Aleksandra Mańczak »
SIGNS OF RETENTION
One fulfills oneself as an integral, universal
being as long as one goes beyond
the historical moment and yields to ones need
of experiencing archetypes.
(Eliade 1993: 45)
SIGNS OF RETENTION
We lost the biblical paradise when Eve, prompted by the snake,
succumbed to temptation and tasted the apple from the tree of
knowledge of good and evil. In effect, gullibility, excessive curiosity,
disobedience and pride became the causes of the exile from paradise.
The time of happiness lasted unusually short and the loss was
The motif of the exile from paradise and the original sin became the
universal subject of countless works of literature, music and art and the
way it was engaged has given us greater insight into the thoughts of the
respective ages. John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' and 'Paradise Regained',
Masaccio's 'Exile from Paradise', the captivating power of
Michelangelo's vision from the Sistine Chapel, Hieronymus Bosch's
'Garden of Earthly Delights' are merely a few of the greatest art works
of the past that are worth remembering.
What was the paradise like before? What is it like now, if still present in art?
The place of birth of the first parents, the mythical garden - above
which the sun always shines, in which the cosmic tree of life grows,
where the concept of time (and therefore old age and suffering) does
not exist, where immortality could be ours but it will be no more this
is, in short, the archetypical vision of paradise, a vision which
emphasizes, above all, the spiritual significance.
The idea of paradise has also triggered and inspired us to dream of
happiness and search for ways of attaining it. These dreams have been
providing the basis for the succeeding great utopias concerning the
function of the state and social structures since Plato, then through the
works of Thomas Moore, Francis Bacon, Jean Jacques Rousseau,
Babeuf, Fourier, Cabet, Saint-Simon, up to Bellamy, Aldous Huxley
and the followers. Could it be that regardless of our awareness and
understanding of paradise's fiction, our faith in the continued pursuit
for happiness and the hopes connected with it is rarely, if ever
weakened? Why was the human being endowed with this ability to
dream of the Unrealizable?
Jung states that 'archetypes are universal' (Eco 1999: 174). Joseph
Campbell says that, more precisely, 'archetypes, or elementary ideas,
have appeared in different costumes. The differences in the costumes
are the results of environmental and historical conditions' (Campbell
The hopes raised by the industrial revolutions, having brought
previously unknown comforts, pushed aside the values which had
been cherished before. 'Ten commandments and not ten suggestions'
(Lis 2003: 53) appears to be freely understood and used by many, too
many. Relatively recently it has been pronounced that God does not
exist and two hecatombs of the 20th century showed the wretchedness
of the human being and its unimaginable destructive power. Presently
it is believed that we have reached the twilight of the scientific age,
the end of such disciplines as philosophy, physics, evolutionary
biology or even the end of progress. Doubts and terror which have
been sown expose a destructive emptiness and evil in many forms.
Total reduction is what characterizes the vanishing spirituality. We are
standing face to face with the atrophied culture of substitutes, not only
in the world of objects but also, what is even worse, in the sphere of
behavioural reactions, in the sphere of feelings or emotions.
The mythical paradise, the existence of which was believed in the
Middle Ages, was unceremoniously reduced to an earthly paradise
understood as the place of mild climate (times of Christopher
Columbus) or an exotic tourist attraction: 'paradise found' says the
advertising slogan which promotes the isles of Mauritius and Rodriguez.
We have lost the paradise forever and there is no return but we have
also been endowed with consciousness, conscience and memory as
well as the ability to dream and think abstractly. 'On one hand, the
mysticism feeds on tradition, but on the other it discovers that thanks
to its experience it is able to renew the truth of the dogma or disturb it'
What is my paradise like? To be exact, there are two different
representations. One refers to what is past, what is behind us and can
therefore be characterized as the record of a carefree child, who
observes everything as a novice and greedily registers image after
image. The 2003 work entitled 'Nexus Stone - Civilization xyz...' is
a series of monochromatic, greyish compositions of subdued colours
and clouded details shrouded in the mist of layers of time which has
passed since the moment the used photos were taken. It is the paradise
of images endowed with memory, images which refer to the
experience which has been irretrievably and undisputedly lost.
