RECIPROCAL – Michal Škoda, Dorota Walentynowicz

exhibition text by David Komary

Galerie Stadtpark, Krems 2016

The artists presented in the exhibition reciprocal share an interest in exploring the relationship between the image, the gaze, the individual, and space. Not only Michal Škoda’s drawings, collages, and photographs but also the camera-objects of Dorota Walentynowicz entail a reflection on space and a phenomenological approach. The body, although not immediately visible in their work, nevertheless paradoxically constitutes the dynamic presence/absence that is essential to perception. Whereas in Škoda’s work the body functions as a medium of the gaze in the context of architectural and urban spaces, Walentynowicz’s work presents the choreography of gazes, that is the dispositive, manifested in the photographic image.  By turning the apparatus of the camera into an almost physical counterpart to the viewer, she makes the camera dispositve visible and reveals the invisible aspects of the gaze that are subliminally inscribed onto the pictorial space of the photograph.

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The medium of photograph forms an important joint concern in the works of Michal Škoda and Dorota Walentynowicz. However, whereas Škoda makes functional use of the photographic image, in the work of Walentynowicz the camera, the photographic dispositive itself, is a core theme. Dorota Walentynowicz places the medial conditioning of the gaze at the center of her investigation. In doing so, she does not merely question the authority of the camera but also attempts to reveal the intentions that lie behind the image, the gaze, and the dispositive. Who determines visibility, of whom and of what? Who takes a picture of what or whom—and why?

In the work of Walentynowicz the relationship between the image and apparatus is inverted. The image takes on an experimental and peripheral status. Beyond any pictorial/artistic intention the image appears as a purely indexical record of the fall of light. This is how in Untitled Filmset I and II  the photographs of moving points of light in space appear, which inscribe themselves on the loosely mounted film of the artist’s self-built camera obscura. Whereas the image seems to forgo any function of representing space, Walentynowicz manages to give the apparatus itself a spatial dimension. Her camera-objects from the series Folds (2012), and If Everything is Repeating (2014) have appearance of buildings, and in Ubu Roi (2013), Algebra of Fiction (2013) they seem explicitly figural. The camera-objects become entities that serve as spatial counterpart to the viewers and that turn the causality of photographic spatial representation on its head. They can be understood as inverted, inside-out camera interiors. It seems as if they had tried to make visible their interiors, as if wishing to lend the disembodied and almost immaterial nature of the photographic image a physical, spatial form.

Walentynowicz lends the apparatuses figural presence. The obviously hand-crafted nature of the camera-objects, their model-like appearance, and their improvised material vocabulary of plywood and cardboard cause the works to vascillate between seeming like unfinished prototypes and viewing machines with a dystopian edge. Walentynowicz briefly confronts the viewer with an ambivalent situation, an interplay between curiosity, interest, and unease, if not anxiety. The viewer is unsure whether these viewing machines are not capable of observation or surveillance. Upon closer examination the camera-objects lose their authority and power, proving to be fragile, unsteady, and almost even vulnerable. The three tripod-like objects from the series Algebra of Fiction recall a small family of long-legged creatures, whereas the two camera-objects from the series Ubu Roi, which hover near the floor, have the appearance of a couple gazing up to viewers.

The animistic presence of Walentynowicz’ camera-objects come from the fact that they have been emancipated from their default function. The objects have stepped out of the image-gaze-camera relationship (dispositive). They seem to have managed to free themselves from their original purpose and have escaped their depersonalized existence. The revolt of little visual monitoring instruments, protesting the instrumentalization of their own (camera) gaze. Their placement in little groups within the space seems to indicate that they are capable of motion; their figurative appearance and potential for “bodily” expression make them into protagonist of a spatial-situative scenario, a performance that engages viewers and even integrates them into the choreography. The play of gazes between viewers and the apparatuses unfolds as interferences; the roles of the observer and the observed are exchanged.

Elements of confusion and puzzlement are present in the works of both artists—whether as a confrontation with pictorial and spatial emptiness in the images of Škoda or in viewers’ encounter in space with Walentynowicz’s animistic and dystopian seeing machines. This initial sense of unease, however, is aesthetically countered by the artists. Walentynowicz uses an element of irony to dispel the seriousness of a critique of the image and a questioning of the regime of the gaze, making the apparatuses seem somehow awkward or even sympathetic. In contrast, through the interpictorial interplay between his photographs, collages, and drawings, Škoda juxtaposes what initially seems to be a rational-geometric aesthetic with poetic moments of photographic imagery, thus shifting the focus from the activity unfolding in individual images to an emphatically subjective form of spatial perception.

Space, the most abstract common theme shared by both artists, appears both in the work of Škoda as in that of Walentynowicz as a vague entity in a media-ontological sense, and it is therefore the object of constant negotiation. It is not an external existence and visually representable entity but a mental object that constitutes itself in a processual manner.  In this sense Michal Škoda directs our focus onto the uncertainties inherent to our perceptions of space, which challenge the viewer, the observer, in both a perceptual and cognitive capacity—thereby causing us to become aware of our own act of seeing. In the case of Walentynowicz, in contrast, the very apparatus that produces pictorial space is charmingly transformed into a counterpart for the viewer. The visual space of the photograph, even if pictorially demystified, is not deconstructed or negated but instead the viewer is made aware of the inadequacy and constructed nature of the camera gaze through a form of reflective self-empowerment. With tongue-in-cheek the works point beyond the theory of the dispositive to the mediality and imponderability of any kind of seeing, any form of perception.

translation from German: Laura Schleussner