MANTRA (WITHIN) EMPTY PLACES.
For over thousands of years a dispute between supporters and opponents of idolatry was going on, but nowadays it has taken on a different meaning and dimension. As a result of the popularization of the new digital media, it is hard to imagine the life without a permanent picture transmission. Unfortunately, one of the intrinsic effects of this phenomenon is an anarchy of the picture – its fetishization and spreading out into the outside iconic enclaves. The renaissance of picture, which is going on before our eyes, is not a factor uniting our identity, but it is a kind of fetish and myth, which is to hide the overwhelming feeling of incongruence between reality and its images. Perhaps the orgiastic need of picturing alone is going to be a kind of strategy, which is to fill the paradoxical feeling of emptiness and loneliness of a modern human being. Regardless of this, bearing in mind the West (ethnocentric) point of view, the problem of emptiness or nihility is connected with eschatology and/or nihilism, because it connotes the idea of absence, death and lack. It is seen especially in the 20th century humanistic thought, which places this sphere within the frames of exhaustion discourse, neurosis, and the death of the Author (also the subject). In contrast to this discourse, the mass media proved something completely different – according to them, the ideas and images were to be a trampoline bouncing up and familiarizing a human with civilization fears, in fact they just concealed or displaced them. Instead of catharsis and commentary, we received overproduction and fetishization, which could only lead us back to the emptiness and implosion. Despite the fact, that the whole world today is deep in a great spectacle and information noise, there are always tectonic movements at its peripheries. That is why, at present, on different principles, silence and quiet are back in grace. In the art the significant and typical deconstruction signs occur. John Cage, drawing inspiration in his art from Japanese Zen, as early as in the fifties of the last century, stressed the importance of silence in performative and visual arts. The most spectacular example of this is his composition 4'33'', where for the time of 4 minutes and 33 seconds no note is performed since the notation of the piece only includes rests. John Cage had many followers among other artists of the second avant-garde, who deconstructed the language and favoured silence, emptiness or quietness. They invited the viewers to empty galleries (Yves Klein), rubbed "picture" (Robert Rauschenberg), and approached aesthetic meta-white (Roman Opa³ka) or tried to dematerialize the work and medium (Joseph Kosuth). The created idea, within the frames of conceptual art – so called zero option of the work of art – was (and still is) an attempt of coding the innocence of situation, when space creates no meaning (thus connoting no ideology), which Barthes calls the zero stage of signifié.
Maria Wasilewska's works, which were produced in the past ten years, articulate clearly the previously mentioned conceptual redefinitions in the heart of art alone, as well as in its philosophy. The artist, since her graduation in 1996 from The Fine Arts Department at Nicolas Copernicus University in Toruń, started to exhibit her works, which made not only a meta-reflection over a work of art or medium, but also they were an important attempt of crossing them over. In her early realizations we recognize small sculpture forms, where the object itself is dominant as a distinguished artefact (e.g., the exhibition ~pvp, Gallery at the Vistula River, 2001). These works were perfect within the space, but their sensual form was a counterpoint or dominant to it. Soon however, after 2000 year, the artist begins to work in the categories of the individual project, which is always connected to a specific place. That is why, from this time, every exhibition by Maria Wasilewska is a complete work oscillating between the idea of site specific and environment. This way of thinking is especially visible at the joint exhibition Genius loci (Toruń, 2003), where the artist presented the installation called Im possible. This work discovers also the new inclinations and interests of the artist. The significant point ot the realization is thinking in the categories of geometry and op-art. The new language taken by Maria Wasilewska refers, on the one hand to abstraction, but on the other hand, to visualizm. In contrast to the majority of artists using optic effects, Maria Wasilewska is not interested in the art of eye deluding only. This realization and many later ones (e.g., mirror-objects) were, without doubt, supposed to impact the emotions and intellect. This situation is a way, perhaps, from crying of the eye to crying or rather purifying the site. As a result, we can say that one of the fundamental contexts of the artist's creation is both philosophy and psychophysiology of seeing as well.
The sphere of visibility and connected to it interfaces are to Maria Wasilewska a kind of mirror, in which the receiver may look at oneself. The perception and the reception in the artists realizations interfere with one another and as it seems, they make a strategy, which provokes the critical (sometimes ironic, or nostalgic) thought over a work of art, medium and the subject itself. In the next years, in such her works as Iterations (2006) or Articulations (2008) the aspect of light disorder and the play of mirror reflections (similar to Yayoi Kusama's work) becomes a key element in the relation between the artefact and the receiver. At the same time, the mirror effect created by the artist, similarly as in Jan Berdyszak's projects, may point out, that the integral subject of a work is the thing reflected and both the process and the time of reflection.
