Constructive sculpture = f ( architecture )
I first came into contact with the work of Iwona Rozbiewska in 2018, at the opening of her exhibition ‘The Tales that Follow’ in the project space of the Sea Foundation in my home town of Tilburg, the Netherlands. She had been immersed in her work there as artist-in-residence.
At once I was captivated by the abstract multi-layered sculptures that Iwona had so carefully placed as an installation in this space. What was noticeable was the balanced fashion with which the hard- and soft – materials used, the abstraction of the volumes and the lines created were linked in a syntactic manner to the architecture. For me this was a breath of fresh air in contrast to the narrative that today so often dominates the visual arts. Naturally there is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you long for abstraction, an achievement from prehistory with which from the beginning of the last century the avant-garde has busily experimented with artistic results that are felt in the arts right up to today.
Iwona’s abstraction is also aimed at complementary working and interaction with the particular space: three-dimensional staging and choreography as a quest for balance between the occupying of space by objects and the dynamic and meaningful influence of this on the surroundings and vice versa. You are invited to make the art works and the dynamic part of yourself by moving through the space as viewer and observer. In doing this the constructive sculpture and/or installation in your experiencing of them acquire an effect that is like the function of architecture. Here the concept of function is comparable with the fin mathematics, as it used in the title of this introduction.
I learned more of her extraordinary relation with abstraction during our collaboration that we formed, partly due to her complementary study experimental video, to make the animation video Architecture in Motion - intercepted light. This video animation premiered in 2019 in Galeria Wschodnia (East Gallery) in Lodz, Poland. The basis for this was formed by 120 relief prints in series form that were made for the purpose in the Book Art Museum in Lodz. It was an exciting adventure with an intriguing and dynamic result with purely abstract images that come into motion, built up from only light and shadow.
In time came the opportunity to get to know Iwona’s video work better. Particularly fascinating is the video animation Untitled (The cemetery)from 2015 (Munich), in which you can see how in very diverse ways she combines and positions in the space a series of ‘architectonic models’, varying from ordered to random, from divergent to convergent, from horizontal to vertical and diagonal.
This spatial installation can be seen as a constructive sculpture, as an architectonic design or utensil and as an imaginary continuum of movements in the space. Each composition can be regarded as momentum, in which the elements hover on the point of coming into motion, so that potentially time and again a new composition will emerge from the movement.
In 2011 during the Pecha Kucha night in Warsaw Iwona Rozbiewska exhibited a sculptural and visionary concept for a viaduct of unusual significance to make a physical link between the New Town of Warsaw and the river Vistula. She created a harmony of linked, floating organically formed ‘islands’. These overlap each other at differing heights and are linked to each other by high cylinders (lifts). With this Iwona added a dynamic connecting body of town planning to the urban space. Naturally it would be wonderful if in the future this project should be realised.
An extraordinary element in Iwona’s work consists of her research focussed and imaginative handling of differences in scale and meaning (character) of the specific space. By conscientious research she assembles a collection of facts about the space. She follows through on these facts in the most concrete and clear manner possible by conceiving, designing and making her spatial and dynamic art works, in which sculpture, architecture, video and such like are incorporated.
Perfect clarity makes the best foundation for achieving visual and substantive quality; at the same time it must offer the essential charge for opportunities of looking and experiencing by the viewer. Constructive sculpture and architecture are not obviously subjective. Therein lies an important task for the artist and designer in the inclination towards objectivity. This is a task that is expressed in the work of Iwona Rozbiewska in an elegant, imaginative and at the same time effective manner.
Jan Doms

