The Artificial Reality Of The Rough Within Beauty Sublimation
– by Cristina Albertini Bahnarel

Marta Zgierska, exhibition view
Marta Zgierska, exhibition view

– Text written on the occasion of the exhibition “Blush” at Sintitulo gallery, January – March 2020

Marta Zgierska is a prolific young photographer with a surprising career. In 2016 she has been awarded the Prix HSBC pour la photographiefor her very first photography series as an artist: Post. It was about precise photography, with images that concentrate each on the unique object. Images were sharp and they showed amazingly neutral backgrounds. White and uniform light  had an equal intensity everywhere. They were all references to the post traumatic situation of the artist as she had been a victim of a severe car accident,  : one of those radical events which changes the course of a life… In his critical essay meant to be the first one to accompany the artist’s work, Christian Caujolle was warning at the time against the use of the self-image:  “Self-portrait. Danger of a genre. Continuous risk. That of narcissism. That of complacency. That of false identity. »

At that particular time, we had welcomed the work of the artist for a show at the gallery and lived with their proposed idea of beauty as a disturbing though soothing appearance. It is each time a risk to predict how the work of an artist would turn and what direction it would take. Mostly when a first series succeeds in seducing so and so many… Was she going to pursue her interest for self-portrait despite the warning of her first art critic  ? It might be possible that indeed she had always wanted to, as to say that finally when you decide to make art, self-portrait and biography must embrace the idea of archetype. Nonetheless, if each of us can see in Post something about ourselves – we are lost, wounded, transfigured, blinded, mutated by the traumas of life – the cult of appearance is now slipping into the newest concerns of Marta, like a new cord that the practice of autobiography learns how to make vibrate.

Afterbeauty and Votive Figure, ongoing series presented in this new show  seduce, intrigue and disturb. When in quest for a meaning of the images one easily might see the morbid side. Just like a kiss or a hand shake with a Cinderella in a Disneyland. Staging one self, fake identity, narcissism, complacency : Caujolle’s warnings could have worked as a malediction. Except that Marta masters her topic – search of archetypes, therefore – yelding the same high standards she adopts when proving her master of a perfect photography technique. Plastic image sticks to her as a skin. Plastic image sticks to her as a skin. The image of the self, Marta uses it to address our relation to the world. It could be about us all, women of these times and all the times ; about our relation to beauty rules, associated to desire and the urgency of seduction. Every epoch creates and invokes gods and values that prove to be more or less perennial ; each system of values lay down its own set of constraints and recipes  that format and make up dreams to be fulfilled.  Sacrifices seem to be a constant sine qua non condition to allowing magic to happen and get the illusion of touching a Grail. May we also add here that times are not so far when Marta’s quests could simply not exist or would have had no echo or would she be have immediately be seen as a witch or would she have been “healed” of some hysteria. It’s according to each epoch’s fears and existential perceptions…

Quest of perfection and self-image are brushing against each other. I remember that school certificate describing Marta as the archetype of the perfect student : this childhood souvenir, she has taken in photo and made it a work of art in her Post series. I appreciate the good impression her Curriculum Vitae makes on all my art collectors – what a bunch of school degrees, one more erudite than another !  I love communicating with the portrait of my artist, showing a doll face or a mischievous model, kind of Coppelia issued from a precisely perfect parallel reality. I admit to be scandalized by the beauty of her buttockswhich she took the care to exhibit with the trick of a little fault, etc… In her (not so) counterfeit images and perfect in so many ways, Marta continuously plays her own role within her relentless quest of the more-than-perfect. When she wears the mask of this role she needs to play, she also plays my own and yours : all looking for the more-than-perfect against which ancient wisdom always warned…

Narcissism, complacency and fake identity : when we think that the oracle had warned … To this, Marta Zgierska naturally replies : Blush. It is the title she has been giving to each of her recent shows referring to Afterbeauty and Votive Figureseries. English words. All her series of images have as a title English words, full the meanings that show us the way Marta wants look at. Blush, in the language of Molière would describe the action of blushing under the effect of an emotion. We redden when shy or when confronted to pleasure. It is the involuntary make up of our face when touched by emotion but it is also red makeup powder which is internationally referred to as “Blush”    It invokes not only the idea of a mask (the one of the makeup) but also the fact of implicitly mark this mask with the expression of the emotion itself – may it be shyness, pleasure, shame or other.

Considering her Afterbeauty series – that one that is made up of almost abstract images of cosmetic masks she has personally used – Marta admits never using beauty masks. Exception is made for her research on the subject, occasion to not so innocently address the question: “what happens after beauty”?    Might we now wonder: what kind of beauty is Marta talking about – the one we must be able to preserve (or grow) based on the promises of contemporary cosmetic industry or is it about the beauty of the abstract forms under the scialitic light of Marta’s photographic universe?    This series is significantly shorter than all the others; a different color for each image, like a counting of an existing inventory reporting that, as for today, cosmetic industry offer for beauty masks comprise red, white, green, blue, pink and golden.    Period. The series is closes in eight (self) portraits and two sequences. We go on to the anatomic wax of the new series: Votive Figure.

Votive figures define as offerings at the attention of a deity with the scope to obtain protection or advantages of different kinds in our existence, or accomplish a wish. They involve a form of forfeiture or an effort to be done by the one who offers : completely covered by anatomic wax, Marta Zgierska’s body fragments are offering (to us) like in a sanctuary (of the cult of appearance). 

The series is ongoing. The making involves a performative work which is more and more exhausting. The discomfort of the warm wax on her body is doubled by the detail attention when preparing the studio: scenography, set, detail insulation.   To the images of the fragments of body covered by wax add now real indoor scenes about which we would not know to say if they are glimpses of a boudoir, beauty salons, simple workshop wiews or what else…   It could be about a fiction narrative, some kind of dystopia, or the psychedelic expression of the genre of Twin Peaks. A narrative of that personal story of the cult of the image… With these images, Marta arouses this phrase that Louise Bourgeois used to make embryoid on napkins : “I have been to the hell and back and let me tell you it was wonderful” . We understand that within her research process, Marta requires the energy to undo things, probably to understand what they are made of and how they work, before reproducing some of their mechanisms. This reproduction always suffers the transformations of the mind’s force of abstraction. Due to this process, the mirror that is proposed to us depicts a shocking image, as its reality invokes the brutal within the sublimation of beauty. 

Cristina Albertini Bahnarel, January 2020 (french and english version)

Other texts on the work of Marta Zgierska

Marta Zgierska, vue d'exposition (Afterbeauty)

What Is Left Afterbeauty?
– by Zofia Krawiec

The series by Zgierska depicts an unusual, intimate self-portrait. Each sheet features the artist’s face imprinted on it moments earlier. However, traces of her image remain concealed, blurred and obliterated in the photographed forms. The concept of “taking off the mask” is a cultural archetype.

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