Woman Artist to Woman Artist
Beata Marcinkowska – Barbara Kaczorowska
Painting with earth, co-creation and female topos
Beata Marcinkowska: Within the Woman Artist to Woman Artist project, I am talking today to Basia Kaczorowska, an artist from Łódź. My first question is: How do you know that you are an artist?
Barbara Kaczorowska: I don’t yet know if I am. I have a problem with both the first part of the question “if I am”, because I feel that it happens in process, and with the second one, “an artist”. That word generally intimidates me and I don’t know if I will ever achieve such perfection. It’s the same with you. Everything is in process and at some point we both started this process.
BM: Exactly, I have the same dilemma. I was wondering how to hold this conversation and the word “artist” is crucial here. I realise that I am an artist when I have to write my bio. It is a very important word and I feel it whenever I write that I am an intermedia artist.
The second question that comes to my mind is: When did you realise that you were an artist? That might help us identify that moment when we both became artists.
BK: You know, I could say that it happened a long time ago and very recently. Just like you, we both chose this life path at some point. It sounds terribly pathetic. I’d like to take back these words, but, well, I’ve already said them. But we had such a plan that among various possibilities, we noticed that we drew, we painted, we were interested in visuality, and we both chose such education. You and I graduated from the same school, didn’t we?
BM: Yes, we did.
BK: But we also did it with a baby in tow, didn’t we?
BM: Yes, actually throughout studies. I remember you, Basia, with a baby. You probably don’t remember me, because I graduated from the Academy a bit earlier. It was a challenge. For me it was very significant, as I recall that moment now. And having a baby gave me even more determination. I knew I wanted to join the Academy and then graduate, so I was very motivated already. More work, but I also knew why I was doing it. Did you feel it this way, too?
BK: Yes, but for me being a mother is connected with being an artist, in such a context that… I don’t know. Has anything unpleasant ever happened to you in connection to this situation? I have been asked whether being a mother, especially at such a young age, I can also be an artist, whether this path is not already closed for me? For me, being an artist is also about answering the question of how to combine being a mother and having an artistic profession, which is not a typical one. Let’s say from the outset that this is an activity that deprives, spreads. Not in a negative sense, but it is simply a whole-life project.
BM: Yes, you cannot be an artist occasionally, you are an artist all the time. You cannot separate the roles that we have. Mothers, partners and what I have been preparing for all my life. Since I was a girl I have known that I want to do it because it was the greatest fun to be able to create and express myself. It was obvious to me and I had a lot of support from my parents. That’s why I was so determined and couldn’t see a different idea for myself.
Okay, then maybe let’s leave aside the topic of defining ourselves as artists. Yet, we both express ourselves through art and I would like to know something about your work, Basia. Could you describe what you do?
We are surrounded by various props and your works, because I will say it right from the beginning that these are your works.
BK: The scenery is not accidental. Sand, and, more broadly, earth… I am interested in earth on every level. On a basic one, which is underfoot. And I need it so much as material for my creative process. I use sand, earth, soil, loose material that I find on the ground. But earth is also fine for me as a context, as a metaphor. Earth as our motherland, Planet Earth. This is where we come from.
DEMETER AND VENUS OF WILLENDORF
I like all stories connected with Mother Earth, the primordial mother, with the topos of Earth goddesses. The story of Demeter is very close to my heart. And here I have to come back to you, because I know that you also work with an old topos. I think we make a good match, because we have our points, our hooks.
BM: Yes, Basia, you are very close to me. Although I don’t use earth as my material, I am inspired by something that has a lot in common with Mother Earth, a symbol of mother, motherhood.
Let me dig my inspiration out of this earth, out of this sand we have here. This is a replica of Venus of Willendorf.
BK: May I hold her?
BM: There you go. She is very nice to hold. The first time I was delighted with her was at the Natural History Museum. And so she stayed with me. I thought one day while searching a theme, inspiration for a large series I had been making, that she would be a perfect model and inspiration for my work. Venus, actually this Venus figurine has been my guide for many years. I am very attached to her. I use her image in my works.