Rzeźba konstruktywistyczna = f(architektura)
Z twórczością Iwony Rozbiewskiej zetknąłem się po raz pierwszy w 2018 r., podczas otwarcia jej wystawy „The Tales that Follow” w przestrzeni projektowej Sea Foundation w moim rodzinnym Tilburgu w Holandii. W tym czasie była pochłonięta swoją pracą jako artystka rezydentka.
Od razu urzekły mnie abstrakcyjne wielowarstwowe rzeźby, które Iwona tak starannie umieściła w tej przestrzeni jako instalację. Można było zauważyć wyważony styl, w jakim w syntaktyczny sposób połączono z architekturą twarde i miękkie materiały, abstrakcję objętości i stworzone linie. Dla mnie był to powiew świeżości w przeciwieństwie do narracji, która dziś tak często dominuje w sztukach wizualnych. Oczywiście nie ma w tym nic złego, ale czasami tęsknimy za abstrakcją, inspirowaną przez prehistorię, z którą od początku ubiegłego wieku awangarda pracowicie eksperymentowała, osiągając artystyczne efekty, jakie są odczuwalne w sztuce aż do dziś.
Abstrakcja Iwony ma również na celu dopełnienie pracy i interakcji z daną przestrzenią: trójwymiarowa inscenizacja i choreografia jako poszukiwanie równowagi pomiędzy zajmowaniem przestrzeni przez obiekty, a dynamicznym i znaczącym wpływem tego zjawiska na otoczenie i vice versa. Czujemy się zaproszeni do tworzenia dzieł sztuki i dynamicznej części siebie poprzez poruszanie się w przestrzeni w roli widza i obserwatora. Doświadczając obcowania z konstruktywistyczną rzeźbą i/lub instalacją uzyskuje się efekt, który jest niczym funkcja architektury. W tym przypadku pojęcie funkcji jest porównywalne z f w matematyce, jak zostało to użyte w tytule tego wprowadzenia.
O jej niezwykłej relacji z abstrakcją dowiedziałem się więcej podczas naszej współpracy, którą zawiązaliśmy, po części dzięki jej komplementarnym studyjnym eksperymentalnym wideo, aby stworzyć animację „Architecture in Motion – intercepted light”. Animacja ta miała swoją premierę w 2019 r. w Galerii Wschodniej w Łodzi. Jej podstawę stanowiło 120 odbitek druku wypukłego w formie serii, które zostały wykonane na potrzeby Muzeum Książki Artystycznej w Łodzi. Była to ekscytująca przygoda z intrygującym i dynamicznym rezultatem, z czysto abstrakcyjnymi obrazami, które zostają wprawione w ruch, powstałymi wyłącznie ze światła i cienia.
Z czasem nadeszła okazja, by lepiej poznać prace wideo Iwony. Szczególnie fascynująca jest animacja „Untitled (The cemetery)” z 2015 r, (Monachium), w której można zobaczyć, jak w bardzo różnorodny sposób łączy i ustawia w przestrzeni szereg „modeli architektonicznych”, od uporządkowanych do przypadkowych, od rozbieżnych do zbieżnych, od poziomych do pionowych i ukośnych.
Ta przestrzenna instalacja może być postrzegana jako rzeźba konstruktywistyczna, projekt architektoniczny lub narzędzie oraz jako wyimaginowane kontinuum ruchów w przestrzeni. Każda kompozycja może być traktowana jako pęd, w którym elementy unoszą się w punkcie wprowadzenia w ruch, dzięki czemu potencjalnie raz po raz wyłania się z ruchu nowa kompozycja.
W 2011 r., podczas nocy „Pecha Kucha” w Warszawie Iwona Rozbiewska zaprezentowała rzeźbiarską i wizjonerską koncepcję wiaduktu o niezwykłym znaczeniu dla stworzenia fizycznego połączenia Nowego Miasta z Wisłą. Stworzyła harmonię połączonych, pływających, organicznie ukształtowanych „wysp”. Nakładają się one na siebie na różnych wysokościach i są połączone ze sobą za pomocą wysokich siłowników (podnośników). Dzięki temu Iwona dodała do przestrzeni miejskiej dynamiczne łączące ciało urbanistyki. Oczywiście byłoby wspaniale, gdyby w przyszłości ten projekt został zrealizowany.
Niezwykłym elementem w twórczości Iwony jest skupione na badaniach i pomysłowe operowanie różnicami w skali i znaczeniu (charakterze) określonej przestrzeni. Poprzez skrupulatne badania tworzy zbiór faktów o przestrzeni. Podąża za tymi faktami w sposób jak najbardziej konkretny i przejrzysty, wymyślając, projektując i tworząc swoje przestrzenne i dynamiczne dzieła sztuki, w które włącza rzeźbę, architekturę, wideo i tym podobne.
Doskonała przejrzystość stanowi najlepszą podstawę do osiągnięcia wizualnej i merytorycznej jakości; jednocześnie musi oferować niezbędny ładunek możliwości patrzenia i doświadczania przez oglądającego. Konstruktywistyczna rzeźba i architektura nie są oczywiście subiektywne. Jest to ważne zadanie dla artysty i projektanta w jego skłonności do obiektywizmu – zadanie, które w twórczości Iwony Rozbiewskiej wyraża się w sposób elegancki, pomysłowy, a zarazem skuteczny.
Jan Doms

