Rarely do we consciously participate in the creation of beginnings and there is nothing surprising in this – upon being born, we find the world already ready. When we experience reality, we are usually confronted with the result or continuation of a process – not with its beginning. However much we were to know about it, it would still only be post factum knowledge: the very essence of a beginning, the source – the first move, always, is something we ourselves must guess, continue, finish off; because without a starting point it is impossible to build a vision of the sequel.

What is lost

The exhibition of Angelika Markul touches on the desire of immersion, on the extraction of what is hidden in the depths, reaching the origin. However, the source or the beginning is always lost. Exploring, therefore, means plunging into uncertainty, but at the same time, immersion into that which is unrecognizable or oblivious to us. The answer to the emerging uncertainty usually arises in the form of a phantasm or myth. Instead of hasty attempts to fill or compensate for the loss, the artist suggests exactly the opposite. She proposes to stop on the threshold, to immerse oneself in the uncertainty and to commence a certain game.

Liminal phenomena

Angelica Markul is intrigued by situations or places wherein liminal phenomena manifest. She chooses places or situations on account of the possibility of registering within them traces that are inconclusive or extreme manifestations of phenomena. These phenomena – undefined or, conversely, producing extreme conditions – create boundary situations, also for the human experience. Previously, Markul visited the restricted zone in Chernobyl – to film how wild life grows in places abandoned by people (from which arose the video installation Bambi in Chernobyl, 2013), the island Fukushima – to measure the effects of the disaster (video Welcome to Fukushima, 2013), Iguazu Falls – one of the oldest geological formations in the world (video installation Devil’s Gorge, 2013). An example of the liminal phenomena the artist utilizes is an element of the video installation Bambi in Chernobyl, which is a small radioactive plant brought from the exclusion zone. Framed in a massive frame, it emits about as much ionizing radiation as a mobile phone. For the exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Angelika Markul exploits liminal phenomena appearing in the Atacama Desert in Chile, on the shores of the Yonaguni Island in Japan, in the Naica Mine in Mexico, and sometimes, she finds them just below the surface of the earth.

Excavations of the Future, 2016
Installation: metal, wax, felt, OSB plate

It’s like an archaeological excavation site from which sedimentary formations, fossils or manmade artifacts emerge. For Angelika Markul, excavation sites become a metaphor for the desire to explore what is inaccessible, bringing to light that which is hidden beneath the surface of reality. It is significant to note that this type of research is destructive in its nature. It is true that excavations allow for the obtainment of invaluable knowledge and help generate new understands, but this is all at the expense of irreversible destruction of the examined archaeological site. At the same time, it is a glimpse into how an archaeological site could look after our times. What will be lost from the beginning, which we are establishing.

Yonaguni Monument

A lost continent or the work of human hands? The thesis that the Yonaguni Monument is the work of human hands stimulates the imagination and claims have arisen stating that this is a fragment of a lost continent, the mythical land of Mu. In 1986-7, underwater off the coast of the Japanese Yonaguni Island, a stone building was discovered with a length of 250 m and a height of 25 m, resembling a stepped pyramid. In later studies, smaller objects were uncovered: a stone ring road, a sculpture resembling a human head or a giant turtle. The complex looked like a small town, wherein the stepped pyramid, called the Monument, could have performed the function of a citadel. At least that is how Professor Masaaki Kimura, a physicist at the University of the Ryukyus, interpreted this find. He also claimed that the complex was formed 10 000 years ago, when these areas were not yet flooded by the sea. Another geologist, Robert Schoch, a professor at the University of Boston, after implementing on site testing, challenged the assertion that the object was products of human hands, seeing them as the work of the forces of nature. The controversy has not yet been resolved in the scientific world.

Yonaguni Area, 2016
video installation, metal, OSB plate, felt, wax, fluorescent lamp, video projection

Inspired by the fantasmatic and mythological potential of the Yonaguni Monument, Angelika Markul creates a sculptural installation and video, but not, however, to produce myths and fantasies. That which fascinates her is force (whether human or non-human), which was able to form – carve – the rock in such a way. It is this force that she wants to seize and utilize, to recognize its riddle. The artist treats the Yonaguni Monument as a gigantic sculpture, regardless of whether it was created by a lost civilization or natural factors.

ESO’s Paranal Observatory, Atacama Desert, Chile

“In an almost unworldly location,” as the Atacama Desert in the Andes has been described, extreme conditions prevail. It is one of the driest places in the world. In 2003, researchers published a report indicating that the drying reaches a liminal possibility for life. The air is so thin that the people who stay and work in some of its regions are forced to use oxygen masks. The extremely low humidity, high altitude, and an almost total absence of clouds make it an ideal place for the observation of the sky. Additionally favorable is the fact that it is far from human settlements – away from radio and light pollution. All these elements were decisive in locating the European Southern Observatory in three places throughout the desert: in La Silla (the earliest observatory, with telescopes of medium size at a height of 2400 m above sea level), at the top of Paranal (2600 m above sea level), and at Llano de Chajnantor plateau (5000 m above sea level) where, among others, the revolutionary radio telescope ALMA is located (Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array, created in collaboration with North America, Europe, East Asia, and Chile). ESO’s Paranal Observatory houses the Very Large Telescope, which represents the most advanced optical instrument in the world, consisting of four independent Main Telescopes (the main mirrors have a diameter of 8.2 meters) and four movable Auxiliary Telescopes (1.8 meters). One of the main objectives is the study of planets outside our solar system.

