Everything flows. Everything spreads. The sea beats waves, sounds create an echo. Rustling, humming. A carefully modelled sound collage that tingles under your scalp, reaching all the way down to the fingertips. And in between: silence. An almost meditative, contemplative calm surrounds you as you watch Agnieszka Polska’s video works. The moment of contemplation is thoroughly intentional, according to the artist. Each project should make use of time and concentration, both that of the artist and that of the recipient. At the same time, within a few moments you are drawn under the spell of a conspiratorial-seductive mood and are all too happy to be hypnotized by dancing letters and kaleidoscopic landscapes.
A carefully modelled sound collage that tingles under your scalp, reaching all the way down to the fingertips.
Memory, historic narrative and the construction of present and reality are recurring themes in Agnieszka Polska’s multidisciplinary work. At the same time, the Polish-born artist often uses salvaged material, which she animates digitally. In the trilogy “The Body of Words”, she researches the structure of language. How does communication work? What potential lies in misunderstanding? What is poetry, what is a narrative, how are stories related? How do words materialize? Where do the limitations of language lie? Communication and Language
Agnieszka Polska’s works talk to her observer, she takes him or her by the hand, creating an intimate situation, you and me. Yet this is by no means a didactic strategy aimed at explaining the work. Rather, Polska raises the question of the extent to which a relationship between artwork and observer can be created, going beyond linguistic communication. In the three works “I Am The Mouth”, “Watery Rhymes” and “Talking Mountain”, she invites us to take magical journeys into the depths of the subconscious, on a joint search for the origin of language.
Rosy lips appear from fluorescent waves, still half-submerged in the water, the lush pink shimmers under the glittering turquoise of the water. A voice begins to speak in a whisper, the lips move. It’s the voice of the artist herself. Yet she remains reduced down to a mouth, without a body, as in Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”, where the mouth of an actress appears in the spotlight, while everything around her is cloaked in deep black. In a whisper, Polska addresses the observers of “I Am The Mouth”, her almost six-minute video work from 2014. She explains the psychological effect of sound, which spreads like a consequence of pressure waves: “I am the mouth that produces waves. My words are the variations in pressure.”
The arbitrary meaning of language
The mouth continues to speak; it is immersed in a sea of social substance, and this substance is not physically tangible. It comes from an unknown source. It may be located within the talking ego, yet at the same time it goes beyond it. “They are ideas that can only be expressed in a language which has not yet been discovered.” Language is learnt. It is arbitrary in that the connection of a word to an object, feeling or state of being emerges almost haphazardly. Yet it creates meaning, it brings things into the world by naming them. “I don’t know how to describe what I see at the bottom of the sea”, states the talking mouth. “Never a word was spoken of this.” For that which talks, for the innermost, the subconscious, there are no words.
“Watery Rhymes” too addresses the nature of language. We hear a speaker who presents a text in poetry form, accompanied by an experimental composition by musician Sun Araw. Heavy, black letters become words that form on the white background. “What we may assume.” A carefully formulated sentence that introduces assumptions or hypotheses. We can assume that words move along at a constantly high speed; that they still feel familiar within the mouth, but that their form is modified on their long journey. “Names take on definite values only when they are observed.” The list begins: “eyebrows, buttocks, fingers, bulks of kidneys, segment of a line, bottom of a parcel, a volume of fluid.” The works overlap one another to the point of unreadability, flashing in bright colors, swimming on a surface of water mixed with petrol, emerging and then disappearing again, appearing to pass by in the mishmash of colors.
We can assume that words still feel familiar within the mouth, but that their form is modified on their long journey.
We hear, see, read; we seek correlations and sense. A transparent skull, like a three-dimensional death mask on soapy water, hovers through the empty room; the mouth is covered with a white bandage. Two fingertips balance the segment of a line, which appears to measure the tiny distance between the grooves of the fingers. The image becomes white again. Like the closing titles of a film, a poem runs across the screen. “You are as well, dear lover, built from words still undiscovered. Quantum nouns, micro adjectives are in your sweet body active. That’s the little thought that hurts: I can’t count your body’s words. The body of words.” Like the body of a lover, we want to embrace the world, plunge into it, understand it. We think we have mastered the language that encompasses this world, yet there are still so many words waiting to be discovered.
The Talking Mountain
The “Talking Mountain” knows the answers to all questions, the names of all things and even every still unknown word. “What shall we do now?”, asks Sara van der Heide, whereby Agnieszka Polska suggests: “Maybe … we should go and search for the talking mountain.” In “Talking Mountain” the two artists, who are friends, take an imaginary trip. We accompany them on their search for the Talking Mountain. But what does the mountain actually look like? Do you recognize it when you’re standing in front of it? Does it answer when it is spoken to? Does it talk the same language as us? Is the crack a mouth, are the two holes really eyes? Language is performative, it creates reality. Just as we feel the need to give things a name, we also give them a soul as soon as we think we are able to recognize the traits of a face even rudimentarily. Eyes, nose, mouth. Do we feel less alone in the world if we imagine that the lifeless objects around us are talking to us, and all we need to do is listen carefully in order to understand them?
In snow, desert and tropical landscapes, Polska and van der Heide encounter some potential Talking Mountains, but none of them answers their calls. “Hello, hey, hello, heeey!” The mountain simply blinks and smiles quietly. What is silence? The manifestation of the global psyche, the sum of all intellectual processes of the entire biosphere, Polska suggests. Deep, deep concentration. A beautiful concept. The Talking Mountain is never found. Yet it meets the artist in a dream. The “Talking Mountain” is a she. “I fell asleep and in my dream the talking mountain spoke to me. She said ‘House’ and I was home. She said ‘Night’ and it was dark. She said ‘Crybaby, lay down your head I’ll read you, babe, the alphabet.’”
Delving into Agnieszka Polska’s work is like standing on the threshold of a dream. Space and time take on other qualities. Seconds flow by, we lose ourselves in the black emptiness or travel to far-off places. Memories return. Now the subconscious speaks. We allow ourselves to read out the alphabet. And perhaps we find still undiscovered words as we do so.
Marie Sophie Beckmann
Marie Sophie Beckmann lives and works as a freelance writer and curator in Berlin. She completed her Master’s in Curatorial Studies in Frankfurt/Main at Goethe-Universität and the Städelschule. In 2015 she founded the curatorial initiative EVBG, focusing on film and video art.