Natalia Załuska, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 11 3/4 × 9 1/2".

Natalia Załuska, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 11 3/4 × 9 1/2".

Natalia Załuska

Natalia Załuska, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 11 3/4 × 9 1/2".

Some populist North American critics have used the moniker “zombie formalism” to describe recent abstract painting. This begs the question: Does that venerable modernist mode still have critical potential in a moment of extreme financialization of art production? Natalia Załuska’s response is an attempt to reclaim abstraction’s historical mandate as a material intervention into collectively organized perceptual processes and techniques. The works in her recent exhibition, all Untitled, 2015, are constructed from pieces of cardboard of various thickness and dimensions affixed to canvases or stacked on wooden frames. Using diverse procedures—painting, cutting, drawing, peeling, slicing, spraying, wedging, overlaying—Załuska manipulates the cardboard into collaged compositions in which the traditionally flat surface of painting is transformed into a lexicon of edges. The “action” takes place at boundaries that materialize either literally, from converging planes, or visually, as a result of their spatial relations.

In one work, a tiny slice of blue cardboard peeked out at the margins of two white sections; elsewhere, a shiny black surface was partially stripped to reveal the “raw” primary material underneath, which was also cardboard. A third work had barely visible hand-drawn lines overlapping equally faint ruler-drafted strokes, while in another the artist had used the edge of one surface to mask out a bright blue line on a neighboring plane. Załuska’s is a methodology of assembly and disassembly, exposure and concealment. Yet it’s not only the frontal surfaces that bear these significant edges but also the sides of the works. At times, Załuska operates like an architect displaying “sections” of her models. Those parts normally incidental to a painting’s frontal plane become meaningful as when layers of painted sediment—which one sees only when examining the sides—serve as structural elements.

These edges, created by a convergence of artistic gestures and decisions, are both perceptually and conceptually riveting. Here, at limits that are now both localized and dispersed allover, Załuska not only rehearses the transformation of modernist painting into corner reliefs, hybrid objects, and architectural propositions in the early (Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Kurt Schwitters) and mid-twentieth century (Yves Klein, Frank Stella, Gordon Matta-Clark) but grounds her practice in relation to contemporary historical processes that erode physical space in favor of abstract digital flows. Because the surfaces and supports of Załuska’s collages are not unified but are rather replete with ruptures and differential perspectives, any attempt to capture them in digital form empties them of their uneasy friction and delivers only a diluted and imprecise copy.

What can abstraction do today? In many ways, Załuska’s practice can be understood as an attempt to delineate a perceptual model in an age of increasingly homogenized time and space. Indeed, the artist suggests that articulating what happens at the edge means accepting a perpetually fragmented experience of viewing that is, significantly, connected to a physical context. This requires neither the high modernist eye of instantaneous delectation nor that of durational contemplation; but rather an eye that apprehends through scans, jolts, and realignments—a spectator who searches for points of contact between constructed limits.

This is smart work by an artist who earned her diploma in painting (from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) just three years ago. Where might it lead? One can undoubtedly recombine endlessly, but it is Załuska’s concise calibration and disjunction between infinitesimal angles, quotients, and forms that gives this series its strength. As she develops these rules of engagement into an idiom, one hopes she can continue to construct a chafing opticality without succumbing to comfortable self-quotation.

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