Iwona Rozbiewska: Residency Argentina

30-11-2020 – 12-12-2020



Transreal Spaces

On Transrealism and the City


Introduction: Artistic Research at Residencia Corazón

The aim of Iwona Rozbiewska’s online residency at the Residencia Corazón in Argentina is to start of a new artistic research project. During her residency, Rozbiewska conducts a series of artistic experiments in which she explores the relationship between transrealism and the city of La Plata. Supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, this residency affords Rozbiewska to explore unique aspects of the city, facilitating a comparison to the city of Warsaw through a series of interviews with the participating founders of the Residencia Corazón, as well as by comparing the different map overviews of both cities, resulting in an exploration of their unique socio-cultural realities, and incorporating the findings into concepts for new art installations.

Transrealism in Iwona Rozbiewska’s work
  • Inspiration concept: Margaret Atwood, Transrealism. Specifically, the book (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale.
  • Iwona Rozbiewska’s take/interpretation: Shapes, figures, abstract, surrealism, absurdism

The literary transrealist movement plays an important role within this research, and is a recurring motif in Rozbiewska’s oeuvre overall. Drawing inspiration from the literary works of Margaret Atwood, specifically the book (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale, transrealism is used in the work of Iwona Rozbiewska as a means to reflect on aspects of reality. By displacing, juxtaposing, or abstracting objects, scenery, or entire locations from their original context, the installations and objects of Rozbiewska challenge the boundaries of realism, and introduces a surreal, almost magical ambience. A recurring theme within Rozbiewska’s work is therefore the relation between matter and meaning.

During her artistic research at Residencia Corazón, Rozbiewska combines the prevalent aspects of transrealism with the topic of social space and city space. Each material space, like their material components, have histories connected to them, and individual subjects and social groups alike constantly attached or projected meaning onto them. During this residency, Iwona Rozbiewska seeks to explore these aspects of material space, incorporating these interwoven social realities into new transrealist installations and objects.

Shapes, figures and spaces
  • Geometrical versus organic shapes
  • Open ended shapes and symbolism
  • Connection between places: Warsaw and La Plata
  • Connection to the open-ended meaning of places and spaces

Material objects have histories. These histories function as a pervasive context which channels the construction of meaning between the subject and the object. In her artistic practice, Iwona Rozbiewska often explores these relationships between the material properties of objects, their previous histories, and how these resonate through once either of them is altered or inserted into a different spatial context. Therefore, the material properties, the historical context and spatial context are an important trinity in Rozbiewska’s work. The current artistic research of Rozbiewska continues to zoom in on the latter two of these aspects by exploring the history of objects or materials, taken from the city of La Plata. The exploration of La Plata’s history, the dynamism of the social fabric as experienced in the city and how these influence the meaning of these materials, are the main topics of research for this residency.

