Category Archives: Photography

Sublime Now

Though it’s impossible to discuss sublime today without historical references, I would like to use these to contradict the traditional denotations.

The term has its background in the ancient rhetorics, then – mainly through eighteenth-century Western-European philosophy it establishes itself firmly as an aesthetic concept, functioning along and in an opposition to other terms within the area like: beautiful, tragic, humorous, profane, ugly etc.

Yet, it’s probably worth to emphasize that, strangely enough, in E. Burke’s and I. Kant’s understanding the Sublime never fits into criteria of metaphysical or ontological phenomenon (or entity) – it simply exists in a beholder’s mind as a powerful yet transient, fleeting psychological and spiritual reaction, an emotion, feeling of sublime. From a historical point of view is interesting to see how the dialectics of the sublime, used by two great ontologists fits into the nature of the phenomenological school of thought, which is both specifically twentieth-century and opposed to metaphysics discipline. It seems that the concept under discussion never fully integrates into a traditional philosophical inquiry – being more Dionysian than Apollonian in its nature – the sublime is born from paradoxes, it’s based on these and – if it functions in any universal form (out of a beholder’s mind) – it probably takes the form of  an ontological oxymoron, an enigma – as unnerving as it is alluring.

Looking forward to the modern and postmodern times one may be easily dazzled by its potential to embody and to convey the sublime to an intensity not possible ever before. After ‘growing out’ of the Great Romantics’ idealistic enthusiasm on the matter, in the ‘after-God” era when the sublime cannot be simply mistaken for a religious/mystical experience, facing the challenges of  the shattered, discontinuous, idiolects and antitheses – based world, reaching scientific and technological heights difficult to imagine even few decades before – the humankind not longer chases but seems to meet on a regular basis that great oxymoron – the sublime.

It takes many forms and definitions – from the A. Hitchcock’s and C. Jung’s shadows then – G. Lucas’s astriferous epics, from Big Brother’s house grotesque and through the war/terrorism-rooted atrocities to Barrack’s Obama intense political charisma – Burke’s mind-expanding ‘negative pain’ and Kant’s ‘indefinite’ yet desired dread is as indisputably a part of the contemporary condition as Aristotle’s catharsis had to be for ancient Greeks.

Andreas Gursky’s photos, which  embrace the traditional understanding of the sublime as the vast, terrifying, annihilating, formless, liminal etc. and the ultra-modern embodiment of it in digitally mastered photographs of a postmodern – globalized and impersonal universe.

His approach would be that of a shock-therapy and a direct, uncompromising attack – perhaps the best way of a defense against the audacity and the… ridicule of the contemporary sublime.

Both Gursky’s work gives a picture of a formidable, limitless, always deeply confusing, often ugly and grotesque, sometimes eerily attractive spectacle, some sort of Baudrillard’s hypo-reality , and the ancient Roman bloody games – the reality, we live in today.

In Chicago Board of Trade II (above) human beings are nothing more than annoyingly numerous, uniform, yet nicely coloured dots, the well-rehearsed pixels; while in 99 Cents (above, 2) the supermarket goods take their place – and guess what? – one can hardly notice any substantial difference…


New toys of a dirty boy – Eric Fischl

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A gifted boy with dirty imagination is back.

Eric Fischl (b. 1948, NY) has apparently abandoned his flamboyant yuppies and bad boys lost in their hedonistic activities on daddies’ yachts and in flashy apartments. Or rather – he grew up with them, since the new characters of his painted stories are middle- aged couples, lost again, yet in thoughts more than in purely sensual stimulants.

In 2002 the painter has staged and directed few episodes of a very contemporary drama, he hired actors and then extensively photographed them in a home-like setting; then he painted a series of works based on their performance there. So-called “Krefeld Project” (from then name of a place in Germany) has been accomplished.

As the portrayed relationship goes deeper and stranger, so the paint on the surface of canvas dissolves and disintegrates. Identity of the examined individuals goes to pieces (or rather – layers) with it. They are every-and-any-of-us, white, heterosexual, ‘normal’, inhabiting a modern-looking, comfortable space.

