Aneta Grzeszykowska Death and the Maiden

13.04 – 02.06.2013 Aneta Grzeszykowska Death and the Maiden

Zachęta – National Gallery of Art

curator: Maria Brewińska
współpraca: Magdalena Komornicka

Aneta Grzeszykowska’s exhibition features films from recent years and a new photographic series created specially for the show. The selection highlights the key strategies employed by the artist: manipulation of film and photographic media, and thus also of the viewer, and creative appropriation of other artists’ works. The featured projects illustrate also the major themes of her work: reworking of personal histories, issues of bodily representation, such as unceremonious self-exposition, but also self-destructive gestures – obsessive returns to the motif of invisibility, self-erasure.

The show’s title comes from Franz Schubert’s 1817 lied. ‘Softly shall you sleep in my arms’, says Death to the Maiden and the motif defines also the exhibition’s main narrative axis. What is the relationship between the romantic theme of death and the work of a contemporary woman artist? Does she perceive herself as the Maiden in her transience? The universal aspect of the human condition seems to have been repressed from the rationalistic, materialistic, earthly life-focused culture of today. It may only resurface in the subjective, particular experience of a body searching for its identity, its beginning and end.

The exhibition begins with three ‘black series’ films, Black (2007), Headache (2008), and Bolymorphia (2010), which feature various themes, but the leitmotif seems to be death. Visually, they share the depth of utter darkness, from which emerges, or into which submerges, the artist’s white body, striving to regain lost unity and identity through ‘anatomic’ pantomime. Blackness can serve as a symbol of the unconscious or the nightmare, but it is also an abyss – a symbol of death. In the three films, death is clearly eroticised. Whereas in Schubert’s time it was sex, not death, that was taboo, today it is the other way round: sex is everywhere, while death hardly gets a mention.

Another film, At Land, introduces the figure of the American avant-garde artist, Maya Deren. The original At Land is Deren’s 1944 silent black-and-white film, which Grzeszykowska has added a soundtrack to, consisting of sounds of the city and dialogues from Deren’s book An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film. The film is a sequence of somnambulistic scenes showing Deren on a kind of physical and psychological trip. Grzeszykowska and Deren share a bodily performativity, a kind of for-camera choreography, and a predilection for formal experiments that challenge the usual notions of time and space.

Aneta Grzeszykowska’s series of black and white photographs, Negative Book, is a project which deconstructs positive photography and as such forms a continuation of the artist’s reflections on the character of the photographic medium and its various transformations. The starting point here was traditional photography registering personal situations or scenes deliberately posed for the camera. In opposition to the earlier Album (2005) – composed of classic photographs from the family collection from which the artist had deleted her own image – in Negative Book the artist is visible on each photograph, while the whole series was created using two new photographic techniques. The first is the exposition of the body totally or partially painted black, which creates a reverse effect on the negative: the body takes on a bright colour. This effect is particularly striking when the artist’s body is located on the photographs in the vicinity of other figures, whose colour of skin remains in a negative black. The second technique is the transformation of pre-existing positive photographs into negative versions.

Such a manipulation (both of the medium and of the viewer) seems to undermine the trust we have in the images we receive through the means of positive photography as a convincing reflection of reality. But it is not the analysis of the medium that is the dominant question here. Negative Book connects with the artist’s previous works through a concentration on the exhibition of one’s own body and its perfomativity, meaning that what we end up with is a sort of intimate diary. It is just that the negative character of the photographs and the positive procedure used on the body make it less real, depriving us of the possibility of a visual identification and stripping it of its emotional layers, leading to a situation where individuality and identity become relative. The result is that personal situations are reborn in an ontologically cold and severe game of black and white. This creates a distance, perhaps it even inspires something close to fear. On some of the photographs the deep back contrasts with the bright, soulless face of the artist. Death and the maiden.

Artist's works in the Zachęta collection

  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 5
    Negative book # 5Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 7
    Negative book # 7Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 8
    Negative book # 8Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 9
    Negative book # 9Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 12
    Negative book # 12Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 25
    Negative book # 25Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 35
    Negative book # 35Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 45
    Negative book # 45Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 54
    Negative book # 54Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 62
    Negative book # 62Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 63
    Negative book # 63Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy Negative book # 64
    Negative book # 64Aneta Grzeszykowska2012
  • Zdjęcie pracy YMCA
    YMCAAneta Grzeszykowska, Jan Smaga2005
Related media
  • Grafika obiektu: Aneta Grzeszykowska.Death and the Maiden
    mediateka / posters
    Aneta Grzeszykowska.Death and the Maiden
  • Grafika obiektu: Aneta Grzeszykowska
    mediateka / video-documentation
    Aneta Grzeszykowska
    Death and the Maiden


Aneta Grzeszykowska
Death and the Maiden
13.04 – 02.06.2013

Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
pl. Małachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw
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Godziny otwarcia:
Tuesday – Sunday 12–8 p.m.
Thursday – free entry
ticket office is open until 7.30 p.m.

partner of the gallery: Lidex
sponsors of the opening ceremony: DeLonghi, Kenwood, A.Blikle, Freixenet
media patronage: Polskie Radio, The Warsaw Voice, Stolica,