'Winter Light' at Southbank Centre turns the place into a visual playground
by Dilpreet BhullarFeb 12, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Hili PerlsonPublished on : Apr 30, 2023
How often are we made to feel acutely aware of the limits of our own power? And which individuals or systems hold such influence over us? In her recent solo exhibition at Chert Lüdde Gallery in Berlin, titled Gallery Power LTD, London-born artist Kasia Fudakowski injects some levity into weighty ruminations on individual power, the extent to which we exert it, and the manifold structures and invisible dynamics that inhibit it. She does so through a series of kinetic installations and light-based sculptures whose forms and movements spring out of historical anecdotes and personal musings on the topic of the limit of one’s own control over life decisions—as momentous or insignificant as they may be.
Each of the works in the show is powered by electricity to light up, rotate on its axis, or move up and down in a deceitfully purposeless manner. The artist has cleverly outfitted each piece with a switch that can be turned on and off at will by the visitors, thus allowing repetition and circularity—with the visitors becoming signifiers of manipulation and control, themselves. What’s more, a small display box affixed to each work indicates the energy consumed by the sculpture out of a limited overall amount, at which the conceptual artist has decided to cap the show. When entering the exhibition, a main display box reveals how much power remains to be used, counting down to the end of the show’s duration. If viewers decide to turn on all of the pieces and consume more energy, there might not be any left by the final days of the immersive exhibition. In that case, the work will remain immobile.
At first glance, the light sculptures in the exhibition don’t appear to be connected in formal or material ways. It is therefore worth delving into the short texts provided by the artist about the connection of different elements in the conceptual works to ideas about authority and hierarchy. A neon glass sculpture, titled Misery Salad (all works 2023), for instance, depicts a knife chopping cucumbers. The accompanying text reveals that a cucumber salad, known by its Polish name Mizeria, can be traced back to the 15th century when the 23-year-old Habsburgian princess Bona Sforza was married off to the Polish king, who was more than twice her age. Adding to her misery was the shock of discovering that all the fruit and vegetables she was used to consuming in her native Italy were not available in the Polish climate. And so, she wept into her cucumber salad.
“On some level, the show is about the art world, and how a white-cube space has the power to make things look like art,” Fudakowski explained. She was speaking to her parents, whom she had invited to an open exhibition tour, encouraging viewers to listen to her conversation with them. Renowned German art curator Kasper König joined the walkthrough as a visitor as well. The three (Fudakowski and her parents) spoke freely about her art, not shying away from any awkward exchanges and points of contention. This gesture was in itself a daring performative statement about power. After all, seeking parental approval is a double-edged sword that can both nourish and motivate or make one miserable, forever trying to please.
“It is very sexual and quite painful,” the artist’s father commented, on the work depicting a cucumber being cut. “Some people see a phallus,” Fudakowski replied. “The work reads the viewer.”
Moving on to another art sculpture, titled The show must go on and off and on and off and on and off and on…, the artist revealed that she had reused the rotating motor that makes the work spin. “Kinetic sculpture doesn’t sell,” she explained to her parents, “so you’re guaranteed if you invest in a motor, you’ll keep reusing it.” For the artist, who’s known for her riveting yet difficult-to-sell installations and sculptural work, the exhibition’s conceptual framework extends to the power dynamics of the art market.
A group of three works in the show share a formal connection—and one electrical circuit—as they all include elements that resemble razors clams and mussels. They stem from a piece of information Fudakowski had come across in a scientific article which stated that if one per cent of all coastlines were converted to mussel farming, there would be enough protein to provide for one billion people. “The major obstacle for that not happening is that people don’t really like eating them,” she explained to her parents. “Taste and fashion are important in finding solutions to the energy crisis we are in.”
Reaching the final stop on the tour, Fudakowski pointed at a three-piece ensemble that includes a theatre light projector from 1985—the year of her birth—and two engraved brass plaques. Together, the plaques form a pros and cons list—for and against having children. “You might be a bad parent, and your child might be a psychopath,” reads argument number 17 against reproducing. On the other hand, “You might get to be a grandmother—a role you feel you might be good at,” is argument number 18 for the joys of rearing children. The plaques are usually unlit, the text only becoming clearly legible when the theatre projector, a ready-made work, titled Out of your hands, throws light on them. But this is the only piece in the show that does not come with an on/off switch. Instead, it is remotely controlled by the artist’s father, filmmaker Peter Fudakowski, from his home in London. “Your idea was that I would turn the light on and off at random. I didn’t like that idea at all,” he tells his daughter. “It took me three months to ask you,” she admits, “because I thought the minute I ask you, I am slightly in your debt.” Her father, it turns out, had requested a camera be installed in the gallery space so that he can observe the impact of his manipulations from afar. “I’ll do anything for you,” he said, “but I got to see the point!”
“I was giving you control, but you didn’t see the point unless there was another element of control,” the light artist replied. Kasia Fudakowski then turned to the viewers who had joined the tour and quipped, “This is a therapy session which I have orchestrated to talk about long-held grudges, differences, tensions.” For her, the work Out of your hands, stands in for everything that is out of one’s control. Her father’s involvement, his own investment in completing his daughter’s vision, is the crux of the invisible relationships she had set out to lend a formal expression to.
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