Janina Kraupe-Świderska, Pięć modlitw (Five Prayers), 1984, oil on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 33 1⁄2". From “Cosmic Mothers.”

Janina Kraupe-Świderska, Pięć modlitw (Five Prayers), 1984, oil on canvas, 39 3⁄8 × 33 1⁄2". From “Cosmic Mothers.”

“Cosmic Mothers”

Why don’t more contemporary exhibitions ask questions about “the meaning of existence”? I mean it. There is (of course?) no meaning, but the visionary fortunes and futures we might hazard are many, which is to say the meaning is what we make, and the world we live in is part of this, made by us too. If we don’t accept what we’ve been given, told, circumscribed by, can we think and make our way out? Can we turn staid structures and beliefs on their heads to generate some brave new alterity with infinite horizons, first ideological and then, someday, practical, real?

“Cosmic Mothers,” curated by Mimosa House founder Daria Khan, brings together five artists whose work circles around and within such questions. The exhibition is presided over by a projection of Cosmic Mother, a 1970 painting by Soviet artist Galina Konopatskaya (1911–1989) of an astronaut cradling an infant; the image hovers brightly against the gallery’s back wall like a ghostly digital magus. The work serves as a kind of prompt for the show, which proposes that by liberating this image from its history of socialist realism and nationalist mythmaking to focus on its enigmatic appearance—the Cosmic Mother’s seemingly androgynous and raceless visage—one allows new pasts, presents, and futures to emerge. In these worlds, given relations have been destabilized and remade. 

In Untitled, 2018, Bonnie Camplin pairs a set of fifteen drawings synthesizing concepts of geometry, electricity, and time with twenty-eight printouts relating to recent UFO reports and extracts from a US Department of Defense study about warp drive, dark energy, and other dimensions. Representations of the golden section sit alongside depictions of wave frequencies, a flying saucer, and universal ratios in nature. The overlapping forms, circles within circles within circles, seem to give rise to some new, uncalcified mode of thinking, evincing a world just behind this world. Jackie Karuti’s drawings, sculpture, and pair of videos invoke imaginary underwater realms, from a speculative African continent about to be submerged, to Drexciya, the Afrofuturist conception of the ocean as a darkly emancipatory, ancestral force. In fifty-one blue-ink-on-wood panels laid across the floor, like heavens inverted, Alexandra Paperno maps the constellations rejected in the International Astronomical Union’s 1922 standardization of the sky chart. Annie Goh’s three-part sound installation Myths of Echo, 2021, fills pockets of the gallery with digital cyberfeminism-inflected echoes that summon sites of archaeo-acoustic significance, as if the space of the exhibition itself were being reconfigured by sound at each turn.

Most striking are works by late avant-garde Polish artist Janina Kraupe-Świderska (1921–2016), some of which hang from the ceiling like screens, dividing the space with vivid planes of color. These abstract paintings are raucous with signs, symbols, and gestures, suggesting esoteric hallucinatory writing. Influenced by Surrealist automatism and Eastern philosophy, Kraupe-Świderska entered meditative states to produce these works, as if to paint were to divine that which exists beyond what can be readily seen. These pieces, like those of the four living artists in the exhibition, pose enticing, vexing questions: What are we missing? What has been obscured, forgotten, not yet imagined? How else might things have been? Is it too late?

Earthbound, we can dream of elsewhere, longing not for billionaire’s phallic enterprise of a day jaunt into the stratosphere and beyond just to say he can, but rather striving for realms of thought and being that have yet to be truly inhabited. As the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, “Some dreams tell us what we wish to believe. Some dreams tell us what we fear. Some dreams are what we know though we may not know we knew it. The rarest dream is the dream that tells us what we did not know.” In “Cosmic Mothers,” images, ideas, sounds, constellations of artworks enter into dialogue to probe these speculative worlds, even as our feet remain on the ground.