Marlena Kudlicka is a sculptor and installation artist. She was born in Tomaszów Lubelski in 1973, and she lives and works in Berlin.
Kudlicka's artistic work focuses on exploring semantic and spatial relations between such areas as function, language, construction, structure, contour, shape, and system, which provide the basis for her sculptures. The titles of her works give additional poetic meanings and explore of the problems of communication, grammar, and space. Her precisely arranged sculptures do not function independently of one another – they interact as a whole, creating a closed spatial composition.
The grammatical and mathematical formulas used by Kudlicka are aestheticised. Mathematics is a universal language in her works, a basis for global communication carried out thanks to patterns, equations, numbers, signs, and graphs. In Kudlicka's art, mathematics and physics are expressed in language, and language is brought into mathematics and physics. Formulating them into a single system is the key to her artistic practice.
Kudlicka often uses steel, glass, and enamel. Her pieces are characterised by attention to detail and precise workmanship. When the works are being assembled in the gallery, even the slightest displacement may not only disrupt the entire structure, but even lead to its destruction. Therefore, the artist explores the concepts of precision and error, and sometimes this becomes an important part of the exhibition. The category of error is an inspiration in her sculptures, her installations, and the structure of the accompanying texts. In spite of the strictly defined structure of language and the infallibility of mathematical calculations, Kudlicka's artistic activity highlights the errors resulting from the complexity of the output's pattern, influenced not only by calculations but also human doubts and uncertainty.
In the aesthetic sense, Kudlicka's study of mathematical and linguistic structures often contains elements close to Arte Povera and minimalism, as well as the historical avant-garde – in particular, Katarzyna Kobro and the Russian constructivists. The former created spatial compositions and rhythmic calculations, while the latter aimed to combine the production and creation of a factory and an artistic atelier. It is also important to remember about Kudlicka's relation to literature: Polish concrete poetry and Russian formalism, studying the structure of literary works. Vladimir Propp's famous study on the construction of a fairy tale eventually led to the derivation of a mathematical formula for recording it – Propp managed to put literature into the framework of hard science. Kudlicka's rigorous constructions, based on laborious calculations and technical drawings, are also very poetic.
As part of the made of iron and celluloid project from 2012, the artist examined the structures of several objects. The titles of four of them referred to film terminology: wide angle, focus, close up, film roll. The project evokes the end of the 19th century, a time of revolution – not only industrial, but also cultural, associated with the invention of the cinema. Objects made from iron and celluloid co-shaped the true image of modernity. Advanced engineering, architectural constructions of iron and steel, and the increasing production of celluloid film roll radically changed the world. Marlena Kudlicka used iron and glass to create geometrical objects, resembling the early works of Soviet constructivists, and metaphorically evoking the heritage of film constructivism, especially Dziga Vertov.
The numbers minus letters installation (2012) is a good illustration of Kudlicka's artistic path. Even though the title may seem surprising, it is worth noting that numbers and letters are graphic signs functioning in both mathematics and literature. In the installation designed by Kudlicka for the Galicia Contemporary Art Centre in Santiago de Compostela neither letters nor numbers can be seen at first glance. However, on closer examination, three-dimensional visualisations of the number 4 and the letter T can be found. These constructions reveal the distinct dynamics of the entire composition, manifested in the continuous process of permeating letters and numbers. In this aspect, language is regarded as a subject of exact science and mathematics is an aesthetic category.
This approach is also manifested in the weight of 8 (2013). The title of Kudlicka's installation contains a word game and a rhyme, it also introduces the concept of weight. Weight of the objects is as important to the structure of the exhibition as technical calculations and poetic sequences of meaning. Letters made from steel were placed on the gallery's walls to correlate with three-dimensional objects. The artists introduced punctuation marks, characteristic of, for instance, Stanisław Dróżdż's concrete poetry, where they break down the structure of words, sentences, and numbers. While contemplating these structures, Kudlicka shows the important problem of perceiving and identifying their meanings. The letter 'i' may be an example here – in Polish it is a conjunction, in English a personal pronoun, in the Roman numerals the number 1, and in visual arts a straight vertical line. In a similar way, the letter 'o' resembles a mathematical 0 and in the arts it is a circle. In this respect, a universal language understandable for everyone can be co-created only by mathematics and arts, not the grammar of a given language.
In the installations entitled Protocol of errors (2014) and unprotected 0 (2015-2016) the artist reveals the problems connected with the process of artistic creation. The title of the first project contains the word 'protocol' – a set of strict rules and procedures used in certain circumstances. The circumstances shall be understood as an artistic activity and the title protocol of errors is an integral part of the creation. The description of the second project includes the percentage composition of the completed work: 'The sculpture contains: % errors, % measurement uncertainty, % doubts, % arcs, % shapes.' Kudlicka wonders about the relation of these concepts, and – when it comes to the performance – about the relation between precision and error. Visually, Protocol of errors resembles the Proun style, developed by El Lissitzky, which is an intermediate stage between suprematist paintings and constructivist utopian architecture. Transferring the image of the 'objectless world' to the 3D objects in Kudlicka's installation causes technical difficulties that must be eliminated by calculations in order to prevent the entire structure to collapse.
In the project Elements of Peaceful Engagement (2016-2017), presented in the Żak Branicka Gallery, Kudlicka demonstrates a space characteristic for a workplace where decisions related to the creation process are made. Thereby, the artist develops previous ideas and transfers them into the area of corporate reality, where greater efficiency is sought by way of using communication systems improvement strategies. The concept of Taylorism is essential in this project. At the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor revolutionised the ideas of management and labour economics, requesting efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. The so-called action offices, postulated by Hermann Miller and Robert Propst, are other sources of inspiration.
In Elements of Peaceful Engagement, the architecture of the exhibition resembles an office space, and the works bring to mind the items necessary for the corporate world: a desk, a whiteboard, and even a wardrobe with clothes complying with dress code requirements. Taking the relationship between Kudlicka's works and constructivism into account, the contours of a folded shirt, visible in a wardrobe, may be perceived as the shape of a geometric figures from an objectless world. Thereby, Kudlicka applies the study, specific to her works, of mathematics, language, and physics to the concept of work i.e., the aspects of efficiency and effectiveness. Returning to the times of the industrial revolution once again, she shows us its aesthetic image, enriched with poetic and utilitarian values.
Originally written in Polish by Przemysław Strożek, Sept. 2018. Translated by Marcin Gozdanek, Oct. 2018.