Therefore, like archaeological findings, the surfaces of the rotten stones
or frayed paper-documents which slowly fade away are in some way
still decipherable. Each of us is an ark filled with saved people and
events. This is my private and personal paradise. It was already
Nietzsche who noted that 'you should read your life exclusively and
on the basis of that comprehend the hieroglyphs of life in general'
(Buczyńska-Garewicz 2003: 92). I will additionally include two pertinent
quotes: 'One's childhood, which is gone, lies in the past, which does
not exist either. Nevertheless it is something real for each individual, it
is more than phantasmagoria, it is somehow present in the conscious
of each human being'( Buczyńska-Garewicz 2003: 18). 'The past is not
something fixed and unalterable. Its facts are rediscovered by each
generation, its values renewed, its meanings redefined in the context of
present taste and superstition' (Huxley 1991: 97).
When occasionally we are disappointed with the present, when we
consider some manifestations of life unacceptable, when reality
becomes unfriendly, it turns out that salvation can be found
somewhere unexpected - in the past, but not the past understood as
a simple return or comeback to the record of cold facts. Photography is
capable of activating the sequences of sensations, feelings and moods.
Photography can be a recognizable sign on a familiar map, on which
the route does not signify the distance but the way to the treasure of
wisdom heard or acquired. Contemporary Christianity has accepted
and given consent to the reinterpretation of the childhood as the time
which harmonizes with the blissful paradise tales.
The second series is entitled 'Eden - The Four Seasons' and it is
a colourful paradise of the vegetative world. There is no distinct tree of
life nor the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is not a paradise
created by the imagination but one made of real fragments. Has the
visual entity made of these elements no raison d'etre? It is the paradise
of a being that is disillusioned but not devoid of dreams. Can it still be
recognized as a paradise? The absence of human beings in my
paradise has its significance and results from the awareness of threats
of civilization appetite.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, included William
Morris, who shared a deep 'conviction that the artist is charged with
a duty to improve the environment and ennoble the man' (Konopacki
1989: 11). Regarding the purpose of the brotherhood, Thomas Carlyle
provides an apt summary: 'The truth is that man has lost faith in the
spiritual and pins his hope and operates on what is materially visible,
or to put it in a different way: it is not a religious but a material,
practical, non-godly, non-spiritual age' (Konopacki 1989: 6). It has
been 155 years since the Round Table of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,
but Carlyle's words sound strangely familiar, don't they?
The world is a process. If the global destruction were to come, it would
hardly be anything new as it would be the sixth stage of the great
extinction in the history of our planet. Nevertheless, it would be the
first event in which man played such a significant role in the
We are the first generations able to record and get to know any given
square centimeter of the Earth as seen from space. According to eye
witnesses, the astronauts, this is a breathtaking image. Why then, are
we not able to see that even an ordinary blade of grass contains
a particle of paradise?
December 2003/January 2004
translated by Bartosz Kosowski
Buczyńska-Garewicz, Hanna. Metafizyczne rozważania o czasie. Kraków:
TA i WPN Universitas, 2003.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Eco, Umberto. Czytanie świata. Kraków: Znak, 1999.
Eliade, Mircea. Sacrum, mit i historia. Warszawa: PIW, 1993.
Huxley, Aldous. Drzwi percepcji Niebo i piekło. Warszawa: Przedświt, 1991.
Konopacki, Adam. Prerafaelici. Warszawa: Arkady, 1989.
Lis, Tomasz. Co z tą Polską. Warszawa: Rosner i Wspólnia, 2003.
Layers of reality exist in everyday experience. The imagination feels as
real as warm sun on our face or the coolness of a passing shadow.
Imagination, we assume must end when we die, or is all that remains?
This is the question Polish artist Aleksandra Manczak ponders with her
deft and elegant digital images.
The mythological Daphne does not allow herself to be captured or
controlled. Daphne favors relationships that leave you breathless and
feeling beautiful but without substance or soul. Artists creating digital
images often create the same kind of work. However, Manczak favors
conversation with Daphne and has instead calmed the breathless
charm into digital images that intercede, reach in and pull past mere
technological acrobatics to create work that symbiotically accesses the
possibilities of digital manipulation.
