The Splendour of Myself
by Stach Szablowski
Within the realm of the self-portrait Splendour of Myself, Zofia Kulik presents herself as a queen. Where is her kingdom? It lies in the private empire of a photographic archive, a collection made up of preserved or frozen gestures and motifs, a kingdom of ornaments in which forms are constantly repeated and pictures are rhythmically unravelled in time.
Zofia Kulik started to produce self-portraits after 1987, which brought an end to her collaboration with Przemysław Kwiek. In a sense, Kulik’s self-portraits were not possible prior to that date. Between 1971–1987 the artist did not act autonomously, never exhibiting under her own name, only as a half of the artist team KwieKulik. The self-portrait came, therefore, as a manifestation of an awakening of identity in the artist. Along with this self-justification came the ornament. Though looked down upon at the dawn of modernism as blasphemy, the ornament served as a way for Zofia Kulik to unravel a vision of history, politics and art, as a continuum of recurring signs and gestures, organised by the artist’s individual experience and materialised in her private archive of images.
In the 70ties, within the frame work of KwieKulik, the artist was concerned with the most radical sub-genre of process art, that excludes the picture or work of art as a complete, finite form: ”We were never finishing anything”, – Kulik has said in one interview; the art of KwieKulik was unfolding as an on-going artistic, sociological and political experiment, with its authors playing the roles of guinea-pigs and taking all the risks related to those roles. After 1987, Kulik decided to create compound photographic compositions. The contradiction between the "open form” of earlier actions and the "complete form” of the later works from the end of the 80ties was overcome by the use of ornamentation. Isn’t the ornament the most open of forms, a potential unfinished image?
Between 1987–91, Zofia Kulik implemented about 700 photographs of a naked male model, presented on a black background, striking poses and performing symbolic gestures quoted from ancient Greek vases, catholic iconography, and modern painting as well as Stalinists memorials. This collection of photographs, entitled by the artist Archive of gestures had been incorporated into a larger, extensive archive, created by the artist from the very beginning of her artistic practice. This archive of photographic images, the visual equivalent of life experiences up to the present, constitutes the material of Zofia Kulik´s art.
The images of Zofia Kulik are produced as photo montages, using multiple exposures placed on a photo paper, through precisely cut masks. In this way one work can consist of hundreds or – in the case of more elaborate pieces – even thousands of single images. The represented elements are reduced to the status of a sign; the structure is ruled by the grammar of ornament; based on rhythms, repetitions and symmetries. These photographic ornaments are woven into robes, which the artist uses to clothe herself in her self-portraits – similar to polish devotional traditions, where one "clothes” the painted representations of Holy Mary in so called camisoles, made of precious metals and valuable stones. History is ornamentalised as well. In the works such as Idioms of the socages Zofia Kulik reckons with the visual experience of totalitarianism, by weaving presentations from the political gestures and symbols she collects. Her practice, the weaving of images, reminds one of oriental carpets, a reference to which the artist consciously refers in many of her works. The signs that make up these photographic carpets, evoke oriental calligraphy, where the difference between the text and ornament is abolished – just like in the art of Zofia Kulik the borders between discursiveness and decorativeness, tradition and modernity, rhythm and narration, abstraction and allegory are blurred „In a sense it is easy, banal and kitschy”, said Kulik in 1998 "The subtlety of this work relies on its complexity. I feel that a great value of my work is the fact that I'm a talented organizer of compound visual structures. In turn all of the details are simple, like in a common song about love, death etc. My whole work is based on the fact that I permanently collect and archive the images of this world. The complexity of this work comes from the richness of the archive that I possess.”
Translation by Weronika Bachman and Ron Rocco