Images take up most of the space in our memory and they become our most
valuable deposit. The memory of images is the ability to recall those
images fixed in the human mind which always belong to the past. Our mind,
just like photography, registers only those events that passed. Memory
- which is obvious - is inseparably connected with time, its unstoppable
passage and everything that invariably happens in it - it is a constant
transformation of the present into the past.
The most recent project by Wiesław Barszczak called Łagiewniki, shown
for the first time at our current exhibition, touches many aspects of
the problem of memory and photography. The quotation from St Augustine
cited at the beginning of this text refers to human memory, to its nature
which constitutes our identity in the personal and metaphysical dimension.
We can extend the power of the workings of memory onto photography which
can serve memory and which in itself is one of its forms. "Photography
as memory" is a trivial and not a very revealing metaphor but this does
not change the fact that this is what a photograph is - every photograph,
the intentions of its author notwithstanding. Photography is a specific
form of memory, limited by its nature as a single registration of a small
fragment of time and space, unimaginably small in comparison with the
whole. Photography means memory of something, but of someone as well,
because each photograph also belongs to the memory of its author even
when the image lurking in the negative will never be revealed. In order
to take a photograph one must first look and see. Everything that is essential
for photography takes place between looking and seeing. Photography registers
what is seen - at least such are the intentions of photographers. However,
there is a difference between what is seen and what is photographed. The
latter is always something else and something larger than the former.
Before taking a picture we usually see less than what is later registered
in the photograph. This is because we look and see using the "eyes" of
memory in the same way that it preserves images - that is, selectively.
Reflecting on the nature of the power of human memory, St Augustine was
writing in the times when he did not yet have an ally in the form of a
photographic image. Imagine how much more powerful can memory be and how
the power of images can be enhanced with the help of the memory of photography!
Is this dual power, combined in the human experience of time, always realized
and made use of? It seems not. Only few artists use it in order to excavate
from the past whatever is important and needed for our existence to retain
the necessary continuity of presence in time. One of such artists, who
has been struggling with those two powers nearly from the beginning of
his career, is Wiesław Barszczak, the Author of our current exhibition.
The basic elements of Barszczak's works are combinations of single
photographs. However, a single photograph is helpless in the face of the
unimaginable number of images that each of us preserves in memory and
in the face of the great number of images that can be photographed at
all. This is the weakness, but also the strength of photography. From
this multitude of really and potentially existing images a single photograph
selects one single image and preserves it precisely along with all its
details. One detailed photograph may reveal something that usually escapes
the registration of our memory or everyday perception. It may become an
important element of the reconstruction of past events, reaching beyond
the spatial and temporal limits of a single frame.
photographic art functions precisely within such relations and applications.
Photographs from which he creates his diptychs and triptychs are deliberately
imperfect - out of focus, sometimes blurry. Photographic processes continue
to take place in them long after the artist's work in the darkroom has
been finished, changing the contents and the appearance of the photographs.
One really has to look closely at the works presented at this exhibition
and devote time to them - we must let ourselves be imbibed by those works.
Only then will they requite us by magically setting in motion the images
of our own memory, imperfect and vague, which we have forgotten completely
in the stream of everyday life along with past emotions that we have dimly
registered in memory. However, we should not look for details, concrete
contents or a legible sense in those works because even though they are
present in them, they can be discovered only in relation to the singular
memory of their Author. Their value lies in setting in motion the processes
of the spectator's own memory.
Barszczak works along the lines of the
mechanisms of memory. He forces the photographic process to register images
in spite of its media qualities, making the photographs blurry, unclear,
unexpected and devoid of details. He is aiming at making the spectator
feel that he himself is present where the photograph was taken, he is
aiming at evoking an emotion that is similar - but not the same - to the
emotion that the Author felt when taking the photograph. Equally important
part of this process is reconstruction, the recollection of the past spatial
and temporal situation as well as of the emotion that came into being
in this particular place and time. Barszczak strives to preserve in his
works both those elements, equally important from his point of view -
the spatial/temporal and the emotional one. It seems that he intends to
recreate these impressions every time he or the spectator comes into intimate
contact with these images and sets in motion the mechanisms of the memory
In Barszczak's works each single image is somehow connected
with the neighbouring one, it results from or refers to it. A single image
by means of its illegibility or close relations with other images initiates
the process of combining images into a memory conceived as a whole. However,
in order for this process to work we must engage not only our imagination
and memory but we must also open up our perception as we do when reading
poetry. We must combine dispersed, fragmented, singular contents that
can be found in those images into a certain whole similar to the structure
of a poetic message. It can be done by filling up the space between words-images.