Yet, there is that unsettling, heavy air that lingers, much like in D. Lynch’s movies. Sexually charged atmosphere is rendered beautifully in peachy, golden light; a viewer is faced with everyday scenes of great intimacy… But it’s hardly yet another “Casablanca” – nobody is going to make a life-saving sacrifice here. A couple plays enjoyable roles in their cushy world, just like many of us do. They may stay this way for years or leave each other next day, to find another apartment with fresh towels and soft robes, to create a new illusion of communication and sense with another human being. Like many of us – middle-class, Caucasian, modern – would do…

Leaving all these complex (always highly individualized) readings of Fischl’s work, there is no way to miss his technical mastery (best appreciated, obviously, in details), which he had managed to gain over the years and displays in his recent paintings. He virtually doesn’t ‘paint’ mechanically speaking – he seems to project his thoughts seamlessly on canvas, like dreams project upon consciousness without any conscious effort or even a will. Fluid yet fractured, complex yet straightforward, intimate yet sunk in itself – the life, the world, the people of our age. We – our – selves… A lesson from a grown-up dirty boy?

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One can appreciate E. Fischl paintings from the “Krefeld Project” in the National Museum of Krakow, Poland till the end of August 2009. To see my article on the exhibition there: here. To see more detailed photos and descriptions: here.


“First step…” – Western Contemporary Art in Poland

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Phillip Taaffe, Artificial Paradise (Loculus), detail,  2008, oil on linen

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Miquel Barcelo, Des Meduses, detail, 2000, mixed media on canvas

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Eric Fischl, The Bed. The Chair. Touched, detail, 2001, oil on canvas

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Andreas Slominski, Untitled, 1993-94, bike/plastic bags

Well, this exhibition may serve perfectly those who know, how the bipolar disposition works.

One moment – one is proud and full of gratitude, tasting great art in an unexpected setting… only to go mad in the next second, when realizing some obvious organizational and curatorial flaws.

“First step… Towards a Collection of Western Contemporary Art” in the National Museum in Krakow (Cracow) is the show of ambition and potential with some recent works (mainly paintings, photos and prints) by  Nobuyoshi Araki, Miquel Barceló, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, Mike Kelley, David LaChapelle, Sherrie Levine, Andreas Slominski, Philip Taaffe and Andy Warhol on a display. On the other hand it is, indeed, ‘the first step’ , which had to be done in order to learn how to walk.

Creators deserved credit for overcoming many practical and theoretical problems – it’s still not as easy as it should be – to borrow and even temporary import artworks to Poland, red tape and financial reasons are the main obstacles. And theoretically speaking – it’s all in the title – Polish art lovers had to leave for Paris, London and New York in order to see contemporary art in a compendium, in moments – to… see it at all… Some sort of an  ideological attitude, then lack of the proper connections and even specifically driven individuals made that ‘first step’  difficult to be accomplished.

But it’s been finally done. With the choice of artists, which, unfortunately, looks accidental – one cannot help thinking – that whatever was comparatively easy available – has been put on a list, and then – on a display. Sherrie Levine’s conceptual sculptures and Andy Warhol’s prints – all from early 80s look outdated and out-of -place next to Eric Fischl’s or Philip Taafee’s recent paintings from the last decade. Francesco Clemente is represented by a series of moderately interesting pastel drawings only, mentioned Warhol by his hardly revolutionary prints/collages taken from one private collection. On the overall, one faces an acute sense of hunger, of an insufficiently experienced encounter, aesthetically and historically speaking.

Then, those who paid for the privilege of photographing artworks get to realize, with all the surprised uneasiness, that it borders impossible to capture some of the works in their full glory. As for an example: P. Taaffe’s mesmerizing “Artificial Paradise” in two uncovers, each at least 4 x 4 m. has been put in a small passage, corridor-like space; to experience these artworks properly, not to mention to document them in this very setting, is a task for a superman. The same relates to the most of the paintings presented in Krakow – it appears like, quite unsurprisingly, the communist designers of the Main Building of the National Museum didn’t allow enough space to comfortably fit in something bigger than folk artifacts.

