View of “I’m About to Go Berserk,” 2019. From Left: Zuzanna Janin, Monkey (Femmage a Maria Anto), 2018; Maria Anto, Blue-Eyed, 1975.

View of “I’m About to Go Berserk,” 2019. From Left: Zuzanna Janin, Monkey (Femmage a Maria Anto), 2018; Maria Anto, Blue-Eyed, 1975.

“I’m About to Go Berserk”

The relationship between mothers and daughters is famously supposed to be crucial for female creativity. In “I’m About to Go Berserk,” whose title is taken from a song by the Polish rock singer Katarzyna Nosowska, eight female artists explored their relationships with their mothers (in a few cases also artists) or looked at the mother-daughter connection more broadly. It was, understandably, an emotionally intense exhibition. Within traditionally patriarchal Polish culture, this bond has been so overlooked there is not even a word to describe it. We have motherhood, but, as in English, hardly anyone speaks of daughterhood. How then to invent a language that would allow these closely bonded women to communicate and translate their experience into culture?

The mother of the video and installation artist Zuzanna Janin was the well-known Surrealist painter Maria Anto (1936–2007). Elegant and beautiful, featured in lifestyle magazines, exhibited in Paris and surrounded by admirers, she must have been a tough act to follow. Her daughter first became known not as an artist but as an actress, playing a rebellious teenager in a popular Polish television series in the mid-1970s. Despite the mother-daughter rivalry signaled in her previous work, Janin helped organize a retrospective of her mother’s oeuvre in 2018. For lokal_30, she decided to respond to a painting of her mother’s from 1975, a pensive portrait of a monkey titled Blue-Eyed. In her Monkey (Femmage a Maria Anto), 2018, Janin replicates the painted simian in three dimensions, using the cheapest materials: Styrofoam, Plasticine, and epoxy resin. And yet the differences seemed intended to reconcile.

Małgorzata Markiewicz’s Songbook, 2019, dwelt on the ideas that mothers pass on to their daughters about romantic relationships. Markiewicz’s mother, a homemaker, was addicted in her youth to schmaltzy love songs, whose lyrics she cut out from magazines and collected in little scrapbooks. Later, the seemingly innocent words struck Markiewicz as shockingly cruel and misogynistic. She chose to turn some especially sexist lyrics into embroidery on paper. The stitching, as a puncturing of the paper’s skin, seemed to allow for the same combination of cruelty and beauty typical of the tormented love described in the songs—and characteristic of the intense mother-daughter bond.

The Polish-Russian Constructivist Katarzyna Kobro (1898–1951) was the (art-historical rather than biographical) subject of Małgorzata Malwina Niespodziewana’s work, which took the form of a sequence of pop-up-book spreads recounting Kobro’s difficult life: She suffered from domestic violence inflicted by her husband, the artist Władysław Strzemin´ski, and undertook a desperate fight to retain guardianship of her daughter Nika. Now recognized as a world-class avant-gardist, Kobro died forgotten; she is said to have been so poor she had to burn her own sculptures as firewood. Niespodziewana’s pop-up design was a nod to the Russian avant-garde’s affinity for children’s books, and symbolically reunited Kobro and Nika, who was a little girl when Kobro died.

The mother of New York–based Elka Krajewska decided to become an artist after reading about Kobro in her retirement, having spent most of her life working as a patternmaker and costume technician. She started off constructing Kobro-inspired “architectons” out of cardboard, calling herself KrajM (CountryM). After she suffered a stroke a few years ago, her cognition was impaired; she was like a child again. As a way of communicating with her, Krajewska began making art with her mother, who continued on her own, though her daughter had to remind her how to depict a female body. Care and collaboration become one. Along with her own works, Krajewska exhibited her mother’s extremely touching watercolors, in which the human body undergoes various unconventional polymorphous metamorphoses; when occasionally a “correct” body form emerges, it feels like something has been lost.

Finally, the embarrassing side of intimacy was explored in Maria Toboła’s video Autoportret z matka (Self-Portrait with Mother), 2009, in which she passionately kisses her somewhat reserved, bourgeois mother in front of a fireplace. More than a violation of the incest taboo, it expresses a struggle with the strong feelings mothers and daughters have for each other. Although these women might not always have their culture’s permission, the suppressed energy of their emotions seems ready to explode with a sense of an unbridled female power.