And you, Basia, which goddess would you refer to?
BK: I have already mentioned Demeter. She is the goddess of Earth, the goddess of harvest, but it is also a feminine story, because it is a story of a mother, a working mother. The goddess Demeter takes care of nature from morning to night, she makes sure the world runs as it should. Unfortunately she leaves her offspring, her daughter Kora at home. The story of Demeter and Kora is sad and tragic. I have this story in my head. As a working woman dealing with the world, Earth, I have it deep in my heart. But it is also a universal story about different women, their fates and a story that can be told in a female voice. Many of the topoi we deal with are masculine, stories told from a position of struggle, strength, earth in the context of possession. But through this story you can talk about relationships, about feelings, about your place in the world. In a world that is in a way lost, but also regained. So this story is very important for me. I am looking for such stories.
BM: When talking about earth and these stories, we should refer to a place. They are connected to specific places, aren’t they?
BK: Yes, because I acquire this soil from specific locations.
BM: It should be added here that you use soil as your material.
BK: Before my objects, paintings or artistic books are created, painted and made from earth, I have to acquire this soil. The place is never accidental. Each project takes place in a specific context of a specific story. They are different stories of a small community, sometimes very close to me. You know my exhibition De terra, which was presented in the Bałuty district. I live there and this was working with my own story. But I also work with stories that happen a bit further away from me. Where I am basically an observer. I am running a long-term project in Szczekociny. It is quite far from Łódź. My projects have also gone beyond the Polish borders and I have also told these stories there. I told them with the earth that could be found in a given place. It is also important to me how I acquire it, where I get it from. I take great care to ensure that my interference is unnoticeable, ecologically neutral for the place, so I use shovels to gently dig the surface, take a small amount of material, and then prepare it.
KITCHEN AS A PERFECT STUDIO
BM: Well, that’s very interesting, this painting with soil. I’m trying to imagine it. Could you describe it…? What tools do you use? I don’t see brushes here, and yet you are talking about painting. We have your works here and this is also painting with earth, isn’t it? What does it look like from the technical standpoint? If you can tell us the secret of course.
BK: I can. Most of the objects here are more associated with a kitchen than with a painter’s workshop. And when I bring such soil, sand to the place where I intend to create, I prepare it and make it suitable for the artistic process. Sometimes I have to grind it, sometimes I have to spill it here so that it becomes finer. I also sometimes need an oven to dry soil.
BM: Actually, the kitchen is a perfect studio.
BK: And having the material prepared in this way, I can spread, glue, attach this soil. How I do it is my workmanship secret.
BM: Of course, I am not going to ask any more questions. There are some tools around. Some of them are kitchen tools, but others look like from a dentist’s office.
BK: In fact, more like from a surgeon’s office. Such surgical spoons. They’re small enough for me to apply soil precisely.
BM: Storage jars… Tell me where do you get soil from? How much soil do you use for your works?
BK: Here is a small part of the collection. I ask my friends to bring soil from different places. This one is from Corfu, but there is also soil from Vancouver, from Poland, from Tomaszów Mazowiecki. Very different types of soil. Sometimes I use these collections. But I also collect for the sake of collecting. I’m simply fascinated by earth.
BM: Exactly, I can see two ways of collecting here. If I get it right, you collect to have different stocks of soil which has very interesting in colour and texture. You’ve also talked about the places from which you acquire soil. From specific places, regardless of what that soil looks like.
BK: Yes, and then I am very consistent. Even if it seems at first that the colour range is narrow, or maybe unsatisfactory, I still consistently use this material that I have found. And what do I need it for? I’ve already said that I work with a story. The story is carried on. In fact, earth is not the only carrier. Although earth, you have to know, has its geological history and in a given place is unique in relation to other places. But we also know that it is processed by man. It is even hard to think of a piece of earth that has not been processed in some way, moved by human activity. So I also record human history. People regard certain location as their place on earth, because they live there, they come from there. So these kinds of stories attract me. These stories are usually discovered in relation to other people. The ones who are in a particular place. They’re people who live there, or are connected to that place in some other way.
