Iwona Rozbiewska | The Tales That Follow
Iwona Rozbiewska, Untitled, 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, textiles and foam, 300 x 200 x 70 cm
The Tales That Follow
During her residency at SEA Foundation, the Polish multidisciplinary artist Iwona Rozbiewska worked on an in-situ installation in combination with several objects, inspired by the architecture of Tilburg and the Southern Netherlands. She presents the results of this project during her solo exhibition The Tales That Follow. For the duration of this project, the artist conducted her artistic research into the relation between meaning and matter, creating new sculptures with new materials in order to find different applications of “usefulness”. She works with different materials, and chooses to mix and match these materials, either in an abstract way or by connecting structure, matter, density and hardness of materials with the meanings of existing objects. For this specific project, Iwona used metal, foam and wood as the main materials for her installation and objects, exploring its properties and using these materials to approach the theme of transrealism in the sculpture form.
Objects and Usefulness
Iwona Rozbiewska derives her inspiration from the reality which she observes during her own daily life. Iwona’s work is centered around the notion that our reality is often a perception, based on one’s personal discursive disposition. This perceived reality, specifically the relation between an object and its meaning, forms the point of departure for her work. Our interpretation of an object is often the result of projecting a certain meaning or value onto them, based on our perception of its usefulness to us. Iwona plays with this notion of usefulness and the ever developing and shifting relation between the material shape and form of an object and its meaning.
To achieve this, Iwona Rozbiewska uses techniques of estrangement and surrealism to transcend our perceived reality of the daily life, creating new applications through shapes and forms which distort our expectations and create new layers of meaning on top of our perceived reality. In a sense, Iwona combines reality and fiction in her work. She builds and redevelops; she cuts, glues, sands, screws, paints and configures, planning and playing with the notions of reality in relation to material properties like shape and composition, starting off from small models to large spatial installations. By using multiple materials and techniques to alter the shape and form of objects, she combines different meanings and perceptions, intertwining realities with one another and achieving a form of transrealism in her work.
Simulacra, Transrealism and Meaning
In her research for The Tales That Follow, Iwona draws inspiration from various historical artworks and academic writings, such as the concept of the simulacrum by Jean Beaudrillard, the Transrealist Manifestoby Rudy Rucker and literature like The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood. The perception of reality, the attribution of meaning as well as value, and estrangement, play a key role in each of these sources.
In the book (1981) The Precession of the Simulacrum, Jean Beaudrillard argues that the simulation and the simulacrum are dominant schemes in our post-modern situation. Simulacra are references of references, where in its seriality, they lose their social finality and thus their meaning. Objects can also lose their meaning when they become self-referential; the signifier gets detached from the referential and the signified, losing their symbolic meaning and becoming a so-called empty sign. A similar process of hollowing which detaches meaning from matter is described within the Transrealist Manifestoas well, this time using the layering of different meanings on top of each other. While this process does create points of reference and recognition in the form of material objects, it simultaneously detaches them from their original meaning. This hollowing of signifiers and layering of realities is characteristic for the narrative style of The Handmaid’s Tale, creating architectural and symbolical points of recognition on the one hand, yet detaching them from any recognizable socio-cultural context, creating an effect of estrangement.
Each of the sources served as a point of inspiration for Iwona in the development process of her current residency project, as she observed several uncanny similarities between the experience of estrangement in these sources, and her own perceived reality. Reality, seen as a constant process of meaning making, has undergone increasingly rapid shifts in her optics, resulting in myriads of fragmented, constantly shifting and coexisting realities, not unlike the situation of overlapping or hollowed-out realities inherent to the simulacra as described Jean Beaudrillard, or in extreme cases even those recurring throughout the narrative of The Handmaid’s Tale. This feeling of estrangement, the layering of realities and especially the surreal experience achieved through the layering of these realities, are the topic of research during her residency project The Tales That Follow.
Iwona Rozbiewska’s artistic research includes two different components, the first one being an exploration of the physical properties of a new material for artistic expression, whereas the second component is an inquiry into the application of surreal accents through estrangement in order to construct an affective experience. The first component sprouts from the desire to learn new techniques in order to use metal as an artistic medium. Already being experienced with wood and foam as media for her artistic expression, Iwona decided to research the material properties of metal during her residency, investigating the connection between material properties like hardness, shape, form, composition and density on the one hand, and the process of meaning making on the other hand.
The recognition of an object as being that specific object, is partially dependent on the meaning which we as a subject, project onto the object. Examples of this projection of meaning is the attribution of value, measured through an object’s usefulness to us, or the attribution of meaning through symbolism. Yet the attribution of meaning cannot be seen as solely dependent on the agency of the subject. Sometimes, for example as a result of its material properties, an object can in fact resist or escape a subject’s attempts to project meaning onto it, resulting in a strange liminality: the affective experience of simultaneous recognition and estrangement. It is exactly this liminality which is the topic of research in Iwona Rozbiewska’s experiments with the properties of her used materials: a search for this elusive border between matter and meaning.
An example of this research can be seen in Iwona’s work which was inspired by a wooden bath tub. The perception of usefulness connected to the object which most of us will recognize as a bathtub, is often measured along the criteria of its attributed purpose, in this case its ability to hold water so that the users can wash themselves. Therefore, our perception of usefulness as a bathtub, is at least partially dependent on its specific combination of material shapes, densities and hardness, which determines if the object is able to fulfill its purpose. By carefully altering, adapting, or even playing around with these properties – reshaping, distorting, enlarging, and tilting the surfaces of its original form – Iwona investigates the consequences of these changes to the process of attributing meaning and value.
Architecture and Surrealism
The second element in Iwona Rozbiewska’s artistic research is the exploration of surrealism, more specifically the incorporation of elements of surrealism in order to achieve a similar affective reaction which a simulacrum or mix of different realities has on a subject. After all, the experience object is not just based on the physical properties of the object itself, but just as much on the spatial context in which an object (dis)placed. For this purpose, Iwona studied the architecture of the city Tilburg and the Southern Netherlands, looking for recurring elements in their design, in order to implement them into her sculptures and installations. By creating either a moment of recognition or by singling out the associations attached to certain elements of architecture, Iwona investigates the results of simultaneously distorting this moment by actively hollowing out these architectural properties through displacement as well as by merging them with other spatial properties.
Together, this artistic research resulted into a single in-situ installation, consisting of several individual sculptural works, which are displayed in the Project Space of SEA Foundation. This project is both a study into the construction of meaning, more specifically the role of material properties like shape, density, hardness, composition and form, as well as the resulting layer of meaning in confluence with the attributed meaning through other processes, such as Surrealism through estrangement. An exploration captured under the title The Tales That Follow.