Space, place and the city
  • Henri Lefebvre: the right to the city. Much recourse in Latin-American countries. Place & Space: Trialectical relationship between conceived space, representational space, and spatial practices.

Space is a social constructed, rather than a given fact or based purely on the architectural aspects of a city. Space is constantly produced by the people who live in the city. Through their daily interactions with and throughout the city spaces, these experiences crystalize and form nodes of meaning: places. These particular localities, such as urban centers, suburban parts, abandoned places, or landmarks, all have a varying, contingent and often contested meaning attached to them, projected onto them, or enforced by these locations. The city of La Plata is no exception of this, and in all right, could be described as a city of contrasts.

The philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre argued that the meaning of space, and therefore place, are constructed through the trialectical relationship of the conceived space, the lived space and the spatial practices. Viewed from this perspective, La Plata is a city that originated from an explicitly rational and dictated conceived space, and yet is currently a city of many different contrasting lived spaces and spatial practices, that quite often resist the intended aspects of the conceived space, creating an interesting set of social contrasts in the city.

Designed by the urban planner Pedro Benoit, the layout of the historic city center is characterized by a pervasive grid, splitting and labelling the city in seemingly sterile sets of geometrical and trapezoid shapes. A link between this design and the concepts of rationality and efficiency is easily drawn. And yet, La Plata is a city with a lively history, a vibrant artistic community and a strong tradition of political movements, which often leads to unique forms of appropriation of the public space. The conceived space, the lived space and spatial practices, are hence in conflict with each other, and with that, interesting spatial meaning is constantly developed, rejected, and re-developed yet again.

Materiality and Virtuality

This rich social context of the city is also visible in the materiality of its objects found within. An eroded brick taken from a nearby building still holds the traces of the founding of the city, its time under the rule of dictators of the past, the recent flood engulfing the city, and all the memories of those involved connected to it. A piece of stone with colorful paint on it might have featured on the building-sized picture of Maradona or one of the many altars spread throughout the city which portray him as the hero of the people, representing both the dreams and hopes but also all the controversies which this figure represents for the inhabitants. Even so much as the use of organically formed cobblestone road in the middle of the city center reflects the idea of incorporate the natural into the rigid geometrical patterns of the city. The social meaning and cultural history which materials can hold, adds a layer of interpretation to otherwise seemingly mundane materials.

Transrealism and the city
  • La Plata, a very geometrical, rational city versus the chaotic, organic culture of Argentina.
  • City growth: organic historical growth versus planned, rational growth. Interesting contrast, explicated through artistic representation and transrealism.

In order to explore these otherwise hidden aspects of the city, the online residency at Residencia Corazón is aimed at exploring the implicit social fabric of the city La Plata. These implicit, hidden meanings interwoven into unspoken social conventions and shared cultural memory is the main goal of the artistic research conducted into the city of La Plata. By discussing and explicating certain historical backgrounds, social assumptions, corporeal experiences, and lived rhythms of the city, these hidden meanings are emphasized, explicated and drawn out to the front, serving as inspiration for new artistic installations. Through a succession of artist talks pertaining the conceived space, lived space and spatial practices of La Plata, and juxtaposing these aspects to her own experiences of the city of Warsaw, Iwona Rozbiewska explores these relationships and incorporates them into her work.

Transrealism within this artistic project, then, is an exploration of different realities, either explicitly visible in the material composition and architectural design of the city spaces, but also through implicitly felt through their original spatial context and their relationship to the different social realities of lived space and spatial practices. By detaching these objects or materials from their original context, altering their physical shapes, and juxtaposing them in a different spatial-social context, new meaning is created and explored.



