Alphabet - Paulina Ołowska
In the series of 26 photographs, Paulina Ołowska bends and twists her body, forming a full set of the letters of alphabet.
The artist is wearing a red dress, blue scarf and tights. Her outfit, matched with a boyish haircut, turns her into, as some claim, a tomboy-proletarian figure. From this interpretation follow comparisons to Lyubov Popova, a Russian avant-garde artist and member of the constructivist movement.
Curator Monika Szewczyk identifies Ołowska’s photographs with the 18th century Blue Stockings Society movement, which gathered educated, emancipated women, with a strong interest in literature and politics.
Ołowska also makes an obvious reference to fashion photography, comparing the simulated letters to models’ poses. The stance her model takes, however, is that of a ‘thinking woman’.
The Alphabet cycle has also been presented in a live version. Its first performance, featuring the artist together with Joanna Zielińska and Daniel Yamada, took place on the roof of Galerie Meerrettich in Berlin. First, the performers acted out each of the alphabet letters, and later – short poems by Frances Stark, Paulus Mazur, and Josef Strau (who read them out live). As the poems were recited, the performers adjusted their bodies to imitate selected words from the texts. Unlike in the photo series, the actors were wearing gymnastic outfits, reminiscent of the 1980s. The fluorescent details of their costumes made the three bodies shine in the limelight and stand out in the nocturnal setting. These letter-people were only able to construct a message only when working collectively. Jan Verwoert wrote about the piece:
By staging dancers in sportswear who perform a highly formalized choreography to illustrate very personal poems, Ołowska made the rhetoric of dance as ‘work-out’ clash with the rhetoric of dance as literary metaphor.
The written alphabet clashes with the ‘alphabet’ of gestures and movements here, exposing the rhetorical function of dance. Ołowska connects rhythm with the constructivist fascination with typography (Władysław Strzemiński’s alphabet can act as an example of the latter phenomenon; his invention, however, turned out to be a failure: the letters were too similar to one another, which effectively made the words incomprehensible).
Ołowska mocks the modernist paradigm of novelty by making use of repetition, a recurring gesture in her endeavours. She is nevertheless not afraid of nostalgia. On the contrary – she consciously uses it as a tool, which was apparent in her exhibition Romance with Avant-garde (Romansując z awangardą, State Art Gallery, Sopot, 2002) or when she initiated the revival of the street neon Volleyball Player in Warsaw (Siatkarka, 2006). Even the female figure in her Alphabet is, as Monika Szewczyk pointed out, a ‘new woman’ from the old times. Ołowska seems to approach the ideals from the past with suspicion and an analytical urge. In other words, she verifies whether we are correct in labelling them as utopian, and whether their failure was indeed a result of their ultimate unfeasibility. Hence, her nostalgia ceases to be purely about the past, but becomes a revived dream about the future.
See the 2012 re-staging of the Alphabet performance, which took place at the Musuem of Modern Art in New York:
series of 26 colour photographs
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2010, transl. Anna Micińska Feb 2014Culture.pl