Facing Space – Jarek Kozakiewicz

This is an extract from a much longer essay which I wrote about the work of artist Jarek Kozakiewicz who had a one man show at Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw in 2017.

——

House of Constant projection

In 2007 Kozakiewicz developed an quasi-architectural project, The House of Constant Projection, for another waterside setting. It was based on a new proportional system, this time the openings in the human face, a configuration which was to come to dominate his art. Connecting the points of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth with straight lines, he generated a structure made of trapezoids and triangles. A memorial to Ingmar Bergman conceived after the Swedish film maker’s death, the timber structure was to be a cinema-like space situated by the coast, perhaps on the island of Fårö where he lived. The projection screen could be closed or opened to frame a view of the horizon where the sea meets the sky. With open joints between the triangular planes forming the structure, thin lines of light would penetrate the interior by day, and project out into the dark at night. A structure derived from Bergman’s facial features, his scheme was effectively a portrait of the film director who had himself made the face his central theme. (Famously Bergman said ‘The human face is the great subject of the cinema. Everything is there.’[1])

Still from ‘Persona’

In his 1966 film Persona, for instance, Bergman shot his actors in super close up, and the opening scene presents a boy touching the motionless image of woman’s face on a giant screen. When the face fills the cinematic horizon, the viewer — like the boy — searches for meaning in this landscape of human features. In this macrocosm, meaning is found micro-expression — the tiny and highly nuanced movements of the face. This is the epitome of what Gilles Deleuze calls the ‘affection image’ (‘The affection-image is the close-up, and the close-up is the face.’) And, according to the French philosopher, in extreme close up the face stripped of its past and defining features: ‘A character has abandoned his profession, renounced his social role; he is no longer able to, or no longer wants to communicate, is struck by the almost absolute muteness; he even loses his individuation . . .’.[2] To be touched as a viewer by the affection image, is to make a powerful and intimate connection with the face on screen in ways that go beyond the life of the character, or the narrative of the film.

The House of Constant Projection was formed in the zone between the world and the mind. Here, the face is not a screen or façade but perhaps something more like a portal or entrance which invites contemplation of the worlds in front and behind the face, or perhaps, in this case, the physical and psychic worlds of Bergman. Had this structure been built, the visitor would have been not so much invited to look at but to look through. Moreover, in creating his structure from the geometry of all the organs of reception of the face, Kozakiewicz extended the conventional associations of cinema with the eye and with perspectival projection, to a more phenomenological understanding of the screen in which perception depends on the entire human sensorium.  

The House of Constant Projection was Kozakiewicz’s first exploration of the geometry of the face. In the years that followed, this form of projection has become so central to his art that it has become something like its genetic code. Developing a dynamic proportional system for the composition of proto-architectural forms, Kozakiewicz has created a ‘module’ that can be arranged in diverse ways. It was put to architectural purposes when he designed a tower south of Ostrów Wielkopolski, overlooking the river Warta (2009–2011). [3] An observation tower in a rolling meadow, the structure privileges sight; and so each of its five platforms cantilevers off a central twisting core at a point determined by the pupil in the eye when the head is raised. Like The Tower of Love, the origins of this structure lie in the arrangement of the human body – in this case the face; yet the face is neither represented nor is it symbolized. And unlike other proportional systems derived from an idealized human body (most famously Vitruvian man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor), Kozakiewicz’s module lays no claim to be a ‘harmonic’ system to govern the ‘correct’ proportions for the height of interiors, the floor plan of buildings or the arrangement of public squares.

Somersault

It is better understood as a way of stimulating the imagination. ‘Somersault’, a 10m long sculptural form created by Kozakiewicz for a small pier in the coastal town of Sopot in 2012 was derived from a drawing of moving head captured — like a film still — spinning through the air. [20] The seven modules, fashioned from steel pipes and plywood, appear to tumble along the low platform before plunging — perhaps under the influence of gravity — towards the waterline. Eschewing the upright and frontal disposition of the human face, the structure seems to be overcome by an irresistible and yet paradoxical impulse to move in all directions.

Motion, of course, has been a deep-seated and sometimes fantastic theme of modernist architecture. It has been expressed as floating and walking cities, as well as ‘plug in’ capsules and lightweight domes. But perhaps its most exhilarating expression was made in Russia in the aftermath of the October Revolution. Immersed in the modern science of astronomy, Kazimir Malevich, the Suprematist artist — like Fludd and many others before him — saw human correspondences in the cosmos, reflecting on the ‘infinite space of the human skull’ in his writings.[4] In 1920 Malevich announced his vision of a form that indicates ‘a state of dynamism and . . . is a distant pointer to the aeroplane’s path in space — not by means of motors and not the conquering of space by disruption . . . but the harmonious introduction of form into natural action, by means of certain magnetic interrelations in one form.’[5] Three years later, imagining structures unbounded by gravity, Malevich laid out the idea of planiti, ‘future dwellings for earthmen’, structures capable of lifting off into space and propelling humanity to its future life in the stars, as well as architektoniki (architectons), visionary architectural structures which ignored all questions of function or construction.