BM: Could you say something about the works we have here? About the works that are behind me in the background? This is also a very interesting story and it’s about the place that you live in, that you draw energy from, that you create in. I’m talking about the place, the address of residence, the street. Please say something about these works. I know them from your exhibition, and now they are our set decoration.
PORTRAITS PAINTED WITH EARTH
BK: These are works for which I acquired soil from the street which is closest to me. On the one hand, these works illustrate the course of the street, but on the other, it is a set, a collection of works, portraits of women who live in Zula Pacanowska Street in the Bałuty district of Łódź. These portraits are presented in large numbers, in this way.
BM: Exactly, these are fragments.
BK: Fragments of faces.
BM: So you can imagine that there is another part somewhere. And that’s what I am also always interested in when I watch your exhibitions and see such a jigsaw puzzle of not fully assembled faces of the same people. In various configurations there is always a part of the face adjacent to a completely different part of another face. There are whole walls of such works which you present. What is the idea behind this type of presentation? Not whole portraits, but their fragments.
BK: That’s the idea of a group portrait. These are always people who belong to a certain, specific set. In this case – female neighbours from one street. Women of different ages, different professions, different female roles. And the effect is that of a jigsaw puzzle. Even when you look at the whole wall from a distance, you have the impression that you are standing in front of a nonrepresentational work. This is a conscious procedure. Not only is it nonrepresentational, but it’s also very close to a well-known idea. The idea which is popularised in Łódź, for example by our Academy. We grow out of it, these are simply our roots. The avantgarde and the idea of Unism. Which means working with a painting composition where no element of the picture, no fragment of the plane would be more important than others. This suits me fine on the level of artistic representation, but also ideologically. I wouldn’t like to distinguish any person that I portray. They are all equally important. What is more, by being compiled in this way, they illustrate a set not only of themselves, not only of the people I manage to portray, but also of everyone else. I wasn’t able to portray all the women of Zula Pacanowska Street, but my female models also became figures of all those women who live there.
BM: So this is such a symbolic capture of all the women of Zula Pacanowska Street.
BK: Yes, and also emphasising that we are all important. This collection also includes me, so I think I’m just as important as other women who live there.
I have also painted a collective portrait of stories that are not pleasant. They are often traumatic. For example, the story of the Szczekocin Jews. They don’t live there any more, this is a story from the past. But that story affects our present. So I have also created this kind of collection. I’ve also worked with themes of the avantgarde, with themes of communities with different national identities, mixed, Ukrainian-Polish, Ukrainian-Jewish-Polish.
Showing that we all fit into a certain collective, none of us is more important than someone else and we can all be together.
BM: Are you able to say how many such portraits you have already created?
BK: Well, I am not sure how to count it. Whether to count by models or to count by series.
BM: By series maybe.
BK: I think a dozen or so. I’ve worked several times with different stories. Even before the portrait series I worked with the strategy of a baedeker. That is, an artistic guidebook, an artistic book, where it was not me who portrayed people, but they poured the pages of the guidebook, using this earth technique.
BM: A guidebook – an artistic book.
BK: Yes, an artistic book.
BM: And then you worked in different places. I know your Baedekers and I know that they were made in Silesia, for example, and they have a beautiful shelfback made of coal. What other Baedekers were made and what is the idea behind these guides with the shelfback and cover made by you and the contents created by the participants you met? I think it’s also important to emphasise that you work with others. Not only are you an artist working with matter, with material and communing with your work, but you also work with people.
BK: And it connects us.
BM: It connects us because it is true about me, too. And I love it a lot, too.
BK: Yeah, and it’s also so supportive, nice.
BK: Something extra that you get. There’s an immediate response from your viewers. Some activities are performed right away, with the audience, with the viewers, with the participants of workshops, campaigns, activities. I have made Baedekers in various places, both in Poland and Europe. In Latvia, Italy, Holland, Lithuania. So there is a big collection here. Each time it was a different group of viewers. From children through adults, students.
