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As it is with rocks, so it is with the body:

Reflections on the paintings of Magdalena Gluszak - Holeksa

(2022/23)

Author: Sarah White

Entering the dark emerald night of Magdalena’s paintings, we encounter the trails and entrails of someone else’s memory. We stagger around in the dark, and in our blindness we make out shapes and consider them to be something we remember. We do not know what to do with the unknown. We cannot name it and so it slips through our fingers, sinking into the eclipse.


‘We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these remain within our world, not ours. The universe covers the whole, a warm blanket…’


As I look at Magdalena’s paintings my eye strains to see analogies. We long to know and to possess the paintings and so compare forms, structures, and shapes to objects of recognition. I see architectural forms, fabric, skin, organs, creatures, and foliage: all of these appear and disappear each time I look away, remember, forget, and then see again. I often think that all reading is recognition: we hear what we have heard before, or what we desire to hear. We speak to one another but do not listen, instead, we hear our own ideas in the other person’s words. We speak past one another. The poet Etel Adnan in the book Night articulates a similar sentiment, ‘To see something is to remember it; otherwise there’s no seeing’. She continues,

 

‘I entered once someone’s memory, I say through his brain, the seat of his illuminations. The place was planted with olive trees… The ground of that house of memory had been once the bed of a river that had run through still another person's brain. All this constitutes my spirit’.


I asked Magdalena where the body was in her paintings. She answered me, ‘the body is my father’s hand reaching out from under the bedsheets’. Looking at our own hands we see what our parents left behind in us and remember those strong parental hands which we once believed could never die. In this new corpus of paintings, the body has become hidden under layers of fabric and buried in the soil, under the earth. It has transitioned from human to organic matter, dissolving into the earth, ready to be re-born. Flowers and grasses have begun to grow over it, and from it. Over time the human form has receded further and further into the depths of the paintings, perhaps even beyond the painting.


On a studio visit Madgalena showed me a photograph of electrified purple flowers: in shape like gypsophila. The flowers were overflowing from a dustbin at the graveyard where her father is buried. The glowing light emanating from the buds had transformed them into bioluminescent anomalies. They were generating their own light under the cover of darkness: dried out dead flowers miraculously radiating energy. Bioluminescent flowers generate or release light from inside, rather than reflecting it from an outside source. The paintings resemble this phenomenon, as fragments of intense blues and greens radiate out of the depths of darkness, with no clear light source to expose them.


A similar phenomenon happens when we close our eyes and see phosphenes. We see light without light entering the eye: self-generating flashes of light which appear in our visual field out of the darkness of our closed eyes. These phosphenes appear as well-defined shapes such as bright circles, or horizontal and vertical stacked lines. The paintings Glass ceiling, Stacked and The nomad’s room echo this visual phenomenon. Shifting, flashes of circular light across the visual field. Well-defined luminescent shapes which overlap with one another. And stacked lines in horizontal and vertical fields which glow in the dark.


In the darkness, sight can be reborn. The world is re-illuminated in every movement of light, every flicker, reflection, and shadow.


Witnessing or processing another’s death alters reality. We sense a rupture or break in the fabric of the universe. A tear in the earth. Death is the experience of un-comprehension: undoing our understanding. In the face of death memory plays funny games. We idealise and beautify the deceased, forgetting their shortcomings or the ways they have hurt us. The title of the painting, Her husband didn’t die, he just became more beautiful articulates this phenomenon. Perhaps it also speaks of the peace sometimes brought or hoped for in death, to a suffering body.

 

The paintings contain these portal spaces which simultaneously push back space and pull it across the canvas. In Stacked, A mountain, too, has its thoughts, Magnolia in the attic, and Her husband didn’t die, he just became more beautiful the boundaries are straight horizontal or vertical lines at the edge of the canvas. In I’ll spread the weight evenly and Glass ceiling we also see diagonal cuts through the image. These boundary lines reveal worlds within worlds, or a world on the periphery of vision. Here reality shifts slightly off centre: a similar space with subtle differences. Across these portals the forms within each world have different weight and substance, bound to alternative gravitational laws. Curtain-like splits splay open allowing matter to pass from one space to another. In Her husband didn’t die he just became more beautiful this peeling curtain opens upwards pulling material across the boundary line, which metamorphoses as it crosses over.


‘I peeled every trace of light off the walls. Withdrew into blurred definitions…’


The paintings hide themselves from us, leaving us with parts not wholes: the lost wholeness of the body. We see ghosts of bodies, or parts of bodies. A mountain too has its thoughts was the last sighting of a limp human hand reaching and falling away from us behind a veil of translucent paint. As the body vanished from the paintings we are left with impressions and sensations, and the memory of a lost figure. Figure-like, organic forms are shredded by light and dissolve into the background, transfigured into a radiant, sumptuous, and murky vision.


