Visual artist. Born in 1962 in Kraków. Deskur's career began with painting, but she turned to photography and video art in the 1990s. She creates multimedia installations, usually in the form of figurative photographic compositions.
Visual artist. Born in Kraków in 1962. Deskur's career began with painting, but she turned to photography and video art in the 1990s. She creates multimedia installations, usually in the form of figurative photographic compositions...
Marta Deskur. Photo: Paweł Ulatowski / Agencja Gazeta
From 1980 to 1982 Deskur studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, from 1983 to 1988 she worked at STU Theatre. She is also a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Aix-en-Provence (1983-88). Associated with the Starmach and Le Guern galleries. She lives and works between Paris and Kraków.
Her works can be found in the collections at the National Museum in Warsaw, Museum of Art in Łódź, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, Museum Bochum (Germany), Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art (Korea), Potocka Gallery in Kraków, and Arsenal Gallery in Białystok.
Deskur's early career was primarily characterised by easel abstract painting using natural pigments, which she would often mix with sand and fine gravel. For the most part her paintings were based on colour, the form being reduced to a minimum. The colour, in most of the cases particularly refined, emerged on the canvas as the result of the laborious application of pigment in layers; this resembled the work on icons. Simple, geometric forms or archetypal signs and symbols set in cautious, muted compositions evoked the atmosphere of focus and reflection. Marta Deskur's paintings have a noticeable energy, similar to that of mental states. In them the artist alludes to the tradition of Polish abstract painting with a constructivist lineage. The pared-down colour range of her canvases with a dense, rich texture, reduced at times to a single colour, suggests Deskur's inspiration by the works of Mark Rothko. The motive of transition and spiritual transformation seems distinctive of her Passage (1991) and Amadeus (1993) painting series. Vertical rows of narrow canvases arranged together look as if they were spaces travelled inside the painting, like history and time stretched between the contemporary and the eternal. In a commentary to her work the artist wrote: "The work becomes a mediator which allows the viewer to look into the regions of intuition and mystery, leading in the direction of God who is Perfection".
In subsequent productions, Deskur put her paintings directly on the walls and inside interior spaces. She made her painterly installations using a grid of lines outlined with pigment, sometimes straight and clear, other times irregular and fading. They emphasised the character of the space in close relation to its emotional interpretation done by the artist, Linia w zawieszeniu / Suspended Line at the exhibition Współrzędne / Coordinates (1993). In 1993 an immaterial line of white light appeared in her works: in an installation set up for the exhibition Żywioły / Elements in Łódź she had it go along the edge of the floor to outline the dark space of the room, and led it through the corridor to another room. At the show at the Bücklein Institute gallery in Kraków titled Przeczucie obecności / Sensing Presence (Marta Deskur's and Piotr Jaros's joint project) in which she presented live pictures, the artist pulled out the figures of actors immersed in semi-darkness. The people taking part in this para-theatrical action where pulled out by the artist with a moving, luminous line. The glowing streaks and the light shapes drawn in the air defined the space between the figures and described the immaterial yet visible relations tying one person to another. At the same time the streaks questioned their corporeality and gave them an uncertain status of a mere sign, a trace of presence in a dimension somewhat unreal, difficult to describe.
In the following years Marta Deskur's work was dominated by video and photography. Her film projects from that period, e.g. Poza-światy / Outer-worlds, Marzenia senne / Dreams (1994), are marked by a dreamy, illusory atmosphere. In these works the artist created a matter of dreams; in her films it became more real than reality itself. She searched for a definite state between dream and reality. The film reflected in a mirror, a manipulation the artist would often repeat, multiplied the potential worlds and turned the state of dreaming into an illusion of infinity.
In the 1995 neon work Irrelacje / Irrelations Deskur put three signs in transparent display cases: META, PARA and IR. Critic Olga Stanisławska has written that
the three prefixes indicate three ways of going beyond: the way metaphysics transcend physics, the way parapsychology places itself alongside psychology, and the way irrationality rejects rationality.
Children are the heroes of Deskur's two subsequent photographic series, Dziewczynki-komety / Girls-Comets (1995) and Human Clear (1996). The first includes two stacked-up narrow horizontal light boxes with an empty space between them. Little heads of eleven girls who are standing in line next to each other, and their small naked feet emerge from the blue background. The girls are looking straight at the viewer. The artist brings them out from the light-blue background using streaks of light which join the heads and feet with a luminous thread. There is nothing in between; the girls' corporeality is questioned. It is also emphasised by the illuminated photography underneath and hanging above the floor, which makes the girls-comets look as if they were floating in the air. Human Clear is a series of large, transparent photographs printed on Perspex, with girls and boys striking telling poses in front of the camera. They pretend to be suicides, murdered people, assailants, little angels and devils. The children's gestures are repeated by their shadows, which might remind you that children's games have their own dimension in adult life. You can find a lot of hidden emotions in the works of Deskur, while seemingly delicate and subtle, find their source in human internal life, relations with others, sometimes exceptionally predatory in nature.