Marijn Dekker



Step By Step To The Dailiness Alley…
Iwona Rozbiewska (*1980) lebt und arbeitet nach längeren Auslandaufenthalten (u.a. in München und den Niederlanden) wieder in ihrer Geburtsstadt Zaścienie in der Nähe von Warschau.
Ihre Installation konfrontiert die Betrachter_in mit einer ungewohnten Raumsituation, die trotz der Gegenständlichkeit der einzelnen Bestandteile – wie einem Geländer und asphaltartigen Fliesen –signifikant von unserer Alltagserfahrung abweicht: die Fliesen führen an der Wand diagonal nach oben und werden dadurch unbetretbar, das eine Geländer hat ein leuchtendes Innenleben, das andere Geländer führt in den Boden und verweist so auf eine Parallelwelt, die unter dem Wahrnehmbaren liegt. Auch der Weg, der hier angedeutet wird, scheint nicht durch die Wand begrenzt, sondern durch sie hindurch weiterzuführen.
Bei manchen ihrer Arbeiten verwendet Iwona Materialien, die sie findet oder bekommt, wie z.B. Fliesen, die für einen Swimmingpool verwendet werden sollten, und erst in ihrer Arbeit refreshing rules eine Bestimmung fanden. Geschichte, die vorgefundenen oder gebrauchten Alltagsobjekten eingeschrieben ist, spiegelt sich in der Fiktion der surrealen Installation wieder und verstärkt die Bedeutung der Materialität, alltägliche Gegenstände werden zu Trägern von kollektiver Erinnerung.
Die Fliesen hier im periscope wurden von Iwona handgefertigt, Risse und Unebenheiten beim Brennen des Tons betonen den nicht-industriellen, persönlichen Charakter.
Alle Elemente der Installation verweisen ebenfalls wie in Ursula Kreutz‘ Arbeit auf das Außen, auf die Straßensituation, auch hier verbinden sich Außen- und Innenraum, Alltag und Kunst. Der architektonische Aufbau der Fliesen steht für die Konstruktion eines Raumes, für das sich „Platz verschaffen“ und sich einrichten.
Der Fußweg, das Geländer, aber auch das Styroporobjekt, welches einen sich auflösenden Zebrastreifen andeutet, thematisieren den Gedanken von Bewegung – nicht nur von mechanischem Gehen, Überqueren einer Straße oder die Hand über das Geländer führen – ,vielmehr wird von Bewegung als Entwicklung und Weiterkommen auf undeutlichen und unbegrenzten Wegen erzählt. Die Lichtquelle im Geländer akzentuiert nur sehr subtil die ansonsten leere Wand, im Tageslicht kaum merkbar.
In ihren Installationen setzt Iwona gezielt strenge, architektonische Formensprache ein, welche sie in minimalistischen geometrischen Formen, ihrem Materialeinsatz sowie dem direkten Zitieren von architektonischen Objekten wie Geländern und Fliesen Ausdruck verleiht. Es begegnen sich unterschiedliche Materialien mit unterschiedlicher Haptik und Struktur und lassen in ihrer Kombination neue Konnotationen entstehen. Brechungen entstehen durch surrealistische (bzw. transrealistische) Verwendung der Geländer, wenn sie wie hier in den Boden verlaufen oder durch die Verzerrung und Maßstabsveränderung von Objekten. So ist einerseits die direkte, pragmatische Bedeutung der zitierten oder verwendeten Objekte relevant, andererseits wird diese durch die subtile Veränderung der Objekte unterwandert und metaphorisch erweitert. Materialien und Formen werden von geschlossenen Formen zu offenen modifiziert, wie eben das Geländer, das von innen leuchtet: Logisches trifft auf Absurdes und eröffnet dadurch neue Bedeutungsebenen, Widersprüche müssen ausgehalten werden.