The scent of grief, and of the body in pain lingers in the air hidden from view or transfigured in the dark night. The paintings are sumptuous and attractive: grief is not presented through grotesque images but is instead brought to us as a deep groan or murmur in the dark cavities of the painting. It is also sensed through the paintings unseeable and unknowable world, which fools our eyes and hides itself from us.


These hidden parts allude to membranes, pores, skins, cells, and organs: the caverns and tubes inside the body, hidden under the skin. As with the portal openings in the paintings, skin is not just an outside covering but a continuous layer, which at certain points (ears, nose, genitals, mouth) curves inwards: it stretches and folds over or around itself, traversing and dismantling the boundary between inside and out. In Her husband didn’t die he, just became beautiful the hanging skins have seamless contours so that we cannot tell where they will end: the wrapping membranes stretch infinitely into the darkness behind and around them. They are hanging sacks which swell and bulge under the weight of their liquid contents. In Stacked we see what could be stretched muscle with sinews and folded membranes or villi. Pinched fabric which ripples like water.

James Elkins describes a membrane as ‘something by which we are enfolded: it can be skin, or skin metaphors from underwear, bedsheets, to the forms of interior architecture’.   These images of covering are present in Magdalena’s paintings, in visual form and in the action of layering paint to hide what resides beneath.

Magdalena’s current studio resides on a spatial periphery, a membrane-like boundary. It is located on a passing point between a park and the road. Shielded by tall trees it is oddly quiet: a suspended pace representing the porous edge between two habitats. The paintings made in this studio inhabit this blurred boundary space. A place where life forms dissolve and morph, just out of sight, poised on the edge of being reborn.

The forest beyond the trees was not yet visible to me as I stood outside the art studio, neither were the houses on the road next door. In this no man’s land, I also saw no other people except Magdalena herself. The disappearance of the human form from her paintings has re-illuminated the non-human world. ‘The worlds within worlds that spin in the depths of this world that we commonly inhabit…’    Standing in this nondescript space, I could be anywhere. I could be in Poland where Magdalena grew up: residing in a city on the edge of a mountain, whose ever present presence can be depended upon in an otherwise unstable world. The title of the painting, A mountain too has its thoughts is taken from the text, The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram.


‘Not only the animals and plants that speak, as spirits, but also the meandering river, the torrential monsoon rains, the stone that fits neatly into the palm of the hand… The mountain too has its thoughts’. 


The darker they become, the more these paintings illuminate the worlds within worlds: the
innumerable life-forms with whom we cohabit. We are awakened to the spirit-speaking and sensing blades of grass looking back at us as we trample over them. The paintings are rich, sumptuous, and luxurious with such soft seamless application of paint that the brush strokes become invisible to the eye. This illusionary quality displaces us as viewer and arouses the spirits formed through pigment.


The paint lives, breaths, and glows.


Through perspective, colour, light, and shadow the paintings become coherent universes. They are spaces with weight, gravity and three dimensions: foregrounds and backgrounds, recesses, caverns, and protrusions. The non-specificity of the forms does not make them abstract paintings. They are dark worlds inhabited by life forms and architecture, and each component of these compositions exerts a weight and energy on the other forms they share their cosmos with. Each shaft of light or colour is a force exerting power and influencing the circulation of air through the entire painting. The air is dense, despite the surface of the painting being flat. Every part is dependent upon and implicated in the life of one another: an ecosystem of living, breathing entities.


I am displaced by these paintings and find them to be at different times both inside and outside of myself. I float on the periphery of these worlds belonging to none of them but taken in by all of them. They are universes which Magdalena has touched—feeling her way through the night—touching, seeking, and finding. Struck by the echoes and vibrations which pulse through her hand and through all that is nearby, both seen and unseen.


References:
1. Adnan, Etel,
Night (Nightboat Books, 2016).
2. Adnan, Etel, Night (Nightboat Books, 2016).
3. Adnan, Etel, Night (Nightboat Books, 2016), 12
4. Elkins, James, Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis (Stanford, Stanford
University Press, 1999), 20.
5. Abram, David, Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More than Human
World
(New York, Vintage Books, 1997), 20.
6. Abram, David, Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More than Human
World
(New York, Vintage Books, 1997).

 

Sarah White is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and curator. Her practice spans performance and installation with a focus on somatic movement research. Recent projects include working as artist-in residence with The Koppel Project, London, exhibiting with Siobhan Davies Studios, and performing at Art Night Dundee, and The Swiss Church London (funded by the Arts Council England). Sarah is the Editor of the online Agnoscis Journal, has written for Turps Banana alumni, and has been published online in Ambit Magazine and the VCS.

August 2023

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