Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I’m based in Warsaw, Poland. I work from my basement studio, where I can spend hours on end sketching, painting, sowing or messing around with odds and ends that get incorporated in my installations. I studied History of Art before enrolling in the Cracow Fine Arts Academy and then transferring to Warsaw, where I am now a Teaching Assistant at the Academy here. Over the last year I started venturing into curatorship, collaborating on some site-specific, shows in central Warsaw, which has been fascinating (if a bit scary, for the fear of cuts to electricity supply or a police intervention ;-).
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to create art or consume art. It’s always been an integral part of my life and identity.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Even though my studio at first seemed a dream come true, it is now rapidly growing short on space! I’m quite prolific and I like to experiment with all sorts of materials and objects, so things pile up. But I love the fact that having the studio in my house allows me to be ‘always on’ – each time I have a brainwave or an idea, I can run downstairs to put this into practice. It can be addictive and is not good for boundaries, but it’s hard to be an artist with office hours!
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I tackle various themes, through various methods. Typically, I’d work in cycles: picking a theme, working through it creatively, until I feel it’s been exhausted. Over the years I’ve been through a number of those: exploring victimisation, particularly around victims of domestic violence and the emotional baggage expressed through physical manifestations of it. I then moved into childhood dreams, nightmares, imaginations and broader perceptions to convey their vividness and colour. Next I spent a long time on a cycle of works marrying influences from cave paintings and primitive symbolism and modern-day street and semi-vandalism art, to treat themes around evolving sexuality and representations of masculinity in signs and symbols. My latest cycle revolves around inherited trauma and magical and ritualistic ways of dealing with it – more on that later.
There’s been a dramatic shift for me last year in two ways – I’ve weaned off painting in favour of soft sculpture and installations, and I started experimenting with curatorship.
What is your process like?
It’s typically driven by emotions: to arouse my interest, a given theme must have an emotional impact on me. When that happens, I then spend a lot of time reading, researching, taking notes, making sketches etc. My paintings are preceded by many sketches, normally of constituent parts or sections rather than the entire composition, which I tend to complete in one go, working expressively and spontaneously. It’s risky, as my technique (egg tempera) does not permit many corrections, so things need to workout from the first strike. The upside is that I am prolific, and can produce quite a good number of works in relatively condensed time.
My installation process is more cumbersome, it involves more experimentation, gathering of materials, replacing components with others, plenty of sawing and knitting things together, so it can take a long time for a piece to be completed. Though there can be a few that just come together immediately, as if by magic. That’s quite rare 😉
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Lately I’ve been exploring the theme of inherited trauma, and unorthodox, magical ways of battling it. According to some epigeneticists, traumas and fears can be passed across generations through cellular and epigenetic memory. Such inheritance is a burden affecting people’s health, cognition and perceptions of reality. Research into this phenomenon is conducted primarily on members of families that had experienced profound suffering during World War II, such as concentration camp and Holocaust survivors. These people have been noted to produce stress hormones in a particular fashion, creating anxiety syndromes. Hormonal abnormalities are known to persist among members of three generations that succeed the original traumatic experiences, and it is only the third generation in line which is capable of dealing with the cellular trauma, healing the wounds and reducing suffering. This in turn can break the chain of hereditary trauma and prevent further generations from inheriting it.
My installation features various means of combatting inherited trauma, including shamanic theories, magic rituals and healing properties of animals and stones. I use mountain crystals, as ones with immense healing properties; snake imagery – as a controversial semi-divine entity suspended between masculinity and femininity, between the astral and the earthly – not unlike a shaman who in his rituals and meditations straddles the two worlds; and dream catchers – a magical object, centrepiece of traditional beliefs of American Indians, typically placed in spaces designated for sleeping or near entrances. Its role was to filter dreams, and only let through ones that allowed peaceful sleep.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
An installation about hair related disorders, for which I had to collect human hair for the local hairdresser (he asked no questions), horse hair from a racing stables and fresh lambswool garnished with equally fresh manure from the farmer. No animals were harmed in the making of the installation! Though nostrils of some audience members may have been affected…
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I am a teaching assistant at the Warsaw Fine Arts Academy, so I never get to leave the field of art behind! I do enjoy it as it keeps me constantly exposed to new stimuli, allows me to see how other people view things and create. And to try to guide them constructively, balancing constructive feedback and autonomy.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Listen to your inner artistic voice: always try to do what you feel like doing, rather that what you think you should be doing. Tangible success is hard to come by, but authenticity can only help.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I work for hours on end, pretty much every day. When I paint, I tend to listen to music. When I work on the laborious elements of my installations, I use the time to listen to audiobooks and lectures relevant to the subject of the installation.
My Maine Coon cat (Ryszard) is my inseparable studio companion, always there, offering a very focused and knowledgeable stare 😉
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I am institutionally biased here, as a current employee of an Art School ;-). Having been through a non-artistic degree, I found art studies liberating. And although they may not work for everyone, I think most artists will find something very valuable in them, unless they happen to come across a stifling school or professor.
How would you define “success” in art?
A few years back I would say that what I have accomplished to date would be ‘success’. Now I really don’t think so. So I think its’ an evolving perception and I would not like to define it too tightly.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
My recent curatorial work has been very exciting. Along with my friend Michalina Sablik we managed to string together three very well received and impactful exhibitions in Central Warsaw. With no support, sponsorship or budgets. It’s been a fantastic learning curve to collaborate on the evolution of an abstract idea, to selection of artists, working with them to select works, and finally to the final spatial arrangements, specific to site. Fascinating process.
Find more on Instagram @aleksandraliput!