Alicja Bielawska is a sculptor, who uses simple, everyday materials to create constellations of objects, which influence the imagination and senses of the recipient.
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. In 2009 she graduated from the Fine Arts departement at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. She is currently living in Warsaw.
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.
Between 2009 and 2012 Bielawska selected materials and objects for her works 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 from 2012 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 working on the 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.
The Spojrzenia 2015 (Views 2015) exhibition at Zachęta – National Gallery of Art featured the works of Alicja Bielawska, Ada Karczmarczyk, Piotr Łakomy, Agnieszka Piksa and IzaTarasewicz – five artists from the 7th edition of the Deutsche Bank Award. Every two years the Views competition presents a wide and diverse context of young Polish art, since the nominees are always artists under 36 years of age. On this occasion, Alicja Bielawska prepared sculptures made out of simple metal constructions and fabrics knitted especially for this occasion, according to the artist's designs. The resulting objects, seemingly functional and with familiar shapes, have been transformed, taken out of everyday contexts and mental schemes. The artist forced the recipients to enter into a dialogue with her sculptures and to redefine them.
Bielawska explores the material world searching for the poetry of ordinary things. First, however, she creates drawings. These are not models or sketches of planned installations, but rather autonomous works – a kind of preview of sculptures. Bielawska pours onto paper lines, spots, colours, ideas and interpretations of reality, though only some of them eventually materialise. Words, letters, signs and poetry are another component of the artist's work. Titles of works attract attention, suggesting a specific narrative or a hidden story. These are often quotes, fragments of poems or snippets of private conversations. There's continuity in Bielawska's works: each subsequent work comes from a previous one and after a close observation you can often see inspirations even from a few years back. Regardless of whether the works are created for a specific place or not, the artist is invariably interested in the relationship between the sculpture and the space and how her work can fit into various interiors.
Soft Ground is a Polish-Lithuanian artistic project created by Alicja Bielawska in cooperation with Kristina Aglaji Skaldina, ending the Polish artist's two-month residency at the Art Colony in Nida. Bielawska was invited to Lithuania by curator Justė Kostikovaitė, who introduced her to Kristina. It is her dance performance that the participants of the Soft Gound exhibition witnessed in the Design Space Sodų 4 in Vilnius. Bielawska has been wanting to use movement in her works for quite some time. Her previous works focused on drawing and sculpture. Ultimately, both artists came to the conclusion that fabric is a very malleable material, and so the entire choreography was based on a blanket. Skaldina moved around a very small space, marked out by a rectangular blanket, which she folded many times during the event. The performance took place at the opening of the exhibition in Vilnius, which featured of a series of objects made out of ceramics and fabrics, drawings and documentation of the performance.
Bielawska is particularly interested in how different surfaces evoke associations. Some unusual materials such as modelling clay can bring to mind very specific feelings. Textiles offer a wide range of sensations; they can be slippery, rough, soft or hard. In this project, the artist also introduced ceramics for the first time, which, as she admits, fascinate her. The transition from ductile softness to hardening in the process of kneading, burning, adding colour and enamel is something special.
That same year, Alicja Bielawska was nominated for the Polityka Passport award, which is granted annually to distinguish brave artists who cross borders in art and reach not only domestic but also foreign recipients.
At an exhibition at the Labirynt Gallery in 2017 entitled Jeśli NieTu, Gdzie? (If Not Here, Where?) Alicja Bielawska presented works prepared especially for this occasion, as well as some older ones, which after having been introduced into a new context took on a different meaning. An important point of reference for the artist was the space of the gallery:
When preparing the exhibition, I think of inspirational space – height, volume and light. I would like the works to function not only at the level of floor and walls, but also in space, above the heads of viewers.
However, the artist does not create typical site-specific works; she is interested in the cooperation of different environments with the same sculptures.
Alicja Bielawska's works are rooted in lines; the artist shapes the space, referring the sculpture theory of Katarzyna Kobro. Vertical lines correspond to visual impressions, while the horizontal ones are a visible sign of the passage of time, separating one visual impression from the next. In this way, Bielawska manages to capture the essence of sculpture – its fourth dimension: time.
The scale of the objects in the If Not Here, Where? exhibition was crucial. Literal reproduction or intentional distortion affects the perception of sculptures – they refer to everyday life or the sphere of imagination. Many of the works presented evoked a familiar shape, but the distorted proportions did not allow one to see their true form of either a table or a shelf. Playing with scale leaves room for interpretation – large, glazed, spherical forms can be a vase, necklace elements, bead counters or the simplest, original shape formed on the potter's wheel under the pressure of human hands all at the same time. Folds, scratches or slight dents are accumulated traces of everyday use.
In 2017, as part of her first solo exhibition at the Kasia Michalski Gallery, Bielawska presented her latest, never-exhibited works. The artist focused on geometric shapes, colours and imaginary functions of objects, but still allowed herself the eponymous Ukryte Wątpliwości (Hidden Doubts). In methodical composing and arranging, Alicja Bielawska trusted her own intuition and remained open to errors and mistakes, which are an integral part of the creative process. The result was a work captured at the time of becoming: independent in its essence, creating dynamic constellations in the gallery space.
Since May 2018 you can watch Alicja Bielawska's installation entitled Śnione w Nocy w Blasku Dnia (Dreamed at Night by the Light of Day) in the building of the Museum of Modern Art on the Vistula. The work was created especially for the interior of the Museum's café. A sculpture made of fabrics floats above the visitors' heads, introducing another space into a very high interior. Multi-coloured chiffons emphasise the transience of divisions, and ceramic balls counter the delicate, flowing rhythm of the fabrics. Dreamed at Night by the Light of Day fits into the interior and frames it, while opening the architecture to another experience. The work winks back at the artist’s previous creations, and the title emphasises the importance of imagination in both the creative process as well as the reception. Bielawska's previous large-scale work done for the Museum was entitled Cztery Kolory Na Szarym Tle (Four Colours On A Grey Background). Four large-format fabrics designed in 2013 were hung in the auditorium of the now defunct Emilia pavilion – the institution's temporary headquarters.
Biennale of Children’s Art
In the spring of 2019, Bielawska collaborated with the Holobiont collective (Aleksandra Bożek-Muszyńska and Hanna Bylka-Kanecka) on the interactive performance Gdzie Kształty Mają Szyję (Where Shapes Have Necks). The event encouraged rediscovering an alphabet comprising of movement and visual information by playing with abstraction and naming. The artists invited both children and adults to a space specially arranged by Alicja Bielawska in which one could communicate (or not communicate) by means of gestures, movement and dance. The event created an opportunity to negotiate images and shapes produced jointly by performers and participants;it encouraged a dialogue between their various forms. The interactive performance took place both as part of the 22nd Biennale of Children's Art in Poznań and became a permanent part of the festival's repertoire.
In recent years, Bielawska has moved away from materials such as linoleum, floor panels, laminate and polymer clay in of more frequent use of fabrics and ceramics. The artist refrains from referring to her works as 'objects', which seems too neutral, instead describing them as 'sculptures'. Everyday objects and the physicality of reality remain important inspirations, but the term 'sculpture' offers a framework for their perception.