Her images are symbolic
structures of time and memory. Collected artifacts, old photographs,
ideas and soundings about place and history all are dropped into the
computer. Daphne's magic is tamed by the reality of Manczak's long
time artistic intention to create work where memory and history coexist.
Photoshops command "combine layers" ( flatten image and
merge visible) creates the place for breath, skin, earth, city, landscape
and personal experience to become one. Manczak's images become
a place for eternity to be clamped behind glass and hung on the wall
for us to peer at, peck at or wonder about. Memory is no longer
transitory and elusive. Manczak's 'Nexus Stone - Civiliation xyz...'
series crushes our greatest fear by forcing time to exist within the past
and the future long enough for us to study and learn from it. Manczak
presses technology to her purpose just as Giotto crushed Lapis Lazuli
for the blue ceiling in the Chapel at Padua.
Poles are perhaps the most historically self conscious people in
Europe. Manczak has personally passed through overwhelming
political and social oppression. However her work demonstrates it is
possible to create profound individual meaning in spite of the
historical oppression your country may force you to bear. In this
circumstance art becomes a platform for the personal within the
historical and protects the individual from meaninglessness. Manczak's
ability to extract soul from a soul neutral technology has attracted
Daphne's attention so the beauty of the image does overpower the
presence of the painful history represented and the artistís experience of it.
In Civilization II: Daphne herself seems subdued next to a tree
surrounded by images of doors, windows, seeds, cinnamon sticks,
Manczak's husband, her cat, soldiers and Jewish gravestones.
A surface integrity not usually associated with digital work creates
a tactile resonance with patina on bronze, graphite on paper or stain
on canvas. The layers of memory and history have been compressed in
Manczak's reconstruction of personal experience and historical record.
The strongest works in the exhibit do not challenge reality's power
over our imagination. Photoshop does not become a technological
slight of hand but an aid in the imaginations ability to control time and
therefore perhaps exist beyond our experience of it.
Stephanie Bowman: artystka,pedagog, profesor w dziedzinie sztuki, krytyk
- publikacje w Sculpture, Ceramics, Art Papers, etc.
Although some people may find it impudent, I dare write a few words
about Aleksandra Mańczak's work, the artist I admire, but most of all
the teacher whose words once showed me the way in my early search.
I hope that the admiration I feel will not distort the objective (as far as
possible) approach of someone who is inspired by this creation,
circling its influence, tries to use his own language of expression.
The work of Aleksandra Mańczak, my Professor conferring with me on
my diploma, which I got still at the Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts
and Design in Łódź, is more familiar to me today and raises questions
which I ask to myself working out new ideas and formal solutions. The
questions concerning the sense and limits of human communication.
Undoubtedly art is its most sublime form. What I am most concerned
with is the question how much the privacy of an artist has appealed to
his or her admirers since the time when the essence of art was
estimated by the personality of the artist? How much of the artist's
privacy might be perceived as something general - disregarding this
privacy or even being unaware of it?
For some time Aleksandra Mańczak has been regarded as the artist
fighting against the human thoughtless destruction of our life-giving
planet. Bending over every blade of grass which has just been
trampled underfoot. Preserving any remnant of the Earth prosperity in
her Zielniki (Herbaria), or even in the lens of her camera, which
resulted in the well-known collection of photographs.
However it seems to be misleading - like in the cycle of assemblages
Sfera bardzo intymna - nic na sprzedaż (A Very Intimate Sphere
Nothing For Sale). In these works everything was for sale! Yet this
'everything' was most valuable as it originated from the artist's privacy,
home secrets, objects - witnesses of intimate meanders of life.
The difference lies in the fact that the viewer did not realise that those
objects, talismans, photographs were the treasure of the little Oleńka
produced from a shoes' box. The invaluable objects which she 'sold'
- arranging them on display - to be seen by everybody.
What is also misleading - like in Wspomnienie o arboretum
(A Memory About Arboretum) she used clingfilm (cellulose) to pack
dried, perhaps torn out fruit trees. Someone may ask - what about
I use the negation of some popular opinions not to contradict their
value or to deny my earlier declaration of admiration but to make
everyone aware of the fact that Aleksandra Mańczak is neither the
classified ecological artist nor calculating - selling nothing- creator of
post 'ready - made' art.
