Marek Piasecki
Roger Ballen
Reels of Imagination
26th september 2014
to 18th october 2014


Photography is, obviously, writing with light. But, as it often happens with obvious things, this is not always actually put before the eyes. Few photographs go beyond using light as a tool for showing the contours of reality. Fewer still make it their main theme, plumbing its depths or even its urges. Marek Piasecki’s Miniatures are based on the premise that light not only illuminates things, lighting them up and presenting them in all their glory. It is also a source of violence and can be a disastrous element. Studying its dramatic vicissitudes means, therefore, the need to discover its potential of creation as well as destruction. Piasecki’s experiments consist mainly in staging – within a tightly confined space – such disasters-of-light and presenting their visual effects.

These works are not photograms, in which specific objects leave their impression on light-sensitive material. In Miniatures, Piasecki is interested not so much in the forms of things as in their appearing, before they assume a specific shape and a recognisable identity. This appearing is also an intimate meshing of light and darkness, from which emerge images literally burned on paper. The phenomenon, the very appearing of things, thus marks also the birth of an image-burn, a trace of the disaster of touching that leaves an infinite variety of crystallisations, colour changes, depressions or accumulations. These works are a long series of small-scale, beautiful disasters that constitute a visual testimony of the brittleness of light and thus also of the fragility of the world.

The Miniatures are usually described as ‘mixed media’ works. The artist himself, searching for the right word for the procedure, called them ‘chemical paintings’. We could say that we are dealing here not only with ‘mixed media’ but also with ‘media mixing’, which equally includes painting, photography or sculpture (images created through touch, gesture). Several of the works resemble archaic, time-degraded examples of action painting. But whose action can be recognised here? These tiny images are the trace of an action occurring between subject and object, between light-sensitive material and the gesture of touching, which also means – in this particular case – their damage, destruction as well as illumination. Their inseparability. In other words, we are dealing here with a kind of interval action. We could even say that Piasecki engenders an original model of ‘reaction painting’, for every action is mainly a reaction here, both chemical and visual, of a light-sensitive surface to an external intrusion.

These small disasters show also, like every breakdown, the fundamental antinomy of time. No wonder, therefore, that some of the Miniatures may bring to mind Paul Klee’s childish-archaic visual code as well as Brassaï’s photos of wall carvings. Piasecki himself took photographs of tattered and carved urban walls in order to then, in the closed space of experimentation, create luminous graffiti on miniatures. In spite of appearances, the similarity of these gestures is actually far-reaching. Already Brecht pointed out that a wall inscription left by a fleeing revolutionary – though ephemeral and made in a hurry – refers to the universal and eternal dimension of history. André Breton, in turn, defining the ‘convulsive beauty’ of modern art, stressed that it meant the praise of the spontaneous energy of the moment as well as of the durability of the crystal.

The same happens in Marek Piasecki’s miniatures: these are the effects of a momentary contact between two surfaces, which produces visual forms resembling ancient fossils or geological cross-sections. In these works, something as fleeting and fragile as touch gains a kind of long duration. And becomes a fossil of light.


Paweł Mościcki


It is possible to look at previous works by Roger Ballen as travels undertaken with a strongly marked azimuth, placed opposite to the direction in which he turns his camera. In other words, it has always been a travel inwards. As the artist states, his work is a continuous process of exploring himself. With thus established starting point, his works made in the course of the last twenty or thirty years have taken in an even more pronounced fashion a shape of a structure, or a kind of projection – a discovery, which thanks to the directed scenes become accessible for those outside. It is perhaps the outside-ness that defines the attitude of the artist to the viewer. The viewer is granted access, or rarely is he or she allowed to identify partly with the emerging visions, finding in them a common aura of disquiet, this existential tremor that is sometimes irremovable from consciousness. The camera is used here to hold elements still, it is a type of the vice, which allows for holding together separating layers of what exists and of what remains in the sphere of the shadow, of imagination. Many of Ballen’s works, which can be seen in the recently finished cycle Asylum of Birds, or in an earlier Shadow Chamber series, have this peculiar cramped frame, which allows for a unification of the being and its deficiency. As if Ballen proposed a new kind of space, available and possible to present only with the help of photography. In this case, the very titles of both cycles including words "asylum" and "chamber" are very significant.

This inward journey – a secret whose parts the artist makes available to the viewers, is held on more and more deeper levels. Therefore, proportions – the components of created structures – are changing. In recent years, people have featured in his photographs less and less often, and increasingly often the background became covered densely with drawings resembling primitive cave painting. Finally, the artist ventured to the cave of his mind. As a result, a kind of break was imminent, defining anew the minimum of what such a disclosed projection should involve.

This kind of transition is offered by the series The Apparitions, whose premiere is hosted by Asymetria Gallery. The basic array of means of expression is limited to lighting, grains of sand, and glass. What is created this way is a series of peculiar drawings, made especially for the purpose of photography. They are close to Talbot’s idea of drawing with light.

These drawings continue the cosmology Ballen has developed for years; they are the little brothers of previous heroes. In The Apparitions these new figures remain broken through fear, doubt, weakness, and desire. Possibly however, with the passage to the next chambers of his mind, Ballen no longer portrays their personifications, as he did when he worked with people, mice or birds. It is likely that he is photographing them alone, with their shapes and grimaces instead of faces.

This kind of reading is suggested by the title itself, which means “revelation”. In such case, the light would play a double role.  Firstly, it reveals these creatures in darkness, secondly, it helps to preserve them.


Jakub Śwircz

28.09.2014 17:49:02

Marek Piasecki (1935-2011) worked with photography, graphic art, painting and sculpture. Many of his works cut across several genres not lending themselves to typical classification. He is best known for his spatial constructions (display cases with various objects from his collection), as well as photomontages and photographs of dolls which came close to the poetics of surrealism. Began ca. 1959, those series included photographs of self-made assemblages which filled the space of the artist’s exceptional studio-habitat, as well as scenes with dolls subjected to various surgical operations that left them anatomicaly transformed. 

Among Piasecki’s most notable works are abstract heliographs, developed from 1955 as a result of experiments with light-sensitive materials. He used prints from glass negatives, scratching their surface, applying various substances, and exposing it to other processes. The abstract heliographs, which were an extremely original and individual interpretation of informel painting, were shown for example in the Second Exhibition of Modern Art – the most significant comprehensive show of Polish avant-garde works in the “thaw” period that followed Stalin’s death in 1953. In the 1950s, the artist experimented with macro-photography, as well as creating works by subjecting the photographic paper to direct physical processes. Combining these techniques with collage and drawing Piasecki developed his so-called miniatures – a series of tiny images filled with absurd and black humor. 

Piasecki’s documentary practice was an important point of reference for all the genres of his artistic practice with journalistic, portrait, and nude photography becoming his focus of interest from 1954. