"In search of the lost soul" is a painting, which marked the starting point of my artistic approach. It is emblematic of a period of spiritual and pictorial quest, fueled by my studies in art history and my fascination with prehistory. The search for meaning leads me then to the origins of art and I dedicate myself to exploring the symbolic function of painting. Quite quickly I focus not on the precise meanings of symbols, but on their universal, archetypal character, as well as on their geometry.By observing the link between these archaic symbols and the geometry present in nature, I seek to express the cosmic harmony, which includes the human being, his/her psyche and his/her activity. This leads me to question an amazing, mysterious and omnipresent phenomenon - symmetry. At this point I change the medium. Using the sets of mirrors and the kaleidoscope I produce symmetrical structures in three dimensions, instead of representing them on a flat surface. The installation "Reflected Nature" (Musée de Lodz, 1991) is a pivotal moment.
Little by little, this serene, idealized and abstract vision of the world seems to me untenable. I realize that it ignores history, suffering and death. During the 1990s I produced several optical installations based on the play of mirrors, which show landscapes and endless, orderly and dehumanized urban spaces. A monstrous and disturbing world. The installation "Black Boxes" (1993) shows aerial views, as captured just before the disaster. "Hesdin's Garden" (1996) transforms nature into Disneyland. In the series "Microespaces" (1999) contemporary urban spaces, standardized and ghostly, multiplied by the play of mirrors, evoke totalitarianism. The mirror also poses the question of vertigo caused by the derealization of the world by the media. The spectator of "L’Aperitif" is confronted with an abyss, in which reality and its television simulacrum merge.
The year 2001 marks a turning point. The book of the historian Jan T. Gross The Neighbors. The story of the destruction of a Jewish village shocked Poland by revealing the participation of some Poles in the Holocaust. This story, as well as the refusal of a considerable part of Polish society to recognize the responsibility of Poles, prompted me to react. I created "After Jedwabne", an installation composed of videos and mirrors, which is a space of meditation and disillusionment. (Presented at Sélestat in Alsace in 2003, but not in Poland, until 2008). From then on, the question of the memory of the Shoah became my main concern. In 2004 I started a work in progress - the "Treblinka Project". Once a year, I go to Treblinka, one of the death camps situated in Poland during the Second World War, then I paint a canvas from the photograph taken on the spot. This project, which has a temporal dimension, aims to perpetuate the memory of extermination. Allowing the viewer to observe the evolution of the place, but also of our relationship to the past, it gradually becomes a kind of archive, a memory of memory. The use of landscape painting - because I could have been content with photographs - is not trivial. These works, as well as other landscapes from the "Surroundings" of Treblinka that I created, may be considered as a part of the romantic heritage. However, it is not my intention to go back to 19th century romanticism. I'm trying to reinvent romanticism by questioning the spiritual dimension of art, in particular painting, after the Holocaust catastrophe and against the amnesia and the materialism of our societies. Ultimately, it‘s about resisting despair and consumerism, while cultivating an awareness of history and an ecological awareness of the present and the future.
My interest in history is constantly accompanied by an effort to connect the past with the present. So, the Treblinka Project is about a physical presence hic et nunc at the places of destruction. The video installation "Warsaw - Malkinia" (2013) is literally a journey into the past. It shows a train trip from Warsaw to Malkinia, made on august 23, 2010, the anniversary of the deportation in 1942 of Jankiel Wiernik from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. The soundtrack is the reading of his testimony. Another work - the charcoal portrait series "In the eyes" (2016) provides a new presence to the faces of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto killed in Treblinka. In these portraits, drawn from archive photographs, I modified certain looks so that all the represented people seem to be staring at the viewer.
Since the beginning of the Treblinka Project (2004) painting becomes my favorite medium again. Abandoning the anti-illusionist bias of the 1980s, I set out to paint what I see with photographic precision. By exploring the (poor) visibility of the image I wonder about the ability of painting to represent reality. In the series "Départ de Lodz" (2007 - 2008), representing views through fogged up windows, the painted image, although photo-realistic, is barely legible. Viewer’s contemplation is a purely visual experience. Not allowing to reach the depth of reality, painting is only illusion and artifice. Based on this observation, my work is oriented along two directions, on the one hand, paintings without subject, such as "Reflections", "Rain" and "Fluidities", playing on illusion, color and digital image distortion; on the other hand, representations of places marked by history, which are gradually moving away from photo-realism.
Indeed, in 2014 a changeover occurred. In the Treblinka landscape, which until now I have represented while faithfully respecting the photograph, I distort the ground, giving the impression that it has collapsed. Thus, from metonymy (the place signifying extermination) the painting becomes a metaphor (collapse symbolizing extermination). This return to symbolic function opens up new possibilities for painting, both formally and in terms of its meaning. Now, in memory of the Shoah is added awareness of current threats, perhaps of a new collapse. My work deals with issues related to nature, global warming and the future of the planet. The symbolic, vast, complex, polysemic and ambiguous language allows me to combine styles, forms, words, languages and word puzzles. I try to take into account both an imaginary dimension, the awareness of the project, an open symbolism and the specificity of the technique and the material.
Zofia Lipecka Paris, April 2020