“As Above, So Below” by Ewa Borysiewicz

References to alchemical knowledge from the early-modern period may today seem like a choice at odds with the contemporary elevation of rationalism. Alchemy is the progenitor of modern research disciplines, the intellectual materia prima from which the exact sciences, humanities, and the arts emerged. (It is perhaps worth noting Isaac Newton’s keen interest in alchemy.) The paths of science and art overlap anew in the work of Karolina Bielawska, indicating, perhaps more than we would like, a complicating of the relationship between rationality and emotionality. In the twenty-first century, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish truth from falsity, understatement from beguilement, and a shift in perspective from outright distortion.

At first glance, the figures advancing through Bielawska’s paintings resemble projections of geometric solids: the humps corresponding to elliptical orbits, the multiplied slopes and peaks to wave amplitude or self-replicating fractals. Bielawska’s starting point, however, is utterly elsewhere. Referring to her method, the artist instead speaks of emotions, of states of mind, without placing any emphasis on calculations derived from numerical sequences and combinations of proportions. The traces of this process are evident in titles that summon human experience, words generating in assemblage (un)intentional associations.

When studying a mathematical formula, we can all see a reflection of the same concept. When, however, it comes to art, the consistency of viewers’ interpretations divagates. They become unique, conditioned by an individualized past and future, set of beliefs and predispositions. Each of the elements comprising the exhibition demonstrates a different form of tension between background and figure, illustrating the (at times violent, merciless) clash between the void and the sign. The distinctive
character of works is emphasized and enhanced by the artist’s choice of materials: dark sections are coated with coarse bituminous paint, blue ones with a light gouache. Beholding this complex interplay of colors, textures, and shapes, we will, perhaps unconsciously, assign intentions, temperament, and stories to renderings, with every reading becoming one of idiosyncratic projection.

At the core of Bielawska’s interests are relationships: element–whole, fragment–entirety. The exhibition-situation the artist engineered doubles as a particular Rorschach test, through which we may see ourselves in the context of the Other and the Stranger. The title of the exhibition is a direct reference to the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm. For the alchemists, the former represented the individual, and the latter a community or the universe. The unity of mysticism, science, and art is symbolized by Hermes Trismegistus, a deity syncretized from the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. It is to Trismegistus that the following maxim is attributed: “That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above,” a formulation advancing that everything happening on one plane of reality also occurs in its other dimensions. To grasp a phenomenon in the micro therefore enables one to grasp its essence at the macro.

One must comprehend the particular’s core concept in order to probe the secret of the general – this notion underpins the arrangement of works in BWA Olsztyn’s main gallery. The artist assembled self-determining, autonomous canvases into configurations attuned to a larger spatial order: the building’s architecture, modular profiles, metal structures. The unconventional arrangement, which reveals impossible-seeming subversions, simultaneously challenges that structural order. As a result, Bielawska’s individual works, as well as their constellated form, firmly impress their influence on the surrounding environment.

Ewa Borysiewicz, 2022

Translated by Stefan Lorenzutti and Joanna Osiewicz-Lorenzutti