Through the looking glass


Frost Drawings for the Biennale 2011, Gosia Wlodarczak, 2011, SB2011. Photo taken by: Foo Danyu

By Foo Danyu

A logbook-esque diary of space-time experience of the artist, the Frost Drawings captures the world as seen through the eyes of Gosia Wlodarczak. It is a haphazard tapestry of motifs, furniture, people, and almost everything else that had been experienced by the artist whilst drawing.

The two-dimensional forms of white ink on glass are constrasted against the view and scenery of the three dimensional world around it, causing a moment of disorientation as one’s eyes search for the right point of focus. These forms, almost a blinding scribble of white against the transparency of the glass, do indeed resemble the crystallized forms of water in their frozen state. But as one takes a step closer, that which makes up these beautiful patterns on the glass might begin to confuse. However, it does not require too much of a streak of brilliance from me as a visitor to come to terms with this piece, especially not with the rather helpful paragraph explaining the artwork stuck just outside the room.

Art, or in this case, drawings being used to record and immortalize the everyday realm of experience are not unusual. However, for them to be presented in such volume, mass and sheer density – illustrating what others might consider mundane details, such as a fan turning in the room or the beginnings of what looks like a human head finishing off as gestural scribbles of other occurences  – is, to me, a wondrously new and eye-opening experience.

Wondrously new and eye-opening in a rather context-specific sense though.

One could observe a similar phenomenon when looking at artist sketchbooks, where the spontaneousity of the idea generation can fill page after page with drawings similar to Wlodarczak’s Frost Drawings. The fact that the more heavily condensed – interlapped and double-sided – glass panes were placed in the context of the gallery, and not a sketchbook, brings out a completely new flavour from the piece. The sketchbook is after all seen often as a process log; a means to the final work rather than the work itself. The final piece will be the essence of the most interesting sketches, or the most intriguing idea that was produced in that process.

Frost Drawings freezes this entire process on glass as an immortalized monument. If we might usually look for a moment worth ‘freezing’ in time as an art piece, then Frost Drawings questions what deserves to be frozen and encapsuled. By capturing every single moment possible for a human to capture in this frozen mural of time, Wlodarczak gives value to all moments in time that can be experienced. She spent eight hours a day for twelve days, recording the preparations in the form of drawings – a non-conventional artistic documentation of the Biennale itself.

Art then, is a means to record, with the core energies of the art piece devoted simply to recording, and that’s what creates the piece.

There is, however, a strange conflict in the piece that is brought to one’s attention when standing in awe within the room, surrounded by the marks of everything that has happened. The drawings are precious, for they have been made eternal, and given the credit of being drawn, but yet at the same time there is too much to be noted down. This spontaneousity mixed in with a near obsession to get every single detail is reduced to pretty patterns on glass panes in a room. But at the same time the drawings are also overlooked, almost in a way undermined by the overwhelming presence of the work as a whole – the mass of crystallized ideas etched on at such a great frequency they become a pattern on its own.

When we look at frost on a window – though this is a phenomeno impossible to witness in Singapore in the first place – we see a mess of white. Most people might walk past them without noticing, and a few might stop. For there are people who enjoy looking at frost as a whole, and some that might actually pay attention to how the patterns are formed and how unique they are. But often in the process of doing so, the individual ice crystals are forgotten.

Despite that intepretation of frost, I feel that the Frost Drawings is not a piece that hopes to remind us about overlooked crystals, nor does it seek to deny those crystals their existence. Rather, it appeals to the value of these crystals; the fact that they are neglected does not in any way deny them of their rightful value. They contain an energy within them that the artist has dedicated to the piece, capturing moment after moment and tirelessly drawing them out.

The same reasoning can be applied to the experience of life itself. How many crystallized moments of our life can we remember and hold dear to ourselves? Not many manage to stay, as our brain compartmentalizes edits them, picking out those that appear to be the ones that matter the most, and keeping them crystallized in an ideal form of memories. All other moments that have been given a lower priority have also made their toll on our life, and by attempting to capture every single moment possible to the best of her ability in Frost Drawings, Wlodarczak has makes us remember this.

The gestural artistic process of capturing the essence of ideas from daily life may have been forgotten by many contemporary artists – art as a mere representation of reality has been questioned and rejected and redefined through various different movements – but I remain partial to the idea that art that ‘represents’ daily life and reality are not simply flawed and dulled down photocopies of reality, but rather the essence of reality that has been processed through a very personalised process of the artist’s mind and the way they choose to look at notice things.

If the mere act of describing an art piece can show how one feels about it, then isn’t the mere act of capturing details of real life also a method of treasuring and feeling life?

The theme of this year’s Biennale, Open House, looks to ‘invite’ the ‘outside’ audience into otherwise usually closed and private artist’s spaces. It aims to share and expose the art, the artist, and the process by which art works are created. Frost Drawings exposes the process of collecting memories and recording them through art. It looks at how the artist sketchbook works, how gestural drawings can capture and crystallize time and the happenings between space, and this process ultimately becomes the artwork. The anxious attempt to not let anything be left uncaptured or noted makes this artpiece almost comparable to an archive, where the fragility of memory, and the struggles humans have when dealing with it, makes up an obsessive account of collecting everything possible into one space.

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