On the other hand – the biggest rooms has been taken to accommodate another international, simultaneously presented exhibition of American art and design. Who said that quantity over quality in art serves well or even to the acceptable level anyone – curators, visitors, artists and – art above all?

Well done for trying, not so well done for not trying even more. Looking impatiently forward to see further steps of Polish curators towards the Western Contemporary Art.

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All photos by K. Skonieczna. To see more pictures from this exhibition go here


Studying Art (15)- A Fire Runs Through It…


A Fire Runs Through It.

Originally uploaded by ms4jah

I’m becoming obsessed by the fire…
The primordial force of no earthy origin.
Of captivating beauty, forever sublime, even in its ashes and fumes…

The spiritual depth, the emotional fever, the power of human and nature’s genius…

The most mesmerizing epitome of the liminal and the paradoxical – consuming and supporting life, wounding and healing, the master and the servant… Perpetual space of becoming, of an annihilation and re-birth…

The element of gods and monsters, the sublimation of hell, the alien lover…

And as such it’s impossible to paint or to convey in words, and just because of that creative people have always been in love with its challenge…

Everyone around me seems to paint water, sometimes the earth. Well, it’s the islanders’ trait and they are good at it…

But I will face flames in my work. I will challenge them with my imagination, my admiration and ambition; I will abstract them and command them to exist as a spirit and the intent of the work. I will probably abandon them soon, yet it’s interesting to see where they will lead me… What sort of a catharsis and inferno the fire, I’m playing with is going to enrich me with…

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Photo found at Flickr. Click at ms4jah account to access more…


Hans’s World – Caucasus


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Originally uploaded by grijsz

I’ve just found a friend on Flickr. I hope, he won’t mind this post of mine. Hans Heiner is a German artist living in Tbilisi, Georgia. His neo-expressionist paintings have been inspiring me for some time. Their raw intensity, emotional/expressive power and honesty are simply addicting. The great artists like George Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat or even Chaim Soutine come to mind when one browses those dozens of hugely evocative images, usually conveying forceful emotions/message in an impressively economical, disciplined manner.

Hans (grijsz) seems to be also a skillful draughtsman, pop-artist, photographer and an art-animator. One can only envy and admire his energy, talents, free-spirited attitude and a truly amazing personality, which simply radiate from the work and photos available on the net. In such moments of some really inspiring discoveries I’m getting very grateful for an invention of the Internet – just imagine not to have the slightest idea about all those fascinating artists working out of the ‘celebrities’ status in the intimacy and glory of their own wonderful worlds! That would be like living in 12th c. Europe – the self-proclaimed ‘center of the world’ with a very little awareness, how the planet really looks and works like…

To meet the artist – please, visit his blogs: New Images, The Art Club Caucasus and grijsz’s Flickr page

Photo featured by H. Heiner – Khevsureti, Georgia, Caucasus


Let it shine… (Whilt 6)

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I have to confess – I took my camera with me one Christmas-time evening specifically for this reason – to collect the ‘evidence’ of the tastelessness and prodigality, which flourish in the Irish (and I suppose Polish, French, Spanish… everywhere) towns right from the beginning of November. Why someone would like to keep three Christmas trees under one roof – doesn’t it ridicule the very sense of having it (slightly like celebrate three bonfires in the Roman home)? Why does someone find it attractive and/or desirable to display twenty or so flashing, twinkling, glaring decorations – every one of them kitsch – if even one quarter of these make their point quite clearly (I would say – ‘plainly and blatantly clear’)? Why everyone lets the commercial/consumption machine to devour all the magic and beauty of the season? Why – I’ve been keeping asking finding myself astonished and confused like a newcomer from a far country…

But, after giving the issue a bit of a deepen thought (and what I have learned today) I came to a conclusion that there won’t be probably any straightforward and satisfying answer to these dilemmas. Not only because one is not supposed to discuss the taste of others (De gustibus non est disputandum), but due to the complexity of the whole phenomenon. How a particular culture, country, region and a family responds to the public celebrations/mythologies is deeply rooted in its history and habitual imprint, spiritual/religious background, psychological/mental DNA, economic and even political conditions, as well as the contemporary, today’s challenges and ongoing (that’s why very difficult to analyze) transformations. And even grasping all of these wouldn’t necessary help to decipher why this particular culture/region/house has chosen to celebrate in such a way. One could be completely mislead judging the Roman ancient culture by the Dionysian Festival or the contemporary Spanish nation by their Bull Running pandemonium.