400 billion planets, 2014
video installation, metal panels
Collection of Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, Cracow

“Few people know that one of the Chile’s most precious assets is its pristine night sky..” – This statement is mentioned in one of the videos documenting the actions of ESO, which exploits this Chilean resource using powerful and complex technology. In the interpretation of Angelica Markul, it is precisely this technique that is fascinating, but in parts, because it places us on the threshold of technological unawareness, because knowledge becomes the interpretation of the data provided for by the equipment – one of the four Main Telescopes make up the Very Large Telescope. To the same extent as desire, the mechanics and aesthetics of this device inspire Angelika Markul, which are intended to satisfy this desire, that is, the desire to explore the remote corners of the cosmos.

Horizon, 2014
Installation: wax, dye, neon lamp

The light from the lamp draws a horizon, as if in its luster the heavens and earth have been condensed, whose imagined meeting has been referred to as the horizon. At the same time, in the context of the exhibition, it can provide a perverse metaphor for a liminal phenomenon, as it is a perceptible line that – despite or precisely for this reason is an illusion – provokes fantasies about its crossing. Simultaneously, it is a threshold that is impossible to reach. The line emerges from the image, which is the result of an attempt to cross an unreachable threshold – to soar above the horizon. The landscape seen from a bird’s perspective could be interpreted as a sea of hardened lava, an unearthly landscape or on the contrary, the surface of the earth. In the latter case, it would be seen as if the displacement and transformation of the layers, which have been taking place strenuously for thousands of years, has been condensed into extremely fast flows that could only be reflected with the help of quickly cooling wax.

Crystal Cave, Naica, Mexico

In April of 2000, during a routine run 300 meters underground in the lead and silver mine in Naica in Mexico, two miners made a surprising discovery. They accidentally dug into an underground cave, and what they saw left them breathless. The cave was filled with selenite crystals, the largest of which were 11 meters long and were 5 times higher than those found in earlier discoveries. It is believed that these giants started to crystallize between 500 000 and 200 000 years ago. Lethal conditions prevail in the cave – the temperature ranges from 45 to 50° C and the humidity reaches 90-100%. A group of scientists from various fields formed the Naica Project to take advantage of all the possibilities to explore the past, which opened with the discovery of the cave. One of the main aims was to search for primitive life forms. The crystals, as a result of the removal of water from the cave, were exposed to the risk of collapse due to changes in conditions. It is highly likely, however, that the mine will cease the costly pumping of hectoliters of water, restoring the cave’s original conditions and closing access to the interior of the cave.

If the hours were already counted, 2016
video installation

Those who visited the Crystal Cave describe their experience as an encounter with something unearthly. The extraordinary beauty and deadly conditions determine this extraordinary experience and, more specifically, allow for a way to reach the limits of survival in terms both biological and aesthetic. Geologist Juan Manuel García-Ruiz called it the Sistine Chapel of Crystals – heavenly beauty appearing in hellish conditions. What interests Angelika Markul, more than just the beauty, is the fascination it evokes as well as the scientific technology and aesthetic exploitation, which were applied in the extraction.

Inexhaustible” beauty of the Earth

At first glance, through her art Angelika Markul is implementing contradictory, conflicting notions. On the one hand, it seems imperative to develop predatory exploitation of all the possible resources that still remain untapped. Through her actions she would become part of the position that is often bound with the so called anthropocene hypothesis, according to which, together with the industrial revolution due to the increasing momentum and effectiveness of human activity has reached a scale comparable in its consequences to the workings of nature, thus establishing yet another era in the history of the earth. The artist treats for the entirety of nature, both human and inhuman, as a resource that can and should be submitted to aesthetic exploitation. She treats it as a source of inexhaustible resources for artistic activity. One could even say that along with her creativity, Anthropocene enters an aesthetic phase. However, it is an ironic game, because on the other hand, the work of Angelika Markul is guided by the desire to penetrate the forces which are impossible to differentiate – whether they are human or inhuman. In all the manifestations of her works she undermines anthropocentrism, which is behind the anthropocene hypothesis. The artist does not argue with the catastrophes associated with the contemporary analysis of human impact on the environment – whose impacts are most visible in the change of climate and the sixth mass extinction. Markul is more fascinated by the effects of the forces that overwhelm our capacity to understand or know. Contrary to the entire philosophical tradition, a meeting with these forces is not a sublime experience for her – it is always a sensation of beauty. Regardless of whether a formation is the result of the workings of nature or the work of human hands, whether formed as a result of creation or destruction, all it needs are the characteristics of liminal phenomena, and it becomes a work of art.

This text has been published for Angelika Markul’s solo show “What is lot is at at the beginning” at Ujadowski Castle in Warsaw in 2016, Poland by Jarosław Lubiak.