A warm autumn evening in the glow of an art gallery window whose pearly surface reflects the sky, trees and nearby buildings. A sheet of glass glowing pink, gold and green, depending on the angle. The way the gallery is set up makes it possible to see the exhibition from two angles, from the inside and outside, although the main “body” of the exhibition is within, spread across several gallery rooms. The windows of the façade, alongside the entrance to the gallery, make up the portal that leads to Angelika Markul’s latest work, titled O, lie on me.
This portal leads to the labyrinth contained in the space of the gallery, made up of the individual parts that make up this larger scale installation. These objects may seem quite familiar in their general guise, as they’ve been shown in previous exhibitions, but there is something about this exhibition that distinguishes these pieces from the past.
The most prominent element here is the interplay between light, sound, composition, shape and colour, and above all, the context that brings them together. A constant motif among the works of Angelika Markul is the use of wax to imitate the look of human skin. The artist has used this wax to form the fleshy contours of her sculptural objects. The exhibition space is filled with limbless bodies in a range of configurations and relaying various degrees of eroticism. There is a direct sense of intimacy, suggesting the presence of male and female elements, with a sense of varied states of emotion and intimacy.
In recalling some of the artist’s previous shows, the current one can be considered something of a ‘surprise de l’événement’, that incites astonishment, even confusion. The lack of a certain kind of firm and irrefutable knowledge is said to be a creative endeavour, an evolving one, that appears in the midst of coming into contact with new aspects of reality and our initial response to them (i.e. our inner sense of reality, as well as the external reality that the object exists in). The ‘processing’ of these aspects is an integral moment because it allows us to embark on an individual process of ‘becoming’ and ‘emerging. And so, faced with the ‘new’ and ‘novel’, these experiences and processes are endowed with a new context in the artist’s practice, which has come from another realm of existence, knowledge, experience and, above all, new experiences of affection and intimacy. They have came from another kind of ‘surprise’ with respect to the creative self, including the astonishment that comes as a result of experiencing something that is unknown and unpredictable. In the erotic paradigm, the art of Angelika Markul has gone through a significant transformation with respect to her previous works.
The art of Angelika Markul has been presented within the framework of exhibitions set up as extended installations with film projections, and this arrangement has been retained in the minds of many of those who know her work as a key characteristic. Her works have been the result of deep investigations, travels, interdisciplinary study and cooperation with specialist research teams. The performative and logistical aspects of her activities reveal the solid determination behind her pursuit of answers to the most mysterious, fascinating and even dangerous realms. Her work has been built around notions that are ambiguous, unclear. Markul’s most well-known pieces make up, in fact, a broad spectrum of topics and issues that have proven especially meaningful for our times, including phenomena that explore the destruction of the natural world, such as Bambi in Chernobyl (2000) and Welcome to Fukushima (2013) or the annexation of Earth for space exploration in the Martian landscape of the Atacama Desert in Chile through Earth of Abandonment (2014) as well as activities in space, as in Bepicolombo (2019). The desire to come into contact with ‘aliens’ and the desire to colonise space are juxtaposed to the paradoxical lack of harmony on planet Earth. Angelika Markul’s work touches on the problems of existence and absence, the memory of the body and places through cycles of catastrophe and rebirth.
Her art is a voyage from the beginning of time and lost continents (Yonaguni Ruins, 2016), following the paleontological traces of dinosaurs in Australia (Marella, 2020), and
A glimpse into the possible end of times (Glacial Memory, 2017). In a recent video work created in America (The Lethal Charm of Snakes, 2020), the artist develops a sort of anthropological study of a society focused around beauty pageants and rattlesnake chases, displaying the violence and primitive tendencies of civilization against the ruined landscape. Angelika Markul reveals slices of a fascinating world that is also terrifying in so many ways, trailing on the feeble, often even demonic, heels of humankind.
The new work Markul has created solely for the purposes of Warsaw Gallery Weekend at the Leo Gallery is entirely different. One of the ways to describe this intimate and highly emotional work is to call attention to the erotic and emotive notes and the vital role played by the body, eroticism, sexuality and the feelings around these matters. This work displays an important transformation within her practice, which has evolved from surveying the physical elements of our world to enter the realm of desire and erotic tension, and how these states work to charm and captivate the subject. The desire for love in this instance, ranks rather low of the scale of wants and needs.
This exhibition of works by Angelika Markul takes up four rooms of the gallery space. Two of these rooms feature framed dioramas, which means that only their exterior can be observed. An exhibition presented in this way opens up the psychological and physical experience offered by a three-dimensional sculptural installation, where the human figure is brought into existence through items made of wax that enclose a constellation of erotic gestures, functions and feelings that are often too complex to capture in words. The first room presents a collection of bodies/objects arranged on colourful pedestals set against the wall. Some of these sport phallic elements. All of them are cast in an opalescent beam of light that changes according to the time of day. While Markul’s earlier arrangements were replete with darkness, here the role of light is meant to illuminate the intensity of the experience of observing various ways that passion can be expressed.
In this thought-through and precisely constructed arrangement and aesthetic form, we return to the forgotten realms of the body and intimacy, intersubjectivity, eroticism. Markul’s bodily forms are palpable and impermeable. To delve deeper into them, she has had to beak them apart and poke holes. Simultaneously, her practice reveals the gaps in separation and distance, the spaces between bodies. The erotic potential within the works on show is highlighted through a score composed by Wojciech Puś, its sound corresponding to the action and vibrations of these sculptural objects, engaging the viewer even closer.
This enigmatic composition of reality is made up of objects/bodies in various phases of desire for physical touch, without resorting to the banal. There are a number of phallic objects, along with an object that meshes the form of a tongue and neck in one sensual kiss, yet most of the expression lies in abstraction. The ‘spatial’ scope of the exhibition builds from sense of intimacy, from objects set in the form of dioramas that replicate museal artefacts, such as the one inspired by Japanese shunga (erotic imagery). This piece is made up of many massive forms pressing upon a small opening, which is a metaphor of how sex is portrayed in this classic engraving style. The second diorama is the final and largest part of the exhibition, set at the very end. It can be understood as a sort of intimate choreography developed into the form of a panorama. The constantly shifting light has an influence on the perception of a theatre stage, where we see a golden object singled out on a pedestal – the source of allure and desire, the offering of an experience and the receiving of that energy, and finally, a metamorphosis. The hero is accompanied by a plethora of abstract figures in various states of ecstasy. This rare application of colour is intentional, symbolizing the sudden thrust of unrecognizable emotions. And sails, which are nothing other than a metaphor for letting go to where the wind blows, toward another life. The diorama piece is set within the space of a box/room that creates the illusion of a real-life action, but most of all, an engaging installation that exerts an emotional effect on the viewer through psychology One might feel the thrill of a peepshow, a rare glimpse at the secrets buzzing below the surface of this realm of intimacy. Thanks to these secrets, we become aware of what cannot be put into words of even imagined, but what can indeed be felt and experienced.