BM: That’s what I wanted to ask. Is it only children?
BK: I think that I just work well with different groups. There is always a story to discover. And I don’t have a preference for age or method of work. There are times when meetings are a huge challenge, but I think that’s the whole beauty of the process, isn’t it? That’s the kind of surprise you get from meeting another person. I think that’s very close to you.
BM: Very close and I love those surprises. They are so amazing. But also this work with inanimate matter sometimes involves a lot of surprises and struggle with matter. But working with other people has this aspect of additional energy and immediate feedback and potential which we can also draw on. This is additionally inspiring for me, it recharges my batteries. I always think: great, it’s worth doing this, because reception is good and you can see that each time participants get something for themselves. It is not tangible, but you can feel it. This is also present in the feedback.
And you have specific objects, thanks to such cooperation, your Baedekers, your guides to places.
BK: Yes, because I want to say one more thing – co-creation is very important to me. We started with the question of whether I feel like an artist, whether I am an artist. There is a huge area of my work with the audience where I try to cover, almost literally, with this earth, the distance between who is a creator and who, at least on at the beginning, is not.
I believe that this is why we meet in creative situations, that at some point it is no longer important who has experience or artistic education and who does not, and that we do something that becomes a work, a joint work, co-creation. To my mind co-creating with someone is a perfect situation.
BM: So we are talking about what is here and now, how we create. The place, the material, the matter and so on, it’s all so tangible. Have you ever thought about what you are going to do in the future, in a few years? About your further artistic path? What will it look like?
BK: When you ask me that, it makes me think: who will you be when you grow up?
BM: Exactly, maybe when you grow up even more.
BK: I’m wondering… It is a kind of adventure. It is open. I don’t know how it will end up. See how things have changed over the course of a year, but also a few years. Take our conversation for example. We started by talking about female artists. Probably a few years ago you would have asked me about being an artist. See how our language changes, how our perspective changes. So maybe this change will be even more radical. It’s hard for me to say.
BM: How do you see your creative, artistic future?
BK: I think it will be even more open. I assume that in the creative process, I don’t have to be the most important person. My viewers may be more important than myself. Very often I don’t know how my activities will end up. Now, for example, there is an activity that I have been doing for many years. The works I made, a collection of portraits, were exhibited a few years ago and became such a nomad. At the moment – another exhibition and I am showing the same work to the same community. There is a plan, which has already started to be put into practice, to give these works to the families or relatives of the people portrayed.
BM: With the soil from the place where these people live. So the soil will come back to them and these portraits.
BK: There is a bitter aspect here, earth cannot return to these people because they passed away some time ago. This is a story, a story about them. But there are families, relatives who want to accept it. To accept such a gift. At the same time, the community that is now hosting this series of works, I hope, will enter into the process and will also enter into the preparation, sending, wandering. I have no idea how and when it will end. And it’s also great that it doesn’t all depend on me – what the final project will look like. Well, it depends on the individuals who I invited to participate at various stages, or who invited me. And I think that I am not afraid of such a path of art, or such a way of female artists where the influence of the artist will be smaller and there will be more of various other beings, individuals. I think even more broadly than just human beings who will accompany us in the creative process, and perhaps we will have to define the creative process differently. Maybe we will have to move from this Earth into space?
BM: Exactly, it just popped out at me, because you are Earth, I am Venus, we can make a rocket and go into space together. If you asked me how I imagine the future, I wouldn’t be able to give the answer right now, either. I think I prefer to live for today and make some short-term plans. But who knows, maybe the outer space indeed, because it’s all changing so quickly. We will build a rocket and fly into space.
Thank you for this meeting, for this insanely inspiring, great and creative conversation.
BK: No, the pleasure is all mine. We co-created the meeting. A meeting is also something creative, so thanks a lot.
BM: Thanks. So? We’re going to create something.
Interlocutors: Beata Marcinkowska with Basia Kaczorowska
Video and editing: Krzysztof Lewandowski