Birgit Gebhard, 2019

Supported by
The Tales That Follow
On the work of Iwona Rozbiewska
By Marieke Folkers and Marijn Dekker

[…] but things is a word that tends, especially at its most banal, to index a certain limit or liminality, to hover over the threshold between the nameable and unnameable, the figurable and unfigurable, the identifiable and unidentifiable. (footnote 1)
Bill Brown (2001) Thing Theory.
Introduction
We live in a world of things—a world of both familiar and yet to be defined objects. Our relationship to these things is both complex and contradictory. On the one hand, we express ourselves through things, using material objects to manage and perform social relations and identities. On the other hand, objects define us, and are vital in facilitating, organizing and animating social action. Things and their meaning, therefore, allow us to understand ourselves, our lives, the world around us, others, and culture at large.
Behind the banality of everyday life in which objects play such a ubiquitous role, there are myriads of intricate meaning making practices, determined by just as many
socio-cultural and material dimensions. When investigating the relationship between meaning and matter, we inevitably arrive at questions such as: What makes objects recognizable? What role do materiality and cultural dispositions play in the process of meaning making? How does the object-subject relation take shape in this process? By asking ourselves these questions, we inevitably find ourselves entering the domains of metaphysics and ontology, two very important philosophical fields to consider in the work of the Polish artist Iwona Rozbiewska.
Iwona Rozbiewska’s Artistic Language
In her artistic practice, Iwona Rozbiewska approaches reality and the transcendence of this reality, using shapes that are often derived from existing objects, abstracting them in order to create minimal sculptures and fictional realities. She draws inspiration from discourses related to art history, cultural studies, multiple artistic disciplines and architecture. By altering the forms, compositions, spatial context or other properties of her used materials, Rozbiewska creates sculptural objects that can be seen as an investigation of the connection between matter and meaning. Her newly created works in the exhibition The Tales That Followare a continuation and development of this practice. She approaches the theme of reality as a conceptual layer within the works, and as a topic expressed through the works.
In many ways, Rozbiewska’s sculptures in The Tales That Followcan be seen as an artistic exploration of questions pertaining to the realms of metaphysics and ontology, unfolding from her material research into novel ways to explain, express or capture the affective relationships between objects and subjects. This relation, inextricably connected to the process of meaning making, is twofold. Firstly, it regards the connection between matter and meaning as determined by the physical aspects of objects and materials. Secondly, it concerns the discursive value attributed to certain constellations of materials, shapes and forms, as a result of someone’s cultural disposition that makes specific objects recognizable. The Tales that Follow aims to manifest these processes in more detail.
Quasi-object
The perception of reality is always multifaceted and determined by different factors, such as the arbitrary constructions of meaning that we as subjects project onto the world during our interaction with it. Whilst looking at the work Untitled I, it can be seen as an exploration of reality. Reviewing the sculpture’s materiality in terms of both the visual and haptic experience of its properties, this sculpture seems to resonate with Bruno Latour’s ideas on reality and meaning as expressed through objects, specifically his concept of the quasi-object.
As Bruno Latour argues in his text (1993) The Parliament of Things, the binary distinction between nature and culture is, in fact, a modern construct. The paradox is that we deal with ostensible opposites: nature versus culture, or, science versus politics. In our daily lives, however, we often encounter hybrids of the two. Latour rather suggests quasi-objects, which are both socially fabricated, but are also part of the “hard” parts of nature. (footnote 2) “Hard” refers to grounded facts in this context, whereas its counterpart “soft” refers to fluid social constructs. Comparative as to how the concept of the quasi-object captures the possibility of objects having different components of meaning, Rozbiewska’s sculpture expresses how reality can consist of varying degrees of “hardness” and “softness”.
