Cydonia is a contempory gallery in Dallas that has caught my attention. The owner and director Hanh Ho is delightful, intelligent, educated, witty, interesting, and understandably passionate and dedicated to her mission “supporting the careers of emerging artists whose practices have international relevance and to show artists that have cultural and historical significance, conceptual rigor, or are the singular voice of their generation”. Dallas has a new gift in Cydonia.
For the exhibition Ho brought in Polish born artist Justyna Gorowska to show seductively captured stills from prior documented performance work and live work which the artist performed the evening of Friday, April 17th. This body of Gorowska’s work is based on her discovery of and artistic connection with photographic work by Francesca Woodman. Ho describes the Polish artists affinity as one of understanding and identification. Gorowska isn’t interested in copying Woodman’s work but responding as a means of what I deem as artistic kinship. Viewers of Cydonia need not necessarily be familiar with Woodman’s photographs but Ho states that it might aid in understanding Gorowska’s process and work in this series.
As an artist that makes and directs performance I am interested in knowing something about another artists practice and intention. This can be important in experiencing the work. Here from Cydonia’s website on Gorowska:
Justyna Gorowska is a performance artist whose practice is focused reconciliation of the post-humanistic condition. Her practice explores a new model of living where humanity can evolve past its privileged place in the universe, where the individual can become one with her reality, as the artist poetically describes, “as water in water.” Delicate, precious objects, videos, installations and performances are founded upon the belief that culture creates humans, that culture is but another level of nature created in evolution. Art is biological. Obsessed with creation of taut emotions in her viewers, Gorowska uniquely finds the precise movements and actions to tease out and control the viewer’s sensitivity, reminding us of our most primal and perhaps, evolved desires. The bedrock of existence for all life is different than the basis for survival. There is no violence, there is no competition for resources because her goal is to reconstruct a “lost vision of the world.” She insists we should reinterpret what it means to be human when we think that culture is the antithesis of nature, that which seems wild, uncivilized, or depraved. For her, ethically, all living, sentient beings are part of culture.
As in Woodman’s photographic work, Gorowska’s video stills rarely if ever reveal her face. The artist is not interested in fashioning her body as celebrity, superstar, or model but as human. During a gallery visit the day after Gorowska’s live performance I gained even more understanding of the artists process as Ho described her work.
“This work goes beyond mymicry. In order to re-stage Woodman’s actions you have to, in the best way possible restate the best way to feel the emotion of the work. A copy is a copy but this work goes beyond that because Gorowska is restating the emotion and sensation of Woodman’s photographs”, says director Hah Ho. Gorowska’s sensitive work is based on a very intuitive process which provides for her a way to respond to Woodman’s work yet make it her own.
Friday evening the gallery was filled with people, many with connections to the University of Texas at Arlington and other artist friends and acquaintenances from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Prior to the performance we were informed not to take photographs during the performance, something I have come to respect in the age of social media.
Gorowska performed live at Cydonia among her enchanting black and white video stills of her performing elsewhere, a haunting video of work made prior in response to the Woodman photographs. Here I digress just for a moment. Often performance artists are included in exhibitions among the work of other artists, as if we were the entertainment for the evening. Why must performance art not be given it’s own space as a sculpture or installation or exhibition of paintings? Performance art is work. It is the work of artists who have invested just as much of themselves in the creation of the work as object makers or those working in new media.
Although Gorowska performed among work, it was her work thus it seemed cohesive and not distracting to have objects and digital media sharing the space with her body. We, the audience watched quietly, not through the screens of our smart phones but with our eyes directly on the artist. Gorowska’s piece was short but seemed to linger in the room, in the air, in the imaginations of us all. I was mesmerized by her work.
Performance art is experiential and one of the most confrontational fine art medium. The art and the viewer are on similar planes, the third wall (the stage) is collapsed, and the art (the body) is the medium, the performance or “act/action” the work. This type of work also challenges conventional notions of art such as painting and traditional forms of sculpture. It is a means of dematerialization of the art object and the departure from traditional media. Yet the body being the work of art too is the ultimate of material. Performance art has a sort of antipodal personality which continues to intrigue and challenge me. One of the reasons why I continue to make and support others who make this type of work.
Words on paper cannot provide the experience viewers may have had during the live performance of course, thus my intent in describing Gorowska’s performance at Cydonia is an attempt to present her action through my lens. That evening the barefoot artist walked into the room dressed in a loose fitting black shift. Entering the room from a separate space in the back of the gallery she carried a single white calla lily and placed it stem down on the floor and leaning on a short interior wall then she left the room. Gorowska returned with a camera on a tripod placing it on the floor facing the lily. This act most likely was not intended as part of the live work but her movements allowed me to consider it. Once the camera was set she undressed with ease embodying only a hint of what felt like hesitation. Her slim naked body appeared to float across the cold cement floor over to the wall where she sat, her back against the wall, knees folded up to her chest and long slender arms wrapped around them. She situated her long wavy hair behind her ears and then looked down. After a few moments she began to speak, almost chant. She uttered phrases including the words never and able to indicating a finality to something. Later I learned that these words were for Woodman, who took her life at the age of twenty-three.
This work was a final performance dedicated to Woodman, thus ending Gorowska’s work in response to the artist’s photographs. According to Ho, Gorowska is not interested in pursuing the work of another artist to create a new work. She is making work that is related to something very different as she ends this series.
Gorowska’s exhibition at Cydonia continues through May 8th. If you missed the live performance a video of that work will soon be displayed among her other work. Contact the gallery for more information.
Also see: Francesca Woodman Page on Artsy’s website: Francesca Woodman