The theme of children was also visible in Marta Deskur's subsequent projects. In the video project Nie do dotykania / Not to be Touched (1995) the artist filmed her sister's children, the siblings Klara and Pico. The same pair star in the film To jest Klara, a to jestem ja, Pico / This Is Klara And This Is Me, Pico (1998). The work consists of four large photographs and two film screenings; it focuses on the relations between a boy growing up and his younger sister.
Deskur developed the theme of family into a large photo series titled Rodzina / Family (1999). The series had been growing with time, and, in addition, the artist used audio and video. Both Deskur's family members and a group of her friends took part in the project. They were all placed in a fictitious genealogical tree which resembled the model of a chemical particle. In this work, as in many preceding ones, the artist merged real with the illusory. The members of her family do not share blood ties; true closeness and spiritual bonds prove crucial. As it turns out that a group of people close to each other, linked by shared past and plans for the future can serve as family just perfectly. Thanks to a white, neutral background the figures on the illuminated photos are freed from real contexts. The poses, gestures, body language and relations between people prove important. The artist shows everyday situations and simple activities in the form of small plays, alluding to the iconography of biblical motifs, in particular to the works of Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca, Nawiedzenie / Visitation, Trzej królowie / Three Wise Men, Ostatnia wieczerza / Last Supper, Obmywanie stóp / Washing of Feet, and others, setting them in a deeply symbolic sphere. Linking Catholic iconography with secular stories about emotional and social relations is an intriguing exercise, one which emphasises the mysterious nature of the phenomenon of "the family". Biblical associations appear in her work Home (2004) as well, in which her close friends act as models. The artist transformed their images into illuminated window glazing of a metaphorical home.
Marta Vol. 1 And Many More (2002), Deskur's photographic project shows family as the main topic. In this work the artist made portraits of refugees at the Schöppingen camp in Germany. She designed them as CD covers, signing them with each portrayed person's name and country of origin. She carried out a website project New Baby? (2002) in New York. The work focused on families living in New York who had answered her press announcement and had agreed to fill out a survey with 10 questions. Deskur was particularly interested in families who for some reason did not conform to the typical model: single pregnant women, homosexual couples, and couples living together while not being married.
The work Dziewice / Virgins was created in 2002, included seven light boxes presenting naked pregnant women, all bearing Marta Deskur's face. According to the initial concept the girls who had answered the artist's press ad were supposed to be shown nude. As the models backed out of the project Deskur decided to put her own face in the place of the "shy virgins" and manipulated the digital images. Through the motive of the pregnant virgin the work evokes associations with the Immaculate Conception, furthermore, it allows a feminist analysis: if the pregnancy is virgin, the child can belong only to the woman, the man becomes superfluous. The white, luminous backgrounds of the photographs lend the figures a dignified and innocent quality.
The photographic project Fanshon (2003) was the outcome of Deskur's fellowship stay in Berlin. The artist became fascinated by the Muslim community in Kreuzberg.
The images I noticed from the window in my studio determined my work. Turkish families would gather every single day on the square in front of Bethanien, women with traditional headscarves were among them. I was struck by the scarves' diversity, the intensity of colours, as well as by the sophisticated shapes and tying systems. What is interesting is that, given the contrast, we first and foremost notice the headscarf and not the woman in all her individuality...
The word Fanshon is a female name, while in Polish it describes a triangular scarf (fanszon). The artist liked the play on words with the English "fashion" and the Polish "fason" (cut). They both pointed at the meanings close to her design, that is fashion and clothing. Deskur clearly distanced herself from the religious symbolism of Muslim scarves, showing them rather as an element of modern clothing and emphasising their richness and diversity. She digitally erased the backgrounds and the faces of the Muslim women, leaving only the headscarves, at the same time creating their typology. The photographs burnt on white tiles were shown at Bethanien along with a soundtrack recorded on the street in Berlin.
A year later Fanshon II was created. As part of the project Deskur presented not just the cropped pictures of Muslim headscarves on tiles, but also the images of veils of Catholic nuns. The veil motif had appeared before in the artist's work, in the video Welon to moje włosy / The Veil Is My Hair (1999). She recorded the process of a nun draping her veil, she was filmed from the back so that her face would remain hidden. In Fanshon II Deskur once again refused to focus on religious or cultural issues, clearly emphasising the aesthetic and visual aspect instead. She repeated the theme distinctive of her previous works: she created narrations from bits of reality, leaving the rest for the viewer.
