2011 Singapore Biennale: Open House
Commissioned project: Frost Drawing For Kallang (2011), performative drawing on glass (in situ), at the Old Kallang Airport, Singapore Biennale
13 March–15 May 2011
by Dr JANET McKENZIE
Wlodarczak has devised a number of ambitious performance-inspired projects and carried them out with a single mindedness and commitment. The Third Singapore Biennale opened in March led by artistic director Matthew Ngui with curators Russell Storer and Trevor Smith. The Open House programme was organised by the Singapore Art Museum. Focusing on artistic processes, the Third Singapore Biennale is marked by an exceptionally high percentage of artists who are presenting site-specific commissions. This is fitting for Wlodarczak for whom the finished product is less important than the process, in her case the performance, which yields a tightly knotted net of imagery, “thickly woven webs of line, the resulting graphic chaos of partial and disjointed motifs – random bits of architecture, furniture, tools, faces ... are a capsule of frozen moments – a space-time membrane”.1
The site is also appropriate for her project. The Old Kallang Airport in Singapore was built in the 1930s as the first civil airport. It is no longer used and so inhabits something of a time warp. As the Biennale organisers point out, “the aerodrome’s original layout permitted planes to land from any direction, while its circular glass control tower gave a panopticon view to all points of the compass”. The title “frost drawing” refers to the Mandelbrot set patterns that spread over windows when the temperature is sub-zero, specifically for her in her native Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. For Wlodarczak “the liquid flow of visual impressions, are crystallised as art, citing migrant experiences and the relentless dynamism of Singapore’s society and economy”.2
This is a spectacular work, sharing with many of her projects a great energy being executed on a large scale. Although they are not primarily formal art objects in themselves, Wlodarczak values the process over the finished product. The spatial quality of Wlodarczak’s drawing refers not only to external space such as the actual space in which her performance pieces take place, but to her own internal space – her body and the interaction thus established with the environment, domestic space or the philosophical place of the individual in the cosmos.
In October 2008, Wlodarczak took part in the International Drawing Conference, Marking Time, the Performative Aspects of Drawing, at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales, Sydney. She presented The Bench, which belongs to her ongoing project, Shared Space. Wlodarczak explains: “The Bench draws on a common sight in parks around the world where someone sits on a bench to relax, to think, to eat lunch … and a stranger joins them; sometimes to have a small talk, sometimes to share the place to sit.”3
Ordinary aspects of life such as the chance encounter on the park bench are extended to include a six-hour dinner party, which took place in Sydney on 16 March 2009 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The performance was commissioned by the MCA for an exhibition curated by Christine Morrow: I Walk the Line: new Australian Drawing. Performance dinner guests were: Fran Clark, Anna Connery, Kym Elphinstone, Michael Esson, Suzanne Hampel, Maria Johnson, Andrew B. Lu OAM, Clare Morgan, Helen Maxwell and Tracy Zietsch. Tablecloth for 10 was a performative drawing made directly onto the tablecloth of primed linen, which served as the picture plane, so to speak, on to which the artist made a drawn record of everything she observed whilst eating, talking, rotating chairs around the table. When the dinner guests left and the table was cleared of the detritus of the meal, what remained was a detailed six-hour record of intersecting lines and visual observations of the shared experience of the meal. The artwork was exhibited from the following day for some two months. Olga Sankey describes the role of drawing in Wlodarczak’s art practice: “Drawing is looking rather than looking at; the object of drawing is not the representation of a particular environment, rather it is the documentation of being in the environment. The former suggests an automatic activity, like breathing, while the latter is a more considered, self-conscious activity.”4
Wlodarczak’s obsessive work in public venues was practiced and perfected in the privacy of her own home, but always with the view to exhibiting in a public gallery. Skin of the Wall (2006) was made up of 676 panels on wallpaper on cardboard. The overall size was a staggering 4.4 x 16.91 m. In July 2006 it was installed in the Helen Maxwell Gallery in Canberra. Wlodarczak explains that a tension existed in the work that arose from the juxtaposition of private and public spaces: “The intention is to create a zone where these spaces act on each other, and where people move in and out, causing constant change … The real fixtures of [the] wall: two doors, a series of small windows along the top of the wall, and several power points, punctuate the drawing. The process I employed was drawing with the intention to record the present in one continuous moment. This is the way in which I try to translate my living energy into line.”5
The ongoing investigation of issues such as consumerism and globalisation is central to the work of Wlodarczak in performance, installation and sound and video. Cinderella II – The Dreamer (May-June 2008) was primarily a drawing exhibition at the South Australian School of Art Gallery, University of South Australia, where her investigation of “the perception of home and domestic space as a site of dreaming and habitation where the imaginary and real coexist”.6 A version was shown at Arc One Gallery, Melbourne, August 2008. In the catalogue for the exhibition, Wlodarczak describes her drawing practice: “My practice is made manifest through heightened awareness of dwelling in the everyday areas of human thought, behaviour and experience. Drawings are processed via the biological phenomena of ‘being’ as detected by my sense of sight and communicated through my body. I draw my environment as I see it in real time – tracing and retracing the visible – thereby finding elements often concealed by the primacy of sight. My work interrogates space, time and language. Over time I have adopted various visual processes and methods to address and communicate these issues. Drawing is the basis of all my work, extending towards installation, performance, interactive situations and video and sound installations”.7
Her approach to drawing is itself rather like a jazz improvisation, but her skill derives firmly from an academic training. Not limiting herself to the easel or the studio, Wlodarczak draws from life, within activities such as conversation or eating.
My intention is to record the present time continuous moment, to archive my space-time, all bits of present and my mind’s realisation of now. I translate my living energy into the drawn line.
I can and do only draw what I see. I can and only draw being in the present moment. For me drawing from the imagination is impossible. The lines I leave after each glance accumulate across the picture forming ever-growing substance.
The line I draw is processed by my sight and communicated through my body. It is shaped into outlines of real things that my eye registers by its every glance and contains evidence of being by documenting its fundamental manifestations: making a step, sitting down, lying down, rising up, leaning against, swallowing, taking a breath… Over time I have adopted various visual processes and methods to address and communicate these issues.8
Her technical proficiency enables her to provide a consummate performance, which has served to energise contemporary drawing in Australia, and increasingly, beyond.