Ewa Axelrad (b. 1984), author of illustrations, objects, photographs, and video works.
A graduate of Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań (2003 – 2008 Faculty of Multimedia Communication) and of Royal College of Art in London (2008 – 2010 MA Fine Art: Photography).
Ewa Axelrad’s works are strongly connected to specific spaces, in which the artist presents them – they function as site specific interventions. Axelrad treats space actively, emphasises its context, and in fact seeks inspiration for her works in it.
I love fertile, provocative spaces, I react very strongly to them. My projects stemming from working with space are a resultant of its character and themes which I carry within me.
Ewa Axelrad finds topics for her artworks in the past, in personal stories, and in collective memory. Devoid of an original context, they become surprisingly contemporary and universal, somewhat familiar, and at the same time they cause anxiety. An important aspect of the artist’s projects is the detectable tension emerging on an intersection of an aesthetically refined, perfect form of individual elements of an artwork, and of the discomfort appearing when deciphering a meaning charged with a story, its accompanying narrative. This is often a result of the contrast that emerges from a clash of aesthetics and ethics. In her site-specific installations from 2009 – 2013, the artist explored such phenomena as power, control, and discipline in juxtaposition with that which is fragile and defenceless.
In 2011, Ewa Axelrad presented the project The Dry at Arsenał Municipal Gallery, Poznań. It explored the relationship between hygiene and violence, which the curator, Anna Czaban described as follows:
The hygiene gets pushed to a level of disinfection, which gets escalated to a level of erasure or even liquidation – just a few steps away from extermination. Hygiene may occur as an aggressive tool of control, domination and violence, and even a war tactic element. The military is hardly implied in the work, hence it is entirely up to the viewer how far he or she will follow this trail. The artist abstracts its characteristics such as discipline, domination and hierarchy, but also smartness, cleanliness and fitness. These attributes the viewer can find in various forms, starting with proportions of the composition, through lustrous and smoothened surfaces and olfactory stimuli. All these factors are brought together in order to lure the viewer, who inevitably gets seduced and has a chance to feel like a perpetrator.*
In the same year, Axelrad showed a photographic installation Is It Safe at the exhibition MIR in Arsenal Gallery in Białystok. It consisted of a light box with a huge magnification of a gold tooth, which the artist bought from a trader outside of London. Another element of the project was a clove scent, which is used as an analgesic during dental surgeries. In Eastern Europe, gold teeth have been treated as a symbol of wealth, but also as something tasteless and kitschy. This accumulation of capital within one’s own body may also be associated with ‘golden harvest’ – a shameful pang of conscience.
The project Warm Leatherette was presented for the first time in 2012 at Czytelnia Sztuki in Gliwice and a year later in Warsaw. In Gliwice, it was exhibited under the title Vk, a Polish symbol denoting terminal velocity (Vt). Axelrad’s works, which include large format colour photographs of smashed metal of lacquered car body, a fragment of a road barrier damaged in a car accident, or a deformed car seat, refer to a fascination with speed, but they also bring up erotic associations. The yonic and phallic shapes of objects evoke sex appeal, which is uncannily inscribed in the suggestive associations with catastrophe and death.
To some extent, the space of a car is a territory where these fears and desires converge. This is why the architecture of a car carries a fetishistic potential.
At a 2013 exhibition Epidemic at CoCA Signs of the Times in Toruń, Ewa Axelrad showed a work which, in the words of the artist, ‘is about fear of the spreading chaos and about controlling the society in emergency situations.’ The installation, placed behind a curtain, was constructed out of two overlapping rubber transmission belts, which somewhat resembled a deflated conveyor belt, forming a closed circuit on the floor, walls, and ceiling.
The National Art Museum of China in Beijing hosted the exhibition State of Life. Polish...
In 2015, BWA Warszawa Gallery held Ewa Axelrad’s exhibition Minimum, Necessary, Objectively Reasonable. It revolved around a reflection on the ambivalence of security systems which become tools of oppression targeting individuals. The works in the form of sculptural objects and installations were metaphorical – they demonstrated how in the light of a conflict, a desire of comfort may unexpectedly drift towards self-repressive tendencies. Visually arousing objects, subjected to a minor metamorphosis, lost their specific function – and so, for instance a thermometer began evoking associations with a police baton or a sex toy.
Her works belong to the collections of Zachęta – Contemporary Art Gallery in Szczecin, CoCA in Toruń, Museum in Gliwice, and Griffin Art Space. In 2010, she was nominated to the Conran Award, while in 2009 she was a recipient of the Young Poland scholarship. She lives and works in London and in Silesia. She collaborates with the BWA Warszawa Gallery.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, November 2016, transl. AM, December 2016
*translation sourced from: www.ewa-axelrad.com