Looking at my photos I have to underline – it was a short walk and no more than a dozen of pics taken – yet, in a strange way, some of them translate an obscene, common or even bizarre scene into a charming image of a welcoming, cheerful or even contemplative environment where – who knows, the true spirit of this time lives on… If a camera is like a ‘dream catcher’ of our thoughts and feelings – I must have found myself unable to expose all the shallow ugliness of the environment, as I was planning to do. Too bad? Well, who knows where the true lies – in my criticism or in these images’ sweet dreaminess?

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Alice, L. Carroll and their land…

I’ve promised her a little post some time ago… Then I excused myself due to the flood of other ‘important’ things to do… Yet, she has been waiting patiently, the way kids do when their intelligence and understanding of human issues surpasses our own…

Alice and her Wonderland – not that long time ago I would adopt that name and – the entire worldview and life-view having a temptation to tease someone (including myself), who tended to cultivate rather his/her own world than to contribute  to the physical, objective reality in a ‘typically’ intense, engaged way.

Yet – Alice is an entity on her own — a timeless authority on the essence of childhood, dreams and imagination… and not a sort of a Barbie- toy our grandmothers would amuse themselves with. It’s enough to reach for Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece again and read it with a fresh mind, with enthusiasm and with a playful manner, as it was meant to be read. It is a compelling lecture and a fascinating adventure – all ages/stages in life allowed! What I find especially impressive and adorable is the writer’s ability to create the entire, nonsense-based world which is perfectly functioning – no character, event, even a sentence/expression is out of place. That powerful, seamless and convincing, if not enchanting integrity of a created/invented ‘reality’ is always a trademark of a great artwork, either literary or in visual/audio arts. It’s there to be believed in because it makes sense – it ‘sounds’, ‘looks’, have a ‘feeling’ of being sensible/born to exist – even if this ‘sense’ is as no-sense you know living day to day, here and now.

I like also the potential of very different, possible interpretations – the whole hermeneutic schools of reading the Alice compete and contradict each other with passion and inventiveness, which one might have thought to be impossible, when most of the contemporary more/less successful fiction was considered. Similarly to the Nutcracker‘s story, there are basically two versions circulating in the audience’s memory – the sugar-coated for 7 years old, which entertainment(money)makers have managed to exploit to a mind-numbing degree, and the original one – complex, slightly dark and sinister with multiple and always ambiguous layers of meaning. And ambiguity is a key-word here, especially when one is aware of the modern witch-haunt which sees Carroll – predominantly and without a trial – as a monster writing stories for little girls out of the ‘friendship’ and the general ‘affection’. It’s been always unreasonable and cowardly for me – to send a great artist/writer/thinker on a stake, post mortem and with a little regret – due to his/her ‘crimes’ against humanity committed few decades or hundreds years ago, accordingly to our contemporary – advanced, illuminated and never mistaken grasp of things…

When I look at Carroll’s beautiful photographs of children (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, as he was born, was an accomplished photographer as well as being a scientist – mathematician and logician) I see the great effort and tenderness to capture the solemnity and loneliness of the little individuals, facing the challenge of growing up in a reality programmed by adults and for adults. Yes, these children are ‘individuals’ – independent, intelligent and troubled,  little masters of their own world – just like Alice is… Seen as that, they stay in a radical opposition to the modern, popular portrayal of the youngest generation –

‘cute’-doll-like, carefree and subjected to a constant supervision and guidance.

Here are my favourite quotes from Alice in Wonderland:

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

An author doesn’t necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else.

Photos above in an order of appearance:

Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell,1858 (prototype of Alice)

Lewis Carroll, Fair Rosamond, 1863

Lewis Carroll, Mary White, 1864


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