“The old lady carries a basket of wild herbs and shoots that she has just gathered; it weighs heavy as time on her arm. Her footsteps on the path are the footsteps of her mother, of her grandmother, of her great-grandmother. She has been walking under these oak and pine trees for centuries, gathering wild herbs and taking them home to dry under the eaves of her thatched cottage on the village common. The people of the village have always come to her; her hands are the hands that heal, that can turn the infant around in the belly of the pregnant mother; her whispering voice can exorcise suffering or can lull the insomniac into sleep.” [1]

There is only one journey, or maybe several journeys that make up just one. There is only one journey in which I dived several metres beneath the ocean, went deep underground into a grotto, emerged on top of glaciers, and was washed up on the breakwater at Kimberley. There were several journeys, or just one which became confused, or many thousands. Smells of birds and trees mingle together, the sounds of voices that don’t speak the same language, that communicate through gestures, looks, the camera. There is the blue tinged smile through chapped lips and our rough hands reddened by the sand. There are several journeys or, rather, only one. My memory has created a story without an ending, one that we tell children to put them to sleep, about a world which disappears, one that will disappear, one that has not yet completely disappeared. Thinking that Angelika Markul is interested in landscape would be a misunderstanding of her artistic approach. She observes natural living elements, developing and dying. Stones, trees, ice, water and earth are interspersed on her journey like so many markers that define a pathway. In 2013 she made the film Bambi in Chernobyl. She went there, to this devasted place. She discovered that nature was beginning to take over. Bambi is the story of a forest that is dying. It’s about the death of the mother in the forest, as shot by Walt Disney. It’s the story of death, roaming and haunting, the story of the extermination of witches in the 17th century, before the nuclear disaster that would decimate mother nature. But here is the forest, like women, like witches, which finds another way to exist and survive after the catastrophe. As Angelika’s film Bambi in Chernobyl shows, it’s the story of what happens afterwards, of the remains of the forest after being decimated, once it’s destroyed. That’s where our story begins, for both of us, deep in the woods, in the witches’ lair.

We did our first shoot together in November 2015. We left for Japan to seek out a monument buried underwater near Yonaguni, an island in the south of the country. We dived underwater to find the monument buried 20 metres deep. It was 75 metres long and its architecture resembled that of a castle or a temple. The scientists are still debating today to know whether, what looks like steps, is the result of natural erosion or is man-made. Angelika has her own opinion on the subject, a theory that she shares with Masaaki Kimura, the Japanese geologist who originally discovered the monument in 1986. We stayed there for more than five days, going with the flow of the daily wait for the rushes from the director of photography and the debriefings. Time stopped. Here the artist created her own narrative around the origins of a place submerged in water. Folded edges of the ocean at the edge of our world, Zone Yonaguni is the story of an infinite cycle, the perpetual circle of life. It is always floating; a swaying motion followed by tremors. Through this, my first experience of a film shoot, it was the shadow of her grandmother, the witch, that protected us. Her energy and power led men to the bottom of the sea. She helped us capture the images we wanted. When we arrived at El Calafate in March 2017, the rain shrouded the Perito Moreno glaciers. In both its liquid and solid state, water surrounded us again. The team got busy. Languages changing with continents. The cameras rolled, covered in protective plastic. The atmosphere of this shoot was by far the most mystical that I had ever experienced. Everyone prayed to Gods, because the ice walls we were confronted with came from another age, from a period which reminded us of our mortality. Faced with this spectacle we experienced a more acute sense of our existence. We resolutely returned each morning to film the sun rise over the glaciers. Angelika decided in the very first moments of the shoot to draw inspiration from her mother. She tried to find ways of shifting the weather, which was then covering us in a light drizzle. With each block of ice falling, it seemed to her that an invisible hand was guiding her and asking her to point the camera in a certain direction. Throughout the shoot she missed nothing. In July 2019 we left for the shooting of her new film Marella, discovering the remains of dinosaurs on the coast of Kimberley in north-west Australia. Accompanied by Richard Hunter, the Goolarabooloo lawman and the paleontologist Steven Salisbury, we filmed the traces found at the edge of the ocean which could only be seen at low tide. Guided by the lunar cycle, we discovered at the same time the Goolarabooloo beliefs and the wealth of their knowledge. For them, certain divine beings came from the sea and were washed up on the breakwater. These divine beings sometimes took the form of two sisters that had emerged from the ocean. The power and the beauty of the landscape hardly needed any interference by us. Absorbed by the spectacle facing us, the cameras now seemed to roll on their own, creating their own images. The mystical power of the place overwhelmed us, possessed us, overpowered us, struck us dumb. It also soothed our anguish and fear. Angelika’s entire body of work continually calls to mind the unstable and troublesome movement of water.

