‘The Promise of Photography’, The PG Bank Collection, 1998
Hans Gunter Golinski
Zofia Kulik, The Splendour of Myself (I), 1997 182 x 152 cm
Zofia Kulik, formerly the female half of the performance duo ‘KwieKulik’, unifies elements of her previous œuvre with the medium of photography, thus expanding the expressive possibilities of collage. She opens up to the viewer a black-and-white photo-kaleidoscope that lives from the tension of opposites: past and present, banal and aesthetic, reality and fantasy meet each other head-on. Since 1987 she has made large-format ornamental compositions which she has assembled from a multitude of individual photographic motifs. She has maintained a simple technical standard, enlarging all the details separately and combining them as a collage, without concealing irregularities. In this way her works retain a lively, characteristic, ‘handwritten’ style.
Just as in performance, the human being stands as a player at the center of attention; his actions are symbolic. A dramaturgy determines time and space. Objects function as attributive requisites in the allegorical symbols. In Zofia Kulik’s art there exists only one theme: the dense interweaving of human relations. It deals with the relationship to the divine, to nature and to one’s fellow human beings. As the daughter of a Polish army general, she reflects in her pictures the experiences of her parents’ generation and that of her own with totalitarianism. She abstracts from concrete situations and generally illuminates the manifestations of the private and official exercise of power, as well as suppression. She gathers together fragments from the art and everyday worlds, photographing and categorizing them as documents of her own life. This personal archive does not, however, stiffen into a dead inventory, but serves as a rich find for an artistic rearranging of the world. With her knowledge of design principles, as valid for cosmograms or mandalas, she weaves individual items into a ‘carpet of life’. Her ornamental symbols are a call in equal measure to reading and meditation in order to trigger aesthetic experience. Along with the inherent strength of meaning, the individual photo motifs interweave to become energetic structures. An inner rhythm reigns within this pictorial cosmos; any continuous conception of space and time is annulled through repetitions and symmetries. Almost exclusively, Zofia Kulik uses her artist friend Zbigniew Libera as a model. Through his nakedness, the dictated poses, and a multitude of individual photos of different sizes, she succeeds in ‘de-individualizing’ him and reduces him to a series of gestures. By contrast, she frequently appears in her pictures as an emancipated woman. In the self-portrait The Splendour of Myself (1997) she presents herself before a heraldic background in the habitude which Mannerist painters such as Clouet and Gheeraert d. J. lent to the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.
The robes of the artist consist of ‘festive dress’, ‘jewelry’, and ‘insignias’, suggesting a display of power and splendor with their ornamental richness. The macrostructure of the portrait aims for a monumental effect through symmetry and statuesque characteristics. At the same time the richly detailed ‘pat-terns’ vibrate and form a vital order. The reading of the symbols remains complex; subjective and handed-down meanings are overlaid. The nakedness of the man, reduced through stylization to a symbol, can be understood both as an expression of beauty, purity, or heroism, as well as of self-abandon and man as victim of his fate. Flowers and fruits symbolize fertility and transience. Additionally, the sickle and the cross in the background refer to development and passing away. Here, a fertility goddess ruling over life and death presents herself. The feminine principle is confidently represented; extending to the male counterpole, this art offers a communication pattern characterized by eroticism in the sense of platonic philosophy.
Zofia Kulik does not permit any false pathos, however; she counteracts this demonstration of power almost ironically. The banal realism of the sickle eclipses the religious realism with its political symbolism and poses the question of the respective use and misuse of symbols. Ironically, the symbol of power of the former Soviet Union is echoed in the image of the flower with five petals. A cucumber as a scepter, a withered dandelion as an imperial orb and cabbage leaves as a crown lend the portrait a caricature-like quality. At the same time, they also lend a fairytale, fantastic quality to the artist’s portrait. Zofia Kulik has expanded her aesthetic œuvre to the effect that, with the aid of photography, she is able to extend her fleeting performance to lasting scenes from the world theater.