The sculpture consists of wooden geometrical, angular grayish components, based off of the architectural elements that Rozbiewska observed during her exploration of Tilburg. These parts of the sculpture are solid and dense due to their material, and their shape represents the grounded, empirical components that make up our perception of reality. The sturdy blocks encircle a softer, organic shape made of synthetic foam. It appears as if the slightest touch or gust of wind would change the form altogether. In between are subtle hints of green fabric, its color referencing to nature. The same goes for the choice of wood, but the gray paint almost fully hides the texture and makes the blocks contrast the bright green and light foam even more. The specific choice of materials expresses the hard elements of reality as well as its more soft components in Latour’s sense, symbolizing the components that form one’s reality.
The hard and soft aspects of reality are interwoven, and spring from object-subject relations. Meanings are in fact ambiguous, arbitrary and largely dependent on the cultural disposition of the interpreting subject. Whilst talking about the role of objects in the process of meaning making, the scholar Karen Barad argues that objects are not passive entities. In her text (2003) Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matterobjects are in fact active agents that constitute their own meaning during the process of intra-action with other subjects. (footnote 3) The difference with conventional interaction is that the object-subject relation is reciprocal instead of one-sided. As a result, objects have agency regarding their potential meaning. The relation between object and subject is a constant process of becoming, and is inevitable when it comes to connecting the hard and soft aspects of reality.
Rozbiewska’s work Untitled I captures this inherent process of becoming, arguing that our perceived reality consists of both harder and softer parts and is shaped through the intra-action between objects and subjects. This work is an interpretation of reality, made solid within the materials and shapes of this sculpture. The selection of materials is essential here, as they demand a certain way of looking at the work. In other words, the materials impel agency. “Reality” is expressed through the materials’ visual and haptic characteristics as well as through the symbolic meanings of the wood, foam and fabric. In many ways, this work can be considered a meta-reflection on Rozbiewska’s work and oeuvre as a whole, showing how reality can be multifaceted and constantly shifting in terms of meaning. Thingness
The oscillating relation between matter and meaning is a dominant theme in the exhibition. Whereas Untitled I could be considered a meta-reflection on reality and meaning, Rozbiewska actively plays around with existing realities by distorting the material properties of objects in the other two works that are part of The Tales That Follow. In doing so, she shifts their meaning. At the core of these sculptures is finding the liminality between identifiable, finite objects on the one hand, and unidentifiable, infinite things on the other.
The works Untitled II and Untitled III are both abstracted forms of user goods, respectively derived from the original shape of a wooden bathtub and the metal railing from a staircase. Looking at these original objects, it can be argued that their meaning to us is predominantly determined by their purpose. Its meaning therefore equals its usefulness. How this perception of usefulness is constructed, can be explained through the division that the scholar Donald Norman makes between an object’s affordances and its perceived affordances.
In (1999) Affordances, Conventions and Design, Norman distinguishes the affordances of an object as derived from their material form, and the perceived affordances that the recipient attributes to an object. The perceived affordances are largely based on the user’s individual cultural disposition. (footnote 4) Quite often there is a gap between an object’s affordances and its perceived affordances. The material shape and properties of an object allow the user to utilize the object for various purposes, but someone’s cultural disposition frames his or her ideas on the object’s usefulness and uses. However, the material shape and properties of an object potentially lend themselves to be used for purposes other than the ones dictated by one’s cultural disposition. The most iconic example of this can perhaps be found inThe Little Mermaid, where Ariel is confronted with the strange and alien objects from the surface world, using one of these as a hair comb, whereas viewers will recognize it as a silver fork.
Droll examples like these aside, our experience, education and shared cultural memory make sure that most often an object is not misused in such a way. Therefore it will not be recognized as one of the perceived affordances of the object. Nevertheless, this distinction between the object’s affordances and its perceived affordances does indeed put the emphasis on the importance of an object’s material properties within the process of attributing meaning. An importance that is being highlighted in Rozbiewska’s two sculptures.