Opowieści zwięzłe / Concise Stories from 2007 was a project carried out exclusively for the Arsenal Gallery in Białystok. With reserve, inspired by Michel Houellebecq's novel The Elementary Particles, Deskur focused on the metaphysics of time and death. Using paintings, photographs and video films she constructed a fascinating whole. Her description of the work,
The works are abstract (paintings), satirical and fantastical (light boxes), as well as realistic (video). The exhibition is metaphysical because it conjures up the spirit of Yves Klein, the king of space, metaphysics and void; the exhibition refers exactly to these notions. You can find painting, one of the noblest forms of art, there are light boxes as the most popular feature medium of our time. There are drawings on walls and on the floors, a direct intervention in a given space; there is video as a symbol of the era of multimedia; and there is a private performance, a sign that art is a recording of deeply intimate experiences, too.
Marta Deskur returned to the biblical subject and to the discourse with Christian tradition in her 2007 project, Nowe Jeruzalem / New Jerusalem. She invited a dozen or so friends; artists, writers and curators, who posed for the photographic images of fourteen Apostles (St. Nicolas who replaced Judas is among them, as is St. Paul, called the Apostle to the Gentiles). Oskar Dawicki, Marcin Maciejowski, Wilhelm Sasnal, Rafał Bujnowski, Piotr Lutyński, Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, Sebastian Cichocki, Sławomir Shuty, Bartek Materka, Xawery Wolski, Łukasz Skąpski and others were included in the project. The figures of the Apostles were accompanied by a photographic adaptation of Egon Schiele's painting Cardinal and Nun (1912), in which Andrzej Starmach and the artist herself impersonated the characters, as well as by a representation of the Four Cardinal Virtues: Restraint, Prudence, Courage and Justice (women from to the art world posed for the photography). The final element of the project was the video Pocałunek Judasza / The Kiss of Judas which showed a couple of teenagers known from Deskur's earlier works: her niece and nephew. In the Starmach Gallery space, which during the exhibition looked more like a temple than a gallery, a tight semicircle was formed by the figures of the Apostles. They were printed on transparent Perspex sheets (100 x 200 cm); the immaterial quality of the photographic images made one think of stained-glass windows in churches. In this work Deskur not only lent the work a touch of validity to Biblical themes, she also pointed at an understanding of art as a gospel, a sanctity, while reinstating the gallery's status as the temple of art.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, July 2010. Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, November 2010.
- 1986 - Research stay at the School of Visual Arts, Bristol;
- 1992 - Artist in Residence at Escuela de Diseño, Altos de Chavón, Dominican Republic;
- 2000 - Künstlerdorf Schöppingen Fellowship, Germany;
- 2001 - Location One Gallery Fellowship - Artist in Residence, New York;
- 2002-3 - Philip Morris Kunstförderung Resident at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin;
- 2006 - French Government Residence Fellowship.
Selected solo exhibitions:
- 1993 - Modus, Zderzak Gallery, Kraków;
- 1994 - Au Dela de Marie-Madeleine, Zderzak Gallery, Kraków;
- 1995 - Irrelacje / Irrelations, Kronika Gallery, Bytom; Grodzka Gallery, Lublin;
- 1996 - Human Clear, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
- 1997 - Memory - Hasła / Memory - Slogans, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków;
- 1998 - To jest Klara, a to jestem ja, Pico / This Is Klara And This Is Me, Pico, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw;
- Nawiedzenie / Visitation, Potocka Gallery, Kraków;
- Rodzina / Family, Arsenał Gallery, Białystok;
- 2000 - Rodzina / Family, Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, Kraków;
- 2001 - New Baby?, Location One Gallery, New York;
- 2002 - Dziewice / Virgins, Potocka Gallery, Kraków;
- 2004 - Fanshon, Le Guern Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2006 - Nie do dotykania / Not to be Touched, Minoriten Kultur, Graz;
- Nowe Jeruzalem / New Jerusalem, Starmach Gallery, Kraków;
- Opowieści zwięzłe i dalej: epitafium / Concise Stories And Then: Epitaph, Klima Bocheńska Gallery, Warsaw;
- Między innymi o kobiecie / About the Woman, Among Others, Baltic Gallery of Contemporary Art, Słupsk;
- Zabrania się zabraniać / Prohibiting Is Prohibited, Gdańsk Gallery of Photography, Gdańsk.
Selected group exhibitions:
- 1995 - New I's for New Years, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin;
- 2000 - Negocjatorzy sztuki. Wobec rzeczywistości / Negotiators of Art. Facing Reality, Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdansk;
- 2001 - Irreligia / Irreligion, Atelier 340 Museum, Brussels;
- 2003 - Biały Mazur / White Mazur, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin;
- 2004 - Art Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel;
- 2005 - Sygnał / Signal, Museum of Architecture, Wrocław;
- 2006 - Nomadowie współczesności / Nomads of Nowadays, Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk;
- 2007 - Bliskość / Closeness, Leto Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2008 - Efekt czerwonych oczu / The Red Eye Effect, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
- Der Katholische Faktor, Historisches Museum, Regensburg;
- Nieodkryte, niewypowiedziane / Uncovered, Unsaid, Nowy Theatre, Warsaw.