The title of Marzena Nowak’s exhibition ‘an’ made use of a German preposition that can be translated as ‘to’. As if written on a postcard or a letter, it seemed to address each visitor directly, implying the possibility of viewing the exhibition from multiple, subjective points of view. Nowak’s works, which ranged from painting to sculpture and video, connected the present – the ‘now’ of tangible objects, shapes and patterns – with the absent, the ‘past’ of memories and the complication of time in our imaginations or dreams.
Three untitled works (all works 2011) in the first room formed a peculiar narrative, as if one had walked onto a Surrealist film set. A burgundy Oriental rug, dark brown wooden molding on the walls, and a projection of a view out of a window at dawn, evoked a bourgeois living room interior. However, through strategies of displacement and interventions into the domestic situation, reality was rendered strange. Nowak had cut the rug into two irregular shapes that refer to the space left empty between two sofas, their presence imagined. Thus, she created form through a process of subtraction, leaving the fragmentary to stand in for the whole. The molding, mounted at the height of a handrail, brought a human scale to the installation, yet through the formal strictness of its uninterrupted horizontal line it also shifted the interior from the domestic toward the abstract. The projection Untitled (light piece), slowly fading in and out, created a gloomy, dreamlike atmosphere. The effect was similar to that of a shadow cast by a real window, triggering a feeling of uncertainty towards the spatial configurations of the gallery.
In the past, Nowak has frequently employed sewing patterns – significant childhood memories for the artist – as formal structures for her works on canvas and paper. The nine new paintings on display (all untitled) were also based on finely drawn grids, reminiscent of graph paper but also the woven texture of fabric or carpets, which Nowak applied to the canvases as a structural underlay. Three large-scale, rectangular works were grouped together to form a triptych, each covered by triangular shapes, their colours ranging from beige and yellow to bright pink, green and blue. These shapes formed clusters towards the centre of each painting, leaving the raw canvas and the structural grid exposed towards the edges. From a distance, the grid, with its connotations of minimal formal austerity, was fully subsumed by the rhythmic swarms of colours, giving the works a restless quality.
The four-minute, black and white video Untitled (in between) showed the close-up movement of the artist’s hand across a soft surface, a steady, stroking motion from the centre towards the bottom edge of the screen, with the hand occasionally disappearing out of view. At one point, however, her hand veers off to the top left corner, interrupting the regular pattern of movement. The change of direction not only implies the possibility of endless variations, but also gives the impression of an involuntary, unconscious movement. The body, which remains invisible to the viewer in its entirety, may be asleep, or, as the title suggests, in the ‘in-between state’ that characterizes the moment of awakening.
Nowak describes the sewing patterns used in some of her paintings as ‘constellations, three-dimensional maps, fingerprints, a universe.’ She sees the unreachable – the universe – folded within the physically close – the fingerprint. From the close-up image of the fragmented body to the abstraction of a domestic interior, Nowak extracts from the personal and the subjective a visual language of formal precision where the physicality of the everyday fades into the abstract and imaginary.
First published in Issue 140