Whilst exploring the relationship between matter and meaning from the perspective of the “usefulness” associated with objects, Rozbiewska investigates the influence of material properties on the process of attributing meaning. By means of abstracting, ellipting or distorting, her work approaches the thin line between recognition and estrangement. This experience can be explained through the lens of Bill Brown's theory on “thingness”.
In (2001) Thing Theory, Brown first coins the term “thingness” as being an experience of liminality. Referring to Cornelius Castoriadis, Brown argues that in our interaction with the reality around us, we “project” certain meaning onto the world in order to make sense of it. One way in which we do this is by labeling things as specific objects. (footnote 5) Nevertheless, from time to time, objects can “escape” or “resist” the subject’s attempts to categorize it due to their own agency. It is this moment of transition Brown describes as the experience of “thingness”, in which the subject still recognizes an object, yet simultaneously gets estranged from it. (footnote 6) The liminality between object and thing, figurable and unfigurable, nameable and unneamable.
The experience of this liminality is a motive that recurs in Untitled II and Untitled III, but also throughout the entirety of Iwona Rozbiewska’s oeuvre. She uses this feeling of simultaneous estrangement and recognition in order to create fictional, even surreal experiences through her work. To achieve this effect, she meticulously distorts and alters the shape of familiar objects. She investigates how the change in material properties and setting influences the affective experience of the sculptures. Untitled II, the bathtub, no longer has a bottom and consists of two dislocated and angled surfaces—one of them slanting downwards, the other transitioning into a sharp metal edge. It no longer represents a cozy place for a soothing bath. Untitled III, the railing, is missing its staircase altogether; its supporting metal beams gone and displaced onto the wall and floor. It is almost completely reduced to a minimalized expression of movement. Taken from its usual context, the railing is put in a different light. Properties easily overlooked before now have the chance to come to the foreground, since the focus is not on the use of the object anymore. Although the original shapes and forms of the bathtub and the railing faintly resonate within these minimal sculptures, their original purpose and usefulness is completely distorted, creating a sense of liminality. The Tales That Follow
In The Tales that Follow Iwona Rozbiewska touches upon the fields of metaphysics and ontology. She reconsiders the process of attributing meaning to objects, while actively revealing the role materiality plays in this. Untitled I can be seen as a “quasi-object”, in Latour’s sense, as it reflects on the hard and soft parts of reality. Moreover, the wooden blocks, cushiony foam and smooth fabric can be seen as an abstracted materialization of reality. In the works Untitled II and Untitled III, Rozbiewska demonstrates the agency that objects insist in relation to subjects. That is to say, the shape and material of an object are essential in the meaning someone attributes to it. A second factor in this process is the cultural disposition of the subject. Rozbiewska alienates familiar forms, that of a bathtub and a staircase railing, by slightly changing their materiality and context. In doing so, she changes their usefulness and, hence, their meaning. In other words, she plays with the cultural disposition regarding familiar objects. In Brown’s words, she finds the ultimate expression of “thingness”, as the works impose a feeling of liminality—making The Tales that Follow an immersive experience of “in-between-ness”.
Sources:
  • Brown, B. (2001) “Thing Theory”, in: (2001) Critical Inquiry 28.1.
  • Barad, K. (2003) “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter”, in: (2003) Signs28.3.
  • Latour, B. (1993) “The Parliament of Things”, in: (1993) We Have Never Been ModernCambridge: Havard University Press.
  • Norman, D. (1999) “Affordance, Conventions, and Design”, in: (1993)Interactions6 (3).http://www.e-ope.ee/_download/euni_repository/file/3232/Content.zip/Content/Articles/norman-1999.pdf(28-09-15). 
1Brown, B. (2001) “Thing Theory”, in: Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): p. 4-5.
2Latour, B. (1993) “The Parliament of Things”, in: We Have Never Been ModernCambridge: Havard University Press: p. 142-145.
3Barad, K. (2003) “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter”, in: Signs. 28.3: p. 820.
4Norman, D. (1999) Affordances, Convention and Design.http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=301168(17 December 2016).
5Brown, B. (2001) “Thing Theory”, in: Critical Inquiry 28.1: p. 8-9. 6Brown, B. (2001): p. 3-5.