In 2015 Kozakiewicz exhibited his own architectons, a number of ‘models’ based on the composition of modules derived from the openings of the face. Smaller than the viewer and with no intimations of purpose, these structures invite a kind of imaginative projection on the part of the visitor to the gallery. What is the ideal scale of these structures? Are they settings for intimate experience or feelings of the sublime? Some even present a kind of uncanny, zoomorphic potential for movement or perhaps what Malevich called ‘natural action’. Fashioned from polished steel (and occasionally painted in flat colours), some of the planes formed by the straight-line geometry of his module are ‘closed’, others are left open. Giving some of these works titles with negative numbers, Kozakiewicz seems to be exploring the possibilities of positive and negative space. ‘Floors’ twist and turn into ‘ceilings’ and, torquing through the openings and closures, space seems to move. Absence here is something rich in imagination and possibility and, even, presence. These works call to mind Robert Smithson’s writing on the art of American sculptor Donald Judd:

It is impossible to tell what is hanging from what or what is supporting what. Ups are downs and downs are ups. An uncanny materiality inherent in the surface engulfs the basic structure. … What is outside vanishes to meet the inside, while what is inside vanishes to meet the outside. He concept of antimatter overruns and fills everything.[6]

Kozakiewicz’s most direct dialogue with American sculpture has not, however, been with Judd but with Gordon Matta Clark. Kozakiewicz’s work Anarchitecton, 29,7 square meters of floor — homage to Gordon Matta-Clark (2014) — a 4m high polyhedron formed from welded pipework and recycled wooden parquet floor — takes its principal title from Matta Clark’s writing as well as the name of the group which the American artist formed with Laurie Anderson, Tina Girouard and others in New York in the early 1970s. [24] They came together in reaction to what they took as the fixity and stasis that was not only embodied in architecture but penetrated deeply into social and political attitudes. Matta Clark famously made direct cuts into the fabric of old and otherwise unremarkable buildings (Splitting, Conical Intersect, Office Baroque). He transferred his extractions to the gallery where they were presented as sculpture, while the original structures with their visible absences were filmed and photographed. Featuring a floor removed from a house being dismantled near Warsaw and angular openings in the skin of the structure, Kozakiewicz’s ‘anarchitecture’ shares some of the material and spatial concerns of Matta Clark’s architectural dissections. But the form of Kozakiewicz’s Anarchitecton is derived from the head of two males — perhaps alluding to Matta Clark who died in 1978 at the age of 35 of cancer and his twin brother, Sebastian who committed suicide two years earlier. Compared to the architectons, the dialogue between absence and presence in this portrait of twins is both more metaphorical and perhaps more existential too.

One senses in Anarchitecton and is other sculptural works in recent years, a shift of mood in Kozakiewicz’s away from the utopian and euphoric schemes like The Tower of Love (2004). In 2016 Kozakiewicz met a homeless man who had been living rough in the forests outside Warsaw. A Pole living outside the care of society, the reasons for his outcast condition are not known, though perhaps they could be read in his demeanour. Kozakiewicz resolved to make a work which addressed the question of dwelling in a more direct fashion than before. [25] He began by filming in the studio. The homeless man standing before a grey wall stares back at the camera. Silent and almost motionless, his movements are slight: a look to the left; or a turn to the right. These are the micro-expressions which Deleuze identified as the defining features of the ‘affection image’. A moving portrait, Kozakiewicz laid projective geometries over the the footage. Combined and overlaid over one another, these vectors also form the generative patterns for a sculptural form which perhaps, given the work’s name, Dwelling, suggests a shelter. The lateral movements of the man’s face generate a near-flat planes like a roof, whilst the triangular tip between nose and mouth create numerous angular forms, perhaps ‘props’ supporting it. [26] In the gallery, this quasi-architectural structure is transformed by Kozakiewicz into inverted, ‘negative’ form presented in a human-scale box. Turning one way the viewer looks on the face of the homeless man, and turning another he or she sees the splintered voids formed by his glances and twitches.

‘Dwelling’ has a melancholic mood. Moreover, it draws the viewer’s attention to a singular individual, even if his subject’s identity is undeclared. Unlike The House of Constant Projection in which Bergman’s portrait disappears in the phased process from projection to construction, this work — when presented as film and sculpture — demands that we confront the face of another being, albeit one mediated on screen. Perhaps the subject matter, the existential condition of dwelling, compels this. To erase the homeless man would be to substantiate his abjection. Even within the artificial atmosphere of the gallery and pixelated form of the video project, a face to face encounter places responsibilities on the viewer too. Of looking another in the face, philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has said:

There is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright exposure without defence. The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute. It is the most naked, though with decent nudity. It is the most destitute also: there is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance. The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill.[7]

Levinas’ purpose is to frame the ethics of the encounter in terms of the equality of what he calls the ‘essential poverty in the face’. When masks and poses are abandoned, the face permits truly vital encounters.

Human beings are perceiving, thinking and feeling beings who exist in the microcosm of our own bodies. Perceptually limited fields, they are confined in other ways, not least by time itself. They begin and they end. Kozakiewicz’s art is an invitation to imagine the macrocosm in which our bodies are connected to others, connected to life elsewhere, and connected to matter beyond the planet itself. The means by which we may to do this may be the technologies we have now, or may have in the future. Equally, they may be the product of unbounded speculation. He asks us to view our necessarily microcosmic lives from macrocosmic perspective and scales, a far longer and wider view of the universe than the narrowly instrumental ones which usually prevail.

[1] Bergman in conversation with film historian Roger Ebert. See www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-persona-1966, accessed 14 February 2017.

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-image, London: Continuum, 2005, p. 90.

[3] See Patrycja Cembrzyńska’s essay in the publication accompanying the show published by Zacheta.

[4] Malevich cited in K. S. Malevich. Essays on Art, v. 1, ed. Troels Andersen,  Copenhagen: Borgen, 1968–1978, pp. 123–128.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert Smithson, ‘Donald Judd’ (1966) in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam, Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1966, p. 6.

[7] Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen, Pittsburgh, Pa: Duquesne University Press, 1995, p. 85.

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