What I have always admired in Professor Aleksandra Mańczak's work
is its workshop perfection (which the young define as the perfection to
the limit of perfidy). Masterful skill built on the art of nuance, rarely
comprehended by artists, based on the powerful pillars of respect for
her own work and for her audience, on the aesthetics understood as
decorum which does not let the artist stick on a photo with naked
bottom in a wrong or askew way or use without any reason e.g. a dirty
bucket with the remains of cement exposed to the admiration of the
crowds - in order to call it art! I am writing these words with full
respect for the most ecological product the beauty of naked woman is
and I really appreciate the whole tradition of a novel approach to art
initiated by Marcel Duchamp.
The artist does not manipulate our emotions in her works. She treats
EMOTIONS extremely seriously and reliably. How important 'medium'
they are for her can be e.g. observed in the work Epitafium dla wiązu
(Epitaph For An Elm Tree). We face this arrangement absolutely
amazed how easily we are made to feel embarrassed. As - being used
to some stereotypes of thinking about shapes and situations - we stand
in front of her work as in front of a catafalque. And we are so much
surprised and confused as if we were standing in front of a relative's or
This is what I consider to be the artist's fully conscious creative
concept. It is not an accidental choice that she used the elm for this
situation - the tree, which together with poplar, has grown in the
vicinity of cemeteries since the ancient time. They are the trees which
by means of their roots suck out memory and mysteries taken to grave
by the dead and they seem to check with the tips of their branches
what is going on with these mysteries up there. In their rings they were
to be the record of good and evil. We, who still believe, face them as
a symbol of knowledge.
One more important aspect of creation in general, which I am also
concerned with, is how much of privacy an artist is allowed to sell to
avoid a kind of pornography in a sense of creative exhibitionism?
Again let us have a look at Aleksandra Mańczak's work, or more
specifically the works, which under different titles, referred to
devotional showcases. The title of the cycle Sfera bardzo intymna
(A Very Intimate Sphere) signals that the odds and ends arranged in the
showcases are the objects associated with the artist's emotions and
memories. They are devoted (sold) to us so that, using them as an
example, we could remember and understand our own family trees.
To remember and pay attention to our own roots and traditions. If we
were from the outer space, we would not arrive here by any abstract
spaceship originating from the iconography of films by Spielberg. The
cosmos is in us like in this huge factory of photosynthesis which the
most minuscule blade of grass is. Our DNA is not only the chain of
nucleic acids but also, or most of all, the chain of emotions and
feelings of those who, before us, remembered this planet as 'the
greener one'. People who had less hectic life, looked at the world with
more honest eyes, could - better than apes - plainly shake hands with
And if I were to deny what I have said before, it is the right moment.
Only in this sense and at this moment Aleksandra Mańczak's art can
be classified as the ecological one. This moment will probably be
incomprehensible to some of us as the comprehension of this notion
has been devalued by artists and critics of art based on grey or handmade
paper. The audience can not be blamed here because they do
not know anything about these tones of artificial chemical materials:
glues, dyes used to obtain the so-called ecological works of art.
For Mańczak, every object, portrait in a dusty snapshot, seed is worth
care and special cover (case). Each of them is an invaluable
'Stradivarius' - like shrubs in Moje arboretum I (My Arboretum I), the
first from the cycle made in1991. This is the only comparison which
appeals to us as we are full of admiration and respect for the unique
We still lack the respect for the causative divine power.
Aleksandra Mańczak has never defined it and she has never tried to
suggest anybody that she believes in it or they should believe in it. She
rather investigates, looking for its traces, protecting them from being
trampled and forgotten. Her art in general is a kind of clip, a case
which she closes her emotions in, to prevent us from trampling and
forgetting our own emotions. With inborn culture and respect, like in
case of that clingfilm, she covers all the encountered traces of people,
plants and even bad experiences.
Therefore, in spite of the fact that some may suspect me of being
impudent, I will eventually title this text as 'Aleksandra Mańczak's
translated by Elżbieta Rodzeń-Leśnikowska