Alicja Bielawska is a sculptor and installation artist. She uses simple, everyday materials to create constellations of objects, which haunt viewers’ imagination and senses.
Bielawska was born in 1980 in Warsaw. Between 1999-2005, she studied art history at the University of Warsaw. Directly after completing her theoretical studies, she moved to Amsterdam to join the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, from which she graduated in 2009. She now splits her time between Warsaw and Amsterdam.
Objects in dialogue
Alicja Bielawska assembles sculptural objects, clearly marking the individual elements and the ways in which they correspond with one another. Analogically, the constructions are presented in a space in a way that highlights their mutual relations. The impact of the works is supposed to derive from a dialogue between them, as opposed to assigning an intrinsic meaning to the objects themselves. Bielawska notes that “when the works are next to each other, they multiply the information they send”, and aims to convey that notion in her compositions, avoiding, however, presenting them as permanent sets. The artist instead describes her way of thinking about these constellations of objects as a “family”:
Every object is independent. I will show them together, but it doesn’t mean that it is one work. They are separate works that are related in some way. They need each other at this moment – she says in a conversation with Tobias Karlsson.
Anti-function and play
Bielawska refrains from referring to her works as sculptures, instead describing them as “objects”:
When I call them ‘objects’, there is less pressure on them than if I called them ‘sculptures’. There is another important thing: by calling them ‘objects' I point out that they can be as important as this table in front of us.
Her objects, lacking a specific function or technical application, invite viewers to enter into a tender relationship with them. The audience members are invited to walk around them, surround them, as it is their presence that determines the shape and character of the works. At the same time, the objects are intended to bear possible resemblance to things and memories from the past, triggering distant memories and ambivalent associations. These personal interpretations summoned in gallery spaces breed a specific relationship between the public and private sphere.
In her works, Bielawska selects materials and objects that are normally used as supplies on construction sites, in house work, etc. – the “half-products,” as the artist calls them, that are usually ignored. These include linoleum, plastic veneer, floor finishes and panels. She explains to Bogna Świątkowska in an interview for Notes na 6 Tygodni:
They actually don’t have anything personal or characteristic in themselves, they are just neutral. But to me, they create opportunities for constructing forms which are partly rooted in our everyday reality, and partly detached from it, burying a certain order that we are accustomed to. An order of functionality and usability.
This shifting of roles of those mundane materials is fundamental to Bielawska’s output. By bending their functions, she intends to make them operate on the borders of meanings. At the same time, it is important for her to identify and follow the logic of the material she works with. In the catalogue for the 2013 group exhibition, The Splendour of Textiles, at Zachęta National Gallery of Art, she commented on this idea:
Textiles are materials that stay with us all the time, are closest to our body and touch, and thus connect directly with reminiscences and memory. Textiles, be it a dress, a tablecloth or a tent, easily assume the shape that we desire them to, and, with all their delicateness, are surprisingly durable.
Bielawska’s works from 2013-2014 included an expanded set of materials – the artist introduced more fabrics, clay, polymer clay, and aluminium elements.
Bielawska always measures her works on a human scale – both literally and metaphorically. Most of the time, the artist creates works especially for upcoming shows, assembling them directly in the exhibiting space. While installing, she constructs the works according to her natural size, and measures one object against another.
Traces of human touch are, according to Bielawska, a natural feature of objects around us. By leaving her own fingerprints, allowing imperfections, or arranging the elements in ways that are temporary or ephemeral, the artist highlights the tactility and responsiveness of her objects to the surrounding.
Next to her spatial installations, the artist often displays her drawings, which she treats as a separate area of her work. As she admits, drawing allows her mind to drift off, release itself from the restraints of material surrounding, create “visual puzzles,” she says. The artist usually tries to transform this playfulness into real objects.
Bielawska’s treats her drawings unlike sketches, although she also notices a certain potential in models that she creates for her works. She uses them to test out forms and proportions, even if the final result is not a direct repetition of a given template. To her, models allow a certain degree of flexibility – both physical and intellectual:
In a model, the weight, the physical properties, gravity don’t play such a big role. Besides, a model has the lightness of arbitrariness, the details are not as important, and what mostly counts is the relationship between the forms. When looking at models, we picture their large-scale realizations, but each person imagines them differently, depending on their sense of scale. What I’m interested in is how such a model is realized in the viewer’s mind.
When inventing titles for her works or exhibitions, Bielawska often reaches out to her sketchbooks which include both drawings and text. Making sure to avoid literalness, she is not afraid to use titles that are longer and not directly related to the presentation of work, thus teasing the audience’s imagination and provoking abstract narratives in their minds. One example of such play with words is the title of her show at the now-vanished Czarna Gallery in Warsaw, – I Feel I Forgot Something. – I Think You Remember Too Much, which is an excerpt from Bielawska’s conversation with a friend. She also reaches out to poems or texts written by classic authors – even though they are her readings, and feed into her mindset, the provenance of the phrases is secondary to their poetic effect.
- before the transit after the shift (duo exhibition with Maria Gondek), Hotel Maria Kapel, Hoorn
- Fuzzy Sets, Weekender #17, Jeanine Hofland Contemporary Art, Amsterdam
- When Things Find Their Place, BWA Gallery, Zielona Góra
- Adopted Shapes, Arsenał Gallery, Białystok
- The Revolutions of Things, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- We Don’t Think Enough About Staircases, Kunstenaarsinitiatief Paraplufabriek, Nijmegen
- – I feel that I’ve forgotten something. – I think you remember too much, Czarna Gallery, Warsaw
- The Mountains – grow unnoticed, Teto Projects, Amsterdam
Selected group exhibitions
- Prospects & Concepts, Mondriaan Fonds toont talent, Van Nellefabriek, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam
- homeMADE, CCA Laznia, Gdańsk
- A Cock in a Frock on a Rock, Juliette Jongma Gallery, Amsterdam
- Unfair Amsterdam, Loods 6, Amsterdam
- The Splendour of Textiles, Zachęta National Gallery, Warsaw
- Confetti Generation. Polly’s Picture Show, Vondelparkpaviljoen, Amsterdam
- Make Shift, Arsenał Municipal Gallery, Poznań, BWA Gallery, Katowice
- Young Polish Artists on Tour, espacio trapézio, Madrid
- The Journey to the East, Arsenał Gallery, Białystok; Mystetskyi Arsenal, Art_Kyiv Contemporary 2011, Kyiv; MOCAK, Kraków
- Selected Projects, BWA Gallery, Zielona Góra
- Sample, Galerienhaus Lindenstrasse, Berlin
- Line Y, appendix2 Gallery, Warsaw
- 13, Outpost, Amsterdam
- Construction Work (with Ulla Eriksen and Barbara Skovmand Thomsen), Art’NPublic, Amsterdam
- Graduation Show, Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam
- Evil in the Old Church, Oude Kerk, Amsterdam
- The Battle Of Art. Dialogue Of Culture, European Exchange Academy, Beelitz
- Space Forms, Kunsteyssen, Alkmaar
- Curtains for the Auditorium, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw
- Sound Carpet (with Ulla Eriksen and Kunji Baerwald), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Author: Ania Micińska, sources: own materials, May 2014