Izabella Gustowska

Since the ’70s, Izabella Gustowska has played a leading role in the conceptually inclined Polish art concerned with the body and the feminist critique of representation. Comprising eight multimedia installations (she calls them “self-operating audio-visual objects”) from 1998-2001, her recent exhibition “Passions and Other Cases” blurred the boundaries between visible and invisible, solid and fragile, opaque and transparent, sensual and sexual. With video projections displayed orispecifically fabricated objects, with video monitors incorporated into elaborate constructions. several of them recalled fantastic machines the perpetuum mobile tradition; others looked like giant semi-transparent surveillance structures made of Plexiglas. Placed in darkness and generating cacophonous sounds, Gustowska’s dramatically illuminated installations were gathered into a labyrinthine passage in which they looked like ghostly apparitions.

L’Amour passion, 2000, consisted of three large oval forms built of thick steel rods, looking like a cross between a sarcophagus and a large satellite dish, but one whose slow movements suggested breathing. The videos projected onto the tops of the oval forms presented three embracing couples (heterosexual and homosexual), who throughout most of the projection gently touched each other’s faces and hair as if checking to see and feel if their partners really existed. Gustowska tinted these projections a moist green hue that enhanced their mesmerizing, visionary qualities. The forms cast shadows that lingered on the walls and ceiling like giant seaweed set in slow motion—somehow both enchanting and menacing.

Playing with the various meanings of the word “medium” in Czasu herbaty (Tea time) and W dzień zaćmienia (Day of the eclipse), both 2000, Gustowska ventured into the realm of celestial phenomena, ghosts, and spiritualist séances. Tea Time was seemingly created during an eclipse, a phenomenon that, the artist believes, slows down time, enhances melancholy, and makes bizarre things happen. On an oval construction, similar to those in L’Amour passion, Gustowska projected a five-minute video in which a levitating teapot and two cups grew, stretched, and flew toward the viewer—and then turned into abstract shapes. Simultaneously, a red disk suggestive of the eclipse was projected onto the sides of the satellite dish-like structure. A similar red disk reappeared in Day of the Eclipse, this time resembling a levitating plate placed in the center of a “table” (another oval structure) that looked like something that might be used for a séance; this was surrounded by a projection of six sets of women’s hands, each pair manipulating a small white plate. In both works, Gustowska tinted the projections a fiery red-orange hue, reverting to a chromatic symbolism that equates “hot” colors with love, passion, and erotic excess. As shapes in the installations merged with each other and then separated, they seemed to move in a rhythmic dance of objects, like a Rorschach test set in motion. Gustowska’s powerful exhibition focused on the realm of the irrational, bordering on the superstitious; she stressed the magical aspect of experience as well as the importance of playfulness and imagination as driving forces in art. Ubiquitous modern technology, the artist reminded us, may increase alienation, but it can also enhance the dreamy qualities of life rather than making them obsolete.

Marek Bartelik