Magdalena Dukiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland and now lives and works in Brooklyn, where she practices (and frequently exhibits) a unique form of multimedia sculpture. A forthcoming artist in residence at Pioneer Works (Fall 2023) and fresh off her fall 2022 group exhibition: Darwin’s Paradox: A Decade of Bio Art, SVA Flatiron Gallery, Dukiewicz opened a solo show at Ivy Brown Gallery on December 8, 2022, called “Body Turns Object.”
Dukiewicz uses only half of the gallery’s floor space, which makes for an intimate introduction to this showing of subtly autobiographical works. In fact, the exhibition transcribes a life story on a biological level, as the artist uses parts of her own body throughout the works on view. These personal elements further invigorate an already lively set of wall, floor, and suspended sculptures, all of which are simply entitled “Object” or “Framed,” leaving considerable room for interpretation.
The color palette stays minimal, and the materials comprise an exploratory range of media. Objects #1- #5 are largely constructed of welded metal, and the artist’s hair; Objects #6- #9, are eerie and ethereal things, floating off the walls and casting multi-colored shadows from their translucent red layers made from hydrolyzed collagen and the artist’s blood. Taking in the room in as whole, Object #8 is of particularly haunting interest, as an undulating red form with a bubbling surface floats within a suspended steel frame at the center of the space. Perhaps it is a deconstructed hearth, or even a cauldron; either make for a fitting focal point to begin understanding these works. The exhibition has much to say about the female body and the female experience, both the fabled and the version rooted in today’s reality.
An eye-catching place to start this exploration are light box sculptures: Framed #1, #2, and #3. Electricity is an apt allegory for making Dukiewicz’s objects come alive and making them female. Soft dots of LED string lights glow through delicate membranes of translucent material (hydrolyzed collagen and glycerin), pulled taut by wooden frames. The calm pulses of light recall the bioluminescence of sea creatures, or simply that quality of “glowing” which is so often associated with feminine beauty. The Framed series offers quiet sanctuary to stand near, and simultaneously, these objects beckoning loudest. Like all the objects in the room, they are human conduits telling a human story, here, viewed through a feminist lens.
As serene and resolute sources of light, these works feel somehow representative of the female body. Likewise, the relationship between the materials allows various readings into the multifaceted female experience as it appears throughout art history. In one reading, the idea of light shining out from beneath many barriers might speak to the obstacles of “otherness” and the burden of not being fully seen. In another, the idea that many veils obscure an intriguing brightness might suggest the eroticism of concealing and revealing, as if those sheets of hydrolyzed collagen and glycerin are the gossamer sheaths of fabric covering yesterday’s painted women. The Framed sculptures can even bring forward the idea that something precious is protected beneath many layers: in short, wombs, humming with life amidst a company of impregnable wood and metal. A few outer layers cling to the surface as their corners peel away, adding texture to both object and narrative. These smaller outer layers, the most vulnerable and tender little parts of these bodies, lift off the central forms and seem to tremble, conjuring up any number of metaphors about the female anatomy.
Dukiewicz furthers her suggestive narratives through unlikely material pairings. The strength of the wood and light structural elements contrasts the delicate application of the hydrolyzed collagen and glycerin sheeting that gives the works character. These antithetical materials illuminate other concerns within a feminist discourse. They challenge notions of frailty vs sturdiness; they present the unassuming in great tension with the assertive. Objects #6-9, present an impossible balance between the delicate and the stable. The use of blood suggests violence and vulnerability, while the reaching, bubbling shapes that the blood flows through remain filled with energy and purpose. They are at once open wounds and long-healed scar tissue. In all uses of hydrolyzed collagen and glycerin, there is a sense that “thin skin” is being tested and will ultimately triumph.
Dukiewicz also calls upon hair, recognizing it as a fixation and a fetish throughout art and societal history. All hair is the artist’s own, which becomes a compelling way to represent time passing. She has meticulously collected it from a young age and invites the viewer to watch its transformation from object to object. Hair serves as her most pronounced message of agency and bodily autonomy. Rather than adhering to the contours of their metal structures, each lock of hair redirects the metal, sprouting through reluctant openings like weapons might find a chink in a suit of armor. Take Object #1, in which entire locks of brunette hair slice through and spill down over a thin organically curved steel plate affixed to the wall. Another deconstructed female body, Object #1 suggests that that which is physically softest is also the strongest. The viewer can easily find a bust form, a pelvic form, or even an entire figure twisting in motion in the steel shell. The hair falling in fountains over this shell, giving it an architectural reading as well: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or urban ruins overtaken by nature. The hair seems more permanent than the metal.
There is humor too in the use of hair. Several objects call to mind a child at play; in Object #3, streamers of blonde hair erupt from a thin steel pipe like ribbons on a baton; in Object #4, a honeycomb-like structure of steel cups cradles round balls of hair, giving the sweet impression that each ball has been placed in its own small home. These playful elements however serve to point at the more serious nature of the work. It defies expectation that the diaphanous material of hair would dominate a scene of mostly metal. The hair might be playing a game, but it is winning.
In Body Turns Object, and throughout Dukiewicz’s growing body of work, the artist hosts a conversation on identity through abstraction. In her own words, “self vs other” is always present. Visiting Body Turns Object, otherness, and identity manifests for –again in her own words– “self-aware woman in a patriarchal society.” She builds on an entire visual history of the iconography used to represent the female body and female condition and brings them into a modern context. The works defy the opposition between hardness and softness, between weakness and strength, and most significantly, between artist and art subject. By using objects derived from her body, Dukiewicz reclaims the artistic control that has for too long served to objectify the female subject.
- Allison Green, December 28, 2022
Images courtesy of the artist and Ivy Brown Gallery