The process of changing a work during the viewing is not, in case of Maria Wasilewska, only a means of conveying some theatricality or space theatricalization. This is absolutely conceptual attitude, which is to serve both providing the third dimension of a work and also stressing its ephemeral features. The works produced in 2004 "Insynchronic event? (Gallery at the Vistula River, Toruń) or mentioned earlier Articulations, are the projects, which true 'co-authors' are time, space and the receiver. These realizations demand straight active participation of a viewer, who by his/her motive force and migration within the borders of the work, initiates and activates its meaning.
Some of many works of Maria Wasilewska produced in the last years, creates their own space-time. What is distinctive for the artistic procedure and the artist's practice, is the increasing, from project to project, minimalistic and ascetic approach of the means taken. If, in some of her realizations (Break, 2007) there happen to be embellishments, it is never a 'perversion' of roccoco. The work is always contextually linked with the site in Wasilewska's projects. The artist takes into considerations its past, the present state and the potential. Such a way of thinking demands a look at the architecture of an exhibition space and a work, also in the categories of archeology and futurology. Maria Wasilewska tests both, her own private illusions and also possibilities of medium and place. In this way, in her art, (like in Anemic Cinema by Duchamp), illusion and deillusion, physics and metaphysics, or as in the payroll by Kosuth, sociology with politics, meet. The last aspect of her artistic work, seldom mentioned, is proved by such artistic actions as poster happening in Toruń called S.R.A.A.S (2007) or the project Process (2009), presented at Open Workshop. The starting point of the last one, as the artist puts it, "is based on the absurd assumption of scholarship project applied to the Ministry of Culture. It grew out of helplessness in the face of mechanisms which control today's world of art in our fatherland. This project, which is a kind of intellectual game, is always a winner, regardless of the Scholarship Commission's verdict and its author has a fleeting impression of overcoming a system." It is worth mentioning that the assumption of the project was receiving the rejection of the application concerning a six-month scholarship. In result, there was an exhibition at the gallery and publication of a huge documentation, in each case it was a discovering and revealing the Kafka's system in the world (no longer) abandoned by Kafka. The "incriminating evidence" went under the aesthetic and semiotic processes and start to live its own life. In this realization, with a great force, - like in Jacques Raniere's writings, aesthetic was presented as politics. This amazing coincidence of narration and discourse shows how far, the political context is present in every sphere of our life.
The latest expositions of Maria Wasilewska seem to summarize visual and coceptual experiences of the artist. At the exhibition at Salt Warehouse Today is my birthday (2011), the artist redefined neutral and empty space in a room of white cube type. In the first of the two rooms, there happened a video loop-projection: in a projected circle clouds were flowing, and in the centre there was an eye 'looking' at the viewer. In a result, every viewer, who was present in this metaphoric eye of the cyclone, was at the same time an observer and observant, as if in a phantasmagoric reality show.
In the adjacent room, there was a concave mirror, which reflected the whirl of changing colours in the projection room and it reversed and deformed the viewer. This realization at a first sight may bring about similarities to the spectacular work by Olafur Eliasson, The weather project at Tate Modern in London, 2003. On the contrary, however, to the famous Islander, the force and meaning of Maria Wasilewska's project was not merely manoeuvering the perception for the sake of the illusion itself, but it is rather the process of putting the viewer in front of him/herself and making him/her reflect by the use of power (violence) of image. As it earlier happened in the historic work TV Buddha by June Paika.
Next, in the recent realization of the artist, Mind the Gap (Cellar Gallery, 2011) redefinition of space became a reason to a discussion on the place, form, sound and image status. Similarly as in pithy for Buddhist Sutra Heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom 'form is emptiness, emptiness is form" Maria Wasilewska reveals the conventional way of thinking about space and the subject itself. It occurs while we are interpreting our place in time and in life (and also in art) since the key point is a gap between mind and reality – this empty place, in which there is no space for semantic and semiotic games. However, paradoxically, in order to reveal them, the artist balances rhythmically with the ephemeral forms, accompanied by sound and light. It is a kind of iteration – the artistic mantra (within) empty places, in which the individual subject is blurred and space is provided with the third dimension, while form and emptiness are 'self-returning' and reversed. The artistic work of Maria Wasilewska proves in a very suggestive way that art is only and maybe more a trajectory of a dream, which unites narratively existence with non-existence.