Void-Filled Places

”In a dream, I saw a void-filled place,” says Walter Benjamin in the first sentence of his short note “Underground Works in the collection “One-Way Street”. ”In a dream, I saw a void-filled place”… It is a short yet meaningful sentence. I remember seeing the paintings by Kinga Nowak some time ago. It was just after she returned from her scholarship in Paris. The dream of a ”void-filled place” was realized in these paintings. This is what I thought… because they showed apparently limitless perspectives designed by urban planners. Running along Paris underground lines, suddenly ended by a dead depth. Or silenced under the cobweb of wiring stretched between traction posts. Yet the vast spaces, planned and developed by man, could not be a home for him. They were manless, void. As if destitute of man. As if man constructed them to abandon them later. Or – so that there was a place to be exiled from. By himself… Now, if forced, he scurries noiselessly among the City’s shadows.

In a confession accompanying one of her exhibitions, Kinga called herself a painter of industrial landscapes. However, this concept reminds us, specifically, more of an industrial landscape, than an urban one in general. I would rather say Kinga is a painter of civilization landscapes – man-changed, ”functional” landscapes in which man is a little cog in the wheel of reality which, however, is the basis for his existence. Underground stops or train stations are like those of Benjamin’s dream visions, like “void-filled places”, dreamlike locations in low-budget social or psychological-social movies, until enlivened by man’s Presence.

Kinga’s painting is both a suggestive record and a creator of the density of the specific atmosphere defined by the feeling of Strangeness-in-the-City. It is not focused on describing the surrounding reality. The visible reality is used to create artistic reality which, by no means, severs its ties with tradition: neither from the characteristic testimony of the eye, nor from the requirements of traditional technique, where the key issue is working on the visualization of witnessed experience, that is developing such seemingly common skills, now often disregarded, as composition, drawing the perspective, modelling solids, searching for the colour tone, patiently grooving the texture, etc. This conscious responsibility for the artistic craft and technique does not, however, prevent attempts at starting a dialogue with the language of very contemporary painting. After all, Kinga is a child of her age and she creates some of her paintings using, among other, means typical for the youngest (and not only) Polish figurativists (who often cherish the soc-pop-art convention made well-known especially by Grupa Ładnie), but she treats them as a starting point and not the target, as a vehicle and not the end. In a sense, she uses them instrumentally – for her own needs, creating compositions which are not ”pretty” and funny but mainly powerful and serious.

What is most significant is that Kinga is one of the few young artists (most of whom limit themselves to what is sensual and, most of all, „eye-related”) for whom technique is as important as the working of the imagination, breaking the experience of visibility; imagination which makes the painting lead us, and lift us, beyond the borders of visibility.


Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak