Anna Katarzyna Domejko: Legless Birds of Paradise
Coventry Centre for Contemporary Arts / The Shed
curated: Martin Green
Andrew Rutter: Director
Evie Branka: Producer
Anna Katarzyna Domejko is a painter in the tradition of Merz Fairy Tales written and invented by Kurt Schwitters (1887 to 1948). Merz challenges what is viewed as commonsensical and rational, reforming the invasive accepted fairy tale genre and exposing the deception of the happy ending preserved by the traditional form.
Although the paintings are predominately black and white they are most definitely not illustrations derived from a diluted narrative, they are fundamentally about starting rumours, whispers that eventually will become an entanglement of new mythologies and invasive current affairs. This is pre-narrative, an example of the artist taking on the role of social agitator and mischief maker resulting in the delight of unforeseen consequences.
The monochrome paintings are presented on walls decorated with sequences and patterns that play with the imagery of overfamiliar ever-present security fencing; a constant threatening undertow of a double-painted environment, challenging the false divisions between the decorative and fine arts as epitomised by the Omega Workshop (1913–1919).This is politics as a predicament in paint, where fairy tales, caged and embittered, hang under protest on gallery walls.
At first glance the paintings seem to take on a traditional form. Oil paint on stretched thin white cotton transforms the unframed canvas to give it a newsprint quality reminiscent of Punch (1841-1992) the British weekly satirical magazine that published many political commentators / illustrators, including, John Bernard Partridge (1861-1945), Leonard Raven-Hill (1867 -1942). Anna’s paintings have a sense of campaign pamphlets and counter propaganda to be secretly distributed in a time when the digital age cannot be trusted.
The exhibition ‘Legless Birds of Paradise’ hijacks a number of traditions to create subversive fables that grow misshaped, formed by fallacy and teased by fear.
Martin Green, Artist / Curator.
Anna Katarzyna Domejko: Unreal Stories
24 January 2015
Stryx, Birmingham, UK
Photo by Marcin Sz.
Keep calm and Keep calm, oil on canvas, 2014
Benzene Free, installation, 2015
Unreal, ink on paper and animation, 2012-2014
Interview, oil on canvas, 2015
Bite Guard, oil on canvas, 2015
200.000, installation, 2015
Postcards from Syria, oil on canvas, 2013/2014
Smile to the Camera, oil on canvas, 2014
Tithuska, oil on canvas, 2014
Smile to the Camera, oil on canvas, 2014
They, oil on canvas, 2014
photography by Marcin Sz.
Unreal Stories is the first solo show of Anna Katarzyna Domejko, presenting new paintings and installations, drawing upon her continued investigation of contemporary world affairs. She sources her imagery from popular culture, particularly from the internet, newspapers and television. Her powerful, passionate and predominantly figurative paintings address difficult, sometimes controversial topics through the prism of second hand experience, distorted by personal obsessions and fears.
Domejko’s representation of armed conflicts, political unrest and memorable events is indirect and filtered through mass media. She constantly questions the way we perceive bloody events transmitted to us every day and reveals the social, psychological and political aspects of these images. Domejko’s paintings and installations explore blurred boundaries between the unreal and real stories told in daily broadcasts. The exhibition presents the series of oil paintings, water-coloured self-portraits, new installations and an animation created in collaboration with a sound artist Emilia Moniszko.
For Unreal Stories Domejko reflects and comments on recent events including the Ukrainian Euromajdan and the Middle Eastern conflict, however the core of her work remains universal. Works from Titushki series reflect on recent Ukrainian events and were created under the influence of media. ‚Titushki’ is a word from Ukrainian vocabulary and relates to strong, young men hired to cause trouble by pro-regime forces. Titushki dressed in balaclavas were seen killing people on Kiev’s streets in February 2014. The next day they were asking Ukrainian people for forgiveness. Domejko uses balaclavas as signs of anonymity, understood literally and more metaphorically as symbols of Western callousness to media broadcasts from various, difficult to pronounce war zones. Balaclavas appear in painting Tithuska (2014), a quaint portrait of an anonymous hooligan. The picture shows his sort of face, or maybe a mask or already a scull. Instead of a face protruding from balaclava there is only something resembling flesh, achieved through a heavy impasto technique of an oil painting. Smile to the Camera (2014), elaborate on the theme of Death, depicting the pile of heads in balaclavas. They are Titushki again, who are both aggressors and victims of the regime, challengingly looking into the cameras of journalists from all over the world.
Balaclavas are also present in Domejko’s new installation 200,000 (2015), prepared especially for the exhibition, related to expensive YouTube production showing the beheading of 22 Syrian soldiers. Its manifestation of power is transmitted through the internet, the message is well produced and effective, aiming to recruit and scare. In Domejko’s installation consisting of bricks, floating balaclavas, black serpentine and confetti the artist comments on these slick propaganda videos. 200,000 draws our attention to the bombastic and celebratory character of contemporary extremist propaganda. This work also refers to the title of the show – Unreal Stories, which is borrowed from Georgia O’Keeffe’s “nothing is less real than realism”. It is striking that these movies using the Hollywood-style aesthetic seem to be fictional, whilst very real. Possibly because of their unreal properties the films have been so alluring for potential recruits. Horrific, real events can be more acceptable when told as a fiction. The series of paintings Postcards from Syria (2014) shows another side of the same conflict. The works were created in the aftermath of the chemical attack against civilians in Syria in August 2013. Dilated pupils, cold limbs, foam from the mouth, partial paralysis are only some of the symptoms of the poison gas attack that took place near Damascus. The sorrow of tortured people, often children, is transmitted through postcard size canvases, broadcasting a quiet, but firm call for help.
Installation Benzene Free (2014) is the only colorful, nevertheless not more optimistic, element of the show. It consists of a table covered with a rainbow of South-East Asian sweets and a painting entitled Keep calm and Keep calm (2014). An overweight monster sits on an armchair resembling maneki-neko, a „lucky cat”, symbolizing luck and more importantly economic success and prosperity. Maneki-neko seems to cuddle the sick creature in a gesture of consolation but also control. The work refers to the mass usage of harmful chemicals including the n-hexane and benzene in manufacturing electronic devices by top brands. The creature’s desire for economic growth led to deterioration and those who suffer are anonymous, what helps the consumers on the other end of the chain to remain passive.
The series of drawings Unreal (2012 – 2015) depatures somewhat from directly political subject matter. It is a project undertaken by Domejko in 2012, when she started drawing one self-portrait per day. The works, painted effortlessly and intuitively, constitute a personal record of the day, a mix of political and cultural events with which the artist meets every day and in the media. The idea of the project was founded with a curiosity for the celebration of everyday life, systematic work and preliminary record to the paintings produced in parallel. Like Marlene Dumas, Domejko limns faces having an enormous directness and expressiveness, using simple means of black ink. Unreal, Benzene Free and the series of paintings They (2014) are inspired by a text found in internet. Its author believes that aliens want to take over the Earth, contaminate its soil, air, water, to genetically modify everything that lives in order to prepare the planet for colonization. ‘They will come and we will become food for them. We will be kept in slaughterhouses like pigs, fatten and then killed and eaten’. Domejko shows in her paintings this sad, post-apocalyptic world, which for us remains distant and unreal, but for many is all too real.
Anna Katarzyna Domejko lives and works in Birmingham, UK. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz and her works were shown in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and the USA. She was selected for Stage 2 of the John Moores Painting Prize 2014 and took part in Associate Member’s Open, LIMBO Substation Project Space, Marygate – selected by artist Bob and Roberta Smith, and Sarah Martin, Head of Exhibitions, Turner Contemporary.