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CT / Kostka Gallery / disingenuous nature

Artist: Michalina Bigaj (PL)
Curator: Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec
Exhibition duration: 24 November – 7 January 2018
Opening: 24 November 2017

Can nature be deceitful, hiding the truth like humans do, concealing its true intentions and goals? The anthropomorphism of nature and its actions, as suggested by the artist in the title of her exhibition, serves several functions. On the one hand, it expresses her stance in the debate on posthumanism, an intellectual trend that questions the exceptional position of humans in the world, and postulates reformulating the human relationship with non-human forms of biological life towards a more equal partnership. On the other hand, she invites her viewers to reflect on Western culture’s crucial opposition between nature and culture. Michalina Bigaj is interested in the “models” of human interaction with nature and arts, yet her interest is not so much in oppositions, as in analogies. She looks for the latter in two exceptional places: the garden and the gallery, which she treats as symbols of human experience of nature and culture respectively. In the Polish language, the etymology of the word “garden” (“ogród” or “enclosed space”, which connotes enclosure and confinement) emphasises the artificial (often architectonically built) nature of this place. Although each historical period brought changes in the concept of garden design, what remained unchanged was the idea that gardens embodied nature domesticated by man, while its contemplation followed the rules imposed by human mind. Roman gardens set within the space of the peristyle, medieval gardens within monasteries, the Baroque French gardens with symmetrical designs, the English landscape gardens, and finally the botanical gardens all combined diverse functions, fulfilling human aesthetic and utilitarian needs. However, we should not forget that the garden can also be read as a cultural text, since, as Bożena Tokarz noted: “as a figure of speech, which manifests itself in the long and complex history of the topos, the garden is also a figure of thought (…) which denotes order and despotic will, courtly life, the stage of the theatre of life, a confinement, an illusion, and – in spite of all – also the human contact with nature.” This human contact with nature, celebrated in artificial spaces, highlights the illusory (though often unrecognised) nature of human control over untamed powers of nature. The gallery space, much like the space of the garden, seems to be governed by the aesthetics of artificiality. Brian O’Doherty argued that: “the outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad soundlessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take on its own life.’” And although over the past fifty years those imperfect models of contact with nature and art were continually questioned, they still manifest a surprising long durée. Michalina Bigaj does not seek to question them; with her ironic detachment, she asks us to rethink their function and pose the following questions: are those still spaces of aesthetic experience? Sophisticated means of participating in collective rituals? Or perhaps substitutes of authentic emotions? The investigation of the tensions between the artificial and the natural occupies a primal position in Bigaj’s artistic reflection. A quasi-pergola, which imitates a living organism in contradiction to its materiality, a series of staged photographs of artificial plants, or one of the objects that resembles moss covered stones – those are all distinct expressions of the search for real nature in our surroundings, continually undertaken by the Polish artist. Will the Prague paving stones at the gallery be overtaken by “nature”? We shall see…

Agnieszka Jankowska-Marzec

Open daily from 1 pm till 8 pm and according to the evening program. Free entry.

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MeetFactory is supported in 2017 by a grant from the City of Prague amounting to10.000.000 CZK.