Pure Visuality or Visual Biblia Pauperum
After five years, Marek Radke returns to the Biała Gallery. His previous solo exhibition was held in 2009, in the more modest and smaller interiors of the “old” gallery, located in one of the wings of the building formerly belonging to the Visitation convent, which is now housing the Centre for Culture. That was one of the last exhibitions organized by Biała in the said building, before its general renovation, which forced the gallery to move to a temporary location in Narutowicza Street.
(…) When Radke was preparing his first installation at Biała, he had no choice but to play his game with much smaller and more challenging space. Currently, however, he can experiment more freely as he has four separate exhibition rooms at his disposal. As a result, Here and There occupies two quite large gallery spaces, a glass-roof patio and a large cellar-like room – the underground part of the patio. Using objects and paintings, the artists created four different installations.
Illuminated with UV light, the arrays of small objects arranged in the exhibition rooms and covered with fluorescent paint have been “dematerialized” – rendered unreal. What seems to be the continuation and materialization of these forms are similar objects – this time displayed in daylight – installed on two walls of the patio and on the wall next to the stairs leading to the underground part of the room. The space downstairs – lit with white gallery light – is occupied with painting-objects. These “heavy”, quite sizeable, dark-graphite, impasto surfaces not only have paint laid thickly on them but are also covered with small, intensely red or grey, simple geometrical forms, including: ovals, lines, dents, interstices and plastic relief forms, or bright red, spherical elements emerging from the incisions made in the surface. All these details seem to create certain rhythms present in every painting. They all differ but at the same time they are subject to a common compositional rule.
(…) In the case of Marek Radke’s work, we deal with purely visual, sensual stimuli. Apart from that, the artist remains silent. At first glance, his abstract language of forms excludes any metavisual references. Fluorescent colors that attack us in the gallery interiors make us forget about everything but senses. Radke tries to use all possible ways to intrigue the viewers or even to irritate their eyes. In order to achieve this, he uses mirrors and light with specific wavelength. He also refers to optical illusion and uses various kinds of contrasts. We are almost forced to experience Radke’s installations through our senses. Therefore, when I was visiting these microworlds – that use similar but constantly evolving elements, individually adapted to each space in which they exist – I was becoming more convinced that first and foremost I was experiencing the said “pure visuality”.
(…) Works displayed on the patio, where they are lit with the natural light, resemble materialized objects as if taken from paintings by Amédée Ozenfant, fragments of works by Piet Mondrian, quotes from Theo van Doesburg and Bart van der Leck, Josef Albers or Paul Klee. They include small objects – “boxes” – in the shape of an elongated, lying cuboid. The way they are painted evokes associations with the harmony of colors and shapes that can be found in Mark Rothko’s paintings. Even if a feeling of déjà vu is experienced, it is neither obvious nor direct. It is always a citation, or rather a travesty of small fragments that Radke uses to break the language of the last century’s avant-garde into syllables, which he then intentionally transforms, usually in a similar way. Using subdued primary colors or basic secondary colors, the artist covers his works with thick layers of paint, revealing the brush strokes. Although Radke’s painting-objects are not large, they seem to be somewhat dusty, darkened, even a little heavy. Maybe used?
(…) In space and on the walls of one of the gallery rooms, the artist suspended small luminous items, painting-objects, mobiles, elongated forms in different sizes and shapes, resembling fishing floats. Not only are they confusing but they are also irritating. They function as miniatures or even as a grotesque interpretation of the “avant-garde” objects found in the patio. Their fluorescent quality and the way they are illuminated create the effect of a negative vision that affects the sense of direction and blurs the constraints of walls. In order to understand this space, we have to start, consciously or not, the process of organizing this chaos. The longer we stay in this space, the less chaotic it seems to be. This is a composition exercise prepared by Radke. He invites us to participate in it.
What strikes us in the second gallery room, adjacent to the first one, is order. On one of the walls, there is an even row of matt plastic boxes that – along with their colorful contents – glow with fluorescent, sweet colors. They are filled with all kinds of spheres, rhythms, dots and small object in vibrant and electrifying colors: pink, blue, green and yellow. All boxes are arranged in sequences resembling either a pastiche of some neoplastic compositions or… an array of containers filled with shiny candies in psychedelic colors. It seems as if the only thing missing in this world is a luminous drink. All these objects are reminiscent of screen icons, except that they take us nowhere. The row of small, rhythmically arranged, square, box-like paintings extends to the adjoining wall. Geometric abstract forms that glow behind the small glass panes evoke constructivism and compositions created by Kazimir Malevich. However, as it was already mentioned, they are rather a pastiche and not a serious analysis. In the previous century, similar forms allowed Giacomo Balla, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, as well as members of De Stijl and half of the then avant-garde movement to experiment with rhythm and the use of colors. Radke repeats these experiments, but his aesthetics is far from being serious. He prefers to play with what is seen. In this context, he focuses on the rhythm. He juxtaposes neatly arranged “icons” that glow in darkness with the chaos of fluorescent-red “sticks” randomly scattered on the surface of the table and with the painting on the wall, similar in form to the said sticks.
(…) The last, darkened gallery room resembles a „toy” universe. As in the case of other installations, everything is immersed in UV light. There are colorful spheres covered with fluorescent paint and suspended above a huge mirror on the floor. The glass surface reflects and multiplies all objects in the room and hence opens the space. A simple joy of observing and a paradox of infinity present within the limitations of four walls of the gallery are experiences similar to those offered inside the installations with mirrors and hundreds of diodes created by Yayoi Kusama. This easy visual trick – a controlled kitsch or deliberate exaggeration – allows viewers to enjoy the distortion in the perception of space and the rhythm of “shiny” plastic celestial objects.
(…) Viewers’ senses can rest from bright lights only in the underground part of the gallery, where “graphite” paintings are displayed. They are like an antidote, giving relief to our eyes. They are also both the starting point and the destination. At the same time, they are just like the rest of the objects – nothing but a pure improvisation, a non-committal variation of the non-figurative art tradition. Similarly to the objects that appear to be signs without referents, the paintings have no other function than visual. They create a type of a modern “posthistoric” cave with paintings deprived of any cult function.
Visual experiments conducted by representatives of the neo-avant-garde movements, including Polish artists, are also close to Radke. His use of intense colors, along with the fluorescence of his paintings and objects, is reminiscent of Jan Chwałczyk’s Reproductor of Projected Shadow. Chwałczyk’s minimalist, three-dimensional forms were to cast shadows on white surfaces, allowing the viewers to observe reflecting of colors and mixing of different wavelengths of light. Radke’s artistic practice is similar, although he resigns from complex theoretical explanations and focuses on a purely sensual experience of joy. By using fluorescent paint, he adapts the said phenomenon in his own unique way.
(…) Marek Radke is interested not only in the vast reservoir of postmodern visual culture, but also in sensory experience and perception – áisthesis, as well as in sensory reaction to light, colors and shapes, not natural, however, but rather generated by the civilization of images. It seems that he tries to encourage us to take a closer look at them.