In order to do this we must reach beyond more or less literal contents
of the images and abandon conventional, habitual ways of perceiving photography
in which everything seems so legible, obvious and unambiguous.
projects by Wiesław Barszczak come into being slowly and they are always
deeply rooted in his private biography. Photography which is a tool that
allows us to make contact with time and the external world also serves
to reconstruct our personal entanglements within this world. The unusual
way in which the image is edited and partial non-closure of photochemical
processes enrich the aforementioned temporal relations, pointing to their
new aspects as well as to the changes which the passing time and the photochemical
processes cause within the images themselves. Each time we return to them
we actually return to slightly different, altered images. This is similar
to the workings of our memory in which those images change slightly every
time they are recalled. We can never remember one and the same image in
exactly the same way. The image changes just like in time the images in
the works of the Author change unnoticed. Unexpectedness, incompleteness
and chance present in his works also help to preserve spontaneousness,
continuity and changeability of a passing glance.
contain one more universal and existential aspect - an intense feeling
of one's presence in time. The experience of this specific feeling of
being submerged in time - that is in something which is immaterial - is
actually extrasensory as it is not experienced by any of our senses. Such
an experience often results in the feeling of loneliness and separation
from other creatures and beings. The sublimation of this feeling in art
allows us to restore the bonds with the external world and with other
people. In the case of Barszczak's works it is made possible thanks to
the references to his personal memory. He takes advantage of photography's
ability to evoke images and emotions recalled from the depths of our memory.
The literal content of the photographs is not the sole source of this
process. Its true source is memory - human memory and the memory of the
photographic image. On this basis our mind is able to reconstruct something
much more complicated than just the recollection of the image of what
we have forgotten. We have to do here with the ability to take an emotional
journey back into the past and make use of its experiences here and now.
The richness of memory and the richness of past experiences that accumulate
in us layer after layer like a coral reef is the result of the fact that
thanks to their mechanisms we can use them at will at any given time and
anywhere - without always being aware of it. It is an everyday process
which is usually involuntary - a part of our ordinary routine. On the
other hand, something extraordinary and unusual happens when we manage
to combine our everyday exploitation of the riches of memory, necessary
for our practical functioning, with a more sublime form of exploration,
leading to the evocation of feelings and allowing us to feel whatever
time and experience have deposited in our memory.
One of the most effective
means to achieve this state of mind is art - its creation and perception.
A work is a sublimation of the artist's personal experience and while
it enriches him personally it also serves to create a potential opportunity
for the spectator in whom similar processes may be initiated. Barszczak's
works are based on the universality of this process. Not all spectators
must know those places so close to the Author's heart in order to experience
similar emotions in the presence of their images. Every one of us - without
always being aware of this - possesses memories, vague images and the
memory of places which cause this complicated, emotional and intellectual
process connected with the exploitation of memory. Ambiguity, vagueness,
obscurity and unexpectedness of the images in Barszczak's works set in
motion this universal mechanism in the spectator's mind. It depends on
the spectator, on his ability to open up to the message contained in a
given work, how useful and valuable his contact with Wiesław Barszczak's
works will turn out to be.
It would seem that works whose roots and
message are so personal must remain hermetic for the viewer. If this were
the case, however, these modest and seemingly imperfect images would not
find their public. But Barszczak has his spectators. For years now his
parsimonious and difficult works are objects of interest, admiration and
lively reactions on the part of the viewers, although if we asked them
why they like and highly value those works they would probably be unable
to come up with a quick and clear answer. That is because the Author has
found a photographic, universal way of including photography in the mysterious
processes of his own memory and the memory of all those who are willing
to look at his works closely and let their memory play with them endlessly.
Łagiewniki is a magical place of the Author's childhood. We all have such
places although not all of us remember them. Contact with Barszczak's
works may help us to recall them from our memory along with the emotions
they are connected with. This recollection alone is worth poring over
Barszczak's works and following his trail in order to penetrate the somewhat
forsaken memory of the magical places of our own childhood. Not counting
other, artistically important and meaningful aspects of his works, this
personal one may well be the most valuable because it is also universal.
The mechanism and power of Barszczak's art may reveal itself before every
spectator who will open his heart and mind without any prejudice and expectations
in order to explore the poetically vague and unexpected world of the artist's
images and imagination.