on the margins, what reveals the fluidity and intangibility of the two territories, their indefiniteness and ambiguity. For the paradox is that in order to remember, one must be able to imagine; one must close one’s eyes and allow what was not recorded by our consciousness to find expression. As Freud wrote, It is not possible to for consciousness and memory traces to be experienced simultaneously [10] ; they are mutually exclusive, and the most enduring memories concern events whose process never reached a conscious level, since consciousness can only arise where die Erinnerunsspur, the memory trace, previously existed.

The installation, perceived as an ephemeral image, escapes attempts to fit it into a framework established once for all; for though it assumes the existence of certain rules, it simultaneously admits internal contradictions, which means that every attempt to interpret it is condemned to changeability, vagueness and fogginess. It is not a narrative, but an illustration and an entrance into function, the Derridian chora – so, an area which cannot be reached, touched or infringed upon, much less exhausted. The word itself – borrowed from Plato’s Timaeus and the writings of Heidegger, reinterpreted as a place and, at the same time, a place-non-place, contrasted with the negative concept of the vacuum, understood here as nothingness – represents an essential reference point for the installation. The chora, as Derrida says, is neither divine nor human; it only enables that which cannot appear elsewhere to appear. It is a peculiar sort of container [11] and, as such, ‘poses a challenge to every dialectic between what is and what is not, between what is sensual and what happens [12]. In the context of the installation, this translates into a certain area, a place which is neither subject nor object, since both the hourglasses and the viewer represent an integral part of it – into a break in the abyss, in the limitless chaos between the sensual and the intelligible [13], between that which is still imaginable, and that which is illustrated only by something lacking. Negative and positive. The artist, in treating the gallery as a sort of background for the installation and, at the same time, a phenomenologically open form in which what cannot appear in normal conditions appears, or rather reveals itself, then that which ‘is this and that’ and, at the same, ‘is not this or that’,[14] leaves the recipient a choice – permits him or her to become immersed in the reality that he himself, she herself finds there, about which he or she finds out, which he or she will see, which he or she will imagine.

Entering the Kaplica, we are confronted with a split awareness, we embark on a pursuit of something that cannot be caught, of light – both the visible one, and the one beneath the surface, inexpressible, metaphorical, which at the moment of our own enlightenment blinds us, escapes us all the while being so close at hand, and yet quite already far away. O=O speaks not only about memory, but also about history, time, that which will be, was and is now happening. The installation does not introduce classifications or divisions; it does not differentiate memory from history, or collective from individual memory, but focuses on doubt per se, on that almost imperceptible moment of hesitation lurking somewhere in the corner of one’s eye. It displays variability of perspectives – an eternal play of the visible and the invisible; it undermines certainties on purpose, recreating a situation of absolute insolvability, impossibility of making a decision, of making any kind of choice. The space of the Kaplica is only a possibility, a place marked by potential at the level of many different receptions, where the work of the memory is not given to us a priori, but is a process, something that comes into being via reminiscence launched by psychosomatic marks – the circulation of unclear and quivering images, devoid of any single representation, putting the recipient into a state of ambivalence and imposing upon him or her not so much a framework, as a structure. The structure of memory, of history, of an eye susceptible to all kinds of turbulence in both vision and non-vision. And that which is between them.

  1. http://www.rzezba-oronsko.pl/index.php?aktualnosci,790,o=o_ewa_wesolowska [accessed: 31 October 2015]
  2. L. Brogowski, Powidoki i po… Unizm i „Teoria widzenia” Władysława Strzemińskiego [After-images and After… Unism and Władysław Strzemiński’s ‘Theory of Vision’], Gdańsk 2001
  3. G. Didi-Huberman, Przed obrazem [Confronting Images], transl. B. Brzezicka, Gdańsk 2011
  4. G. Didi-Huberman, Przed… [Confronting…], p. 97
  5. Ibid., p. 99
  6. J. Derrida, Memoires d’aveugle. L’autoportret et autres ruines, Paris, 1990, p. 128, quoted in: M. Poprzęcka, Inne obrazy [Other Images], Gdańsk 2008, p. 207
  7. Ibid., p. 130
  8. G. Bataille, Doświadczenie wewnętrzne [Inner Experience], transl. O. Hedemann, Warsaw 1998, p. 61
  9. Encyklopedia PWN [Polish Academy of Sciences Encyclopedia]
  10. S. Freud, ‘Poza zasadą przyjemności’ [‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’], [in:] Poza zasadą przyjemności [Beyond the Pleasure Principle], transl. J. Prokopiuk, Warsaw 2000, p. 24
  11. J. Derrida, Chora, transl. M. Gołebiewska, Warsaw 1999, p. 69
  12. J. Derrida, ‘Response to Daniel Libeskind’, [in:] D. Libeskind, Radix-Matrix, Munich-New York, 1997, p. 111, quoted in: J. Lubiak, ‘Architektura i różnica’ [‘Architecture and Difference’], [in:] Historia sztuki po Derridzie: materiały seminarium z zakresu teorii historii sztuki [Art History after Derrida: Seminar Materials in Art History Theory], Rogalin, April 2004,red. Ł. Kiepuszewski, Poznań 2006, p. 27
  13. J. Derrida, Chora, op. cit., p. 40
  14. Ibid. p. 10.