Karolina Bielawska’s painting does not bombard viewers with an overload of stimuli or easy narrative figures. It is focused and disciplined. The formal values that gradually reveal themselves to the eye are firmly embedded in the properties of the materials used: their industrial origin, textures, density, colors, and carefully planned spatial relations. Despite its economy and meditative meticulousness, this is a practice that is capable of generating an explosion of diverse and multilayered impressions, in which authentic relations and events materialize.
Under the persistent pressures of contemporary life, pushing us to burn the midnight oil and to sweat blood at the gym as part of our daily routine, we’d rather drop dead than let ourselves be caught daydreaming. We strain to utilize every second of the precious day; to manage our time and optimize our activity; to supplement our bodies and motivate our psyches so that not a single moment is wasted. Sisyphus’ struggle against time, despite spectacular successes, leads inevitably and directly to exhaustion and decrepitude.
One of the most effective motivational tools for focusing one’s effort is the setting of specific goals: earning a diploma, completing a project, securing a raise, going on holiday, finding the love of one’s life. You’re waiting, but the whole time you can’t wait. The expectant human is accustomed to this condition, but his or her perspective is limited to a maximum allowance of one year for a desirable event to take place.
At the same time that IG Farben was breaking ground on the building that today houses the Gorzów Municipal Art Center (MOS), scientist Thomas Parnell initiated, in 1930, his famous “pitch drop” experiment, “the longest continuous experiment in the world,” at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. The experiment, for which Parnell would posthumously be awarded the Ig Nobel Prize, consisted of placing a sample of tar pitch into a glass funnel. Although the substance appears to be solid, crumbling when hit with a hammer, it is, in fact, a highly viscous liquid. Within the funnel, it flows at an incomprehensibly sluggish rate, with each drop that has separated from Parnell’s sample having taken between seven and thirteen years to do so. The experiment continues uninterrupted until this day, transmitted live on the Internet. Patience, concentration, the absurdity of the situation, and the impossibility of exceeding perceptive habits are discoveries as valuable as determining the liquidity of pitch. Nine drops have dripped across the decades, and yet no one has ever seen the moment at which any of them fell. Waves, flows, processes, their continuity, movement, and resonance—their separation effectively eludes perception and is only recorded as an event that took place.
When Stilon’s Gorzów plants were experiencing their last moments of glory, the apex of prosperity did not foretell an imminent and inevitable demise. During this same period, shortly before noon on January 28, 1986, televisions were set up in classrooms across the United States so that children could witness Christa McAuliffe become the first teacher in space. While in orbit aboard the Challenger space shuttle, she was to lead two long-distance classes. But the shuttle’s launch and flight, with the first teacher-astronaut on board, lasted only seventy-three seconds. Viewers had only just begun to adjust their vision to the visuals on-screen, beamed live by CNN, when they were forced to confront a sequence of events that should not have happened and for which they were not prepared: the streaking rocket and shuttle were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire and plumes of smoke. Sudden and unexpected events are as difficult to grasp as those that exceed the limits of patience and free time.
At one time, IG Farben was the largest chemical and pharmaceutical company in the world, and the largest company in Europe, period. Some of its former subsidiaries remain leading chemical and pharmaceutical firms, including BASF and Bayer. Today, the company is associated mainly with its collaboration with a fascist regime, its reliance on the work of concentration-camp slave labor, and the production of Zyklon B, although the history of the conglomerate is not wholly negative. IG stands for Interessengemeinschaft, or a joint venture in the business sense. Despite its euphemistic ring, the term meant that the individual entities of the company, which were merged together in 1925, were coequal. The social awareness and modernizing impulse introduced by IG Farben are still visible in the urban fabric of Gorzów: a former casino for employees, now occupied by MOS; housing estates for workers; and traces of Stilon’s activity, modeled upon German factories. What impact did the chemical plant have on the city and its residents, matter reacting and transmuting within the plant, and the plant itself undergoing transformations, the nature of its production specialized and alchemically fantastical? Can socio- and urban-economic changes be represented in visual form—be synthetically mapped? How to capture abstract motion, reflected not only in facts, stats, and events, but also conveyed through energy flow, emotions, and all that is hidden in dispersal, or that is, in fact, indiscreet?
In physics, phase diagrams are used to visualize Hamiltonian functions, as they are capable of graphically representing complex dynamical systems. In Karolina Bielawska’s series of paintings, created for this exhibition, tar congeals into segments of circles and arcs. Spreading on the surface of the canvas, the shapes resemble the organs of Le Corbusier’s Modulor. They seem to be as precise as plotted mathematical objects; like vectors in which direction has been swapped with texture and magnitude has given way to curves. Subtle and fluid, they simultaneously combine roughness and sophistication. The painter’s decisions are concrete, although the material she operates with is dense and resistant. Despite such rigid discipline, simple geometric stains of varying proportions here achieve poetry. They are capable of emotionally resonating with the viewer, setting off vibrations which allow one to slip with the entire land-sliding city beneath its difficult history.
The site-specific installation the artist realized in MOS fits perfectly within the physical limitations of the materials used, the surface of gypsum boards, and the gallery space. Without the necessity of reaching for external discursive tools, on the basis of the substances themselves and their artistic properties, phantom structures are summoned back into existence, resurrecting an amputated heritage. The essence of the place, city, and habitat, absent from popular representations, continues to want to manifest its presence.
Jakub Bąk, 2019