“Drift” by Stach Szabłowski

‘Drift’ is a post-painterly visual work, created in time and space by Karolina Bielawska. Space is a given: it is the interior of the Wizytująca Gallery. Time is measured by the recipient who wanders through the exhibition. Made of interventions in architecture and artefacts – paintings and post-painterly objects – ‘Drift’ is designed, however, not so much as an exhibition of works, but as a sequence of visual events staged by the artist. Consequently, the works are not displayed, but rather they take place in the gallery; they shape both space and the viewer’s experience. It is not possible to see this exhibition not participating in it at the same time.

Starting from her very well-received diploma ‘Gedenken’ in 2015, Karolina Bielawska has intensively experimented with painting going beyond the framework of autonomous painting. Works that make up the ‘Gedenken’ project were figurative and conceived as a site-specific composition, the final shape of which arose in a dialogue with the exhibition space. The artist showed the project in three different places; in the post-industrial interiors of the printing house Dom Słowa Polskiego, in the neomodern, corporate interiors of the Spektrum Tower office building, and in the historical interior of the Heiligenkreuzer Hof in Vienna. Each of these spaces provided a different kind of ‘framework’ for Bielawska’s paintings and each influenced the dramaturgy of the entire project in a different way. And all that having post-painterly rather than classic painting nature, the representations of ‘Gedenken’ characters were not painted but glued in with adhesive film. In ‘Gedenken’ Bielawska went beyond both traditional formats and painting techniques, but she did not break off the relationship of her work with painting as a collection of specific visual qualities. She does not break this relationship in ‘Drift’ either, although this time she gives up figuration for the sake of non-representative forms completely. No matter if they are paintings on canvas or post-painterly objects, the elements of ‘Drift’ were not intended to represent things and events; they constitute things and events themselves, they are the heroes of their own narration depicted in matter, colour, shape, and scale.

The concept of drift evoked by Bielawska in the title of the exhibition is borrowed from sailing. Drift is sailing beyond the sailor’s control; the course is determined by the forces of nature, with the winds propelling the ship and the sea currents carrying it. At the same time, in artistic terminology, the concept of drift was introduced by Guy Debord. In ‘Théorie de la dérive’ (‘Drift theory’, 1956), he established it as avant-garde and revolutionary strategy of experiencing space, especially urban space. Debordian dérive was the basis of situational psychogeography. Practitioners of this particular type of drift appeared as renovated and radicalized embodiments of 19th-century flâneurs (and also, in a sense of traceursavant la lettre). Debord described dérive as experimental behaviour, moving in space across conventional destinations, roads, orders, and paths; one had to be particularly sensitive to the emotional temperature of the environment and to its subjective reception.

The common denominator of sailing drift and situational drift is the moment of loss of control. One who drifts does not aim to reach a predetermined destination, but rather is pushed towards the unknown by various forces. Bielawska’s ‘Drift’ can be described as a painting experience that takes place beyond the control of conventional forms of painting. It is a sequence of events that are interconnected, but develop in an unpredictable direction.

The principle of drift that organizes the reception of the exhibition also governed the process of its creation. This process was neither a typical arrangement of works in a gallery nor a classic creation of a site-specific installation; another more ‘situational’ procedure came to play here. Initiating the creation of the exhibition Bielawska brought several completed pieces to the gallery – including non -figurative paintings from the ‘Dusts’ series. The hanging of a painting suggests the next move. In the room opening the gallery, there is a wall that does not seem to touch either the floor or the ceiling and leans away from the axis of equilibrium – as if it was frozen a moment before falling, but it never happens. Being in a state of delicate imbalance, the wall requires that the painting hung up there before should be skewed. The consequence of the painting’s presence is the broken glass that appears on a skewed wall. And so on; this is just the beginning of a chain of events. The works provoke other subtle interventions in the architecture of the gallery, the modified architecture redefining the position and role that the works will play – including those that the artist created on site, during the creation of the exhibition, in response to the cues suggested by the ongoing process. This is as if the author drifted, carried not by her preconceived intentions, but by the elements of form and situation that she unleashed herself and that she let slip out of control. Participating in this exhibition is like recreating the path of Bielawska’s drift, but this time the artist’s intuitions and works serve as representatives of the forces that take the viewer into the unknown.

Loss of control has the dimension of liberation from predictability and exposure to risk. Subsequent sequences of the exhibition reflect the dialectic of drift that may lead to both opportunities and threats. In the opening part of the exhibition, the unknown to which we drift takes the forms full of light and enthusiasm. In the second part, into which we walk having crossed a symbolic threshold, the unknown reveals its darker and more mysterious face. In the third part, the ‘light’ visualization from the beginning of the exhibition is replaced by monumental, oppressive works whose form, scale, matter and geometry refer, in the artist’s own words, to the experience of discomfort.

Let’s return to the ‘Dusts’ series for a moment. In each item a different pair of colours meets on the surface in an attempt to find balance in mutual permeation; blue and red, violet and yellow, green and pink. Watched from a distance, they may evoke associations with Fangor’s op-art. Studied at close range, the permeating gradients of colours appear to be dust sprayed on canvas with wood and metal enamel. ‘Dusts’ series evokes associations equally with elements of nature and industrial artificialness. In subsequent works from the ‘Drift’ cycle, the artist will seek painting qualities beyond painterly techniques. Broken glass, in which fragments of the exhibition are reflected. A pane of epoxy resin mixed with water and pigments and light that is filtered through this semi-translucent matter resembling a frozen sea. Simple, monumental forms painted with asphalt glue on plasterboards and polyurethane foam; we see construction materials and plastics, but we still interpret them as painting. Paradoxically, the fact that these materials are not embroiled in painting traditions makes them more visually visible; the convention does not obscure what can be seen; and what is artificial, industrial, and technological is nothing else but a new nature. We are drifting towards the post-natural world in which the division into nature and what is artificial seems to be anachronistic. This is also true of Karolina Bielawska’s post-painterly art which blurs the division into architectural space and paintings exhibited inside this space, paintings and objects, objects and their matter, matter and the viewer’s experience.

Stach Szabłowski, 2017