As soon as we met, I immediately knew that we would have an unbreakable bond. Angelika talked to me about her Polish roots, her arrival in France, her early days at the Beaux-Arts and her first works. She went back over family memories from the time when she still lived in Poland, especially in relation to her paternal grandmother. A memory came back to her. When she was a child, she scared her cousin to the point where the latter lost sleep for more than a week. To correct this wrongdoing and to release her from the spell that had been cast, her grandmother made her prepare a mixture made up of spit and hair, which allowed her cousin to be released from the spell. The grandmother practiced alternative medicinal techniques that were close to witchcraft. In her family, other stories circulated about the clairvoyant abilities of certain women, either them being able to see the dead, or to read the future. This inroad into her past is revealing about certain mystical traits in her character. If I am now touching on the esoteric nature of her personality for the first time, I had several opportunities to discover this during our shared experiences together. During a FRAC Île-de-France exhibition at the parc de Rentilly in May 2017, I came across a Dorothea Tanning work entitled Hôtel du Pavot. A furnished room had been overrun by shape-shifting fabric sculptures vaguely suggesting body forms. They reminded me of Angelika’s wax and felt sculptures. With both artists there was a desire to give shape to something unmentionable and inexplicable, that could be found on the borderline between human and animal, between the living and the dead. A silhouette without a face that came from the past, talked to us of the present, and heralded the future. In Poland, when a child reaches the age of one, a ceremony is organised. Objects are spread out on a table: photographs, dolls, dollar bills. The child is shown all these items and then people watch to see which one he or she will choose. So, when she was one-year old, Angelika chose the dollar bill. This meant she chose her career. Looking for complementary information about Dorothea Tanning I came across some autobiographical texts where she told the story of when she was passing through a large American city: “In Chicago, I met various men. They hovered vaguely on the screen, with a background noise of jazz music and the chinking of iced drinks (drinks made with dubious alcohol, as it was the prohibition era). There are thousands of iced drinks and I feel more and more confident that I will have an exceptional future.” Each of them in their own way leads me towards the notion of vocation for women artists: their desire, their independence, their emancipation as much as their success. In May 2018 I went to Chicago to install Angelika’s exhibition at the Sector 2337 Art Centre. At this time the phrases still echoed in my head. Their destinies merged through my journey. Angelika wasn’t able to accompany me so I installed If the hours were already counted on my own. It was filmed in the heart of a crystalised grotto in the Chihuahua desert in Mexico. The video tells the story of a group of men travelling deep underground, a suffocating journey during which the temperature can rise to 60 degrees and where the humidity level can reach 99%. In their special temperature-controlled suits, the scientists try to establish where these immense crystals, the size of three-story buildings, come from. The most convincing hypothesis is that of a comet that crashed into the earth, making dinosaurs extinct at the same time. Here it is too much water, kept in check by the solidity of ice, that puts man’s life in danger. In Chicago the days were like long pauses, during which I watched the film as it is projected on the suspended white screen. Simultaneously, the crystals became strange protective talismans that I can carry everywhere with me from now on, because they are fixed in my memory forever.

All the different journeys I have undertaken with Angelika have formed into a mythology in themselves, because everything that she touches seems to be blessed with a magical charm. Through her films and sculptures, she puts together an almost mystical story of a precarious world, balanced between hope and devastation. Her fascination with archeology, astronomy, geology and paleontology reminds me of the lost knowledge of witches who could tell with a simple glance whether a plant was edible, when the moon would be full, the age of a stone or when the next season would arrive. Is this to say that we have lost our ability to feel the world? Or that Angelika has maintained her own abilities? There are things that we have experienced together, that will only ever belong to us, and so I can’t talk about them. Between the Argentinian glaciers, the depths of the sea in southern Japan, and on the arid north-west coast of Australia, a mysterious secret path was traced out, which will always only exist between the two of us.

[1] Starhawk, Femmes, Magie et Politique, les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2003, first English edition: Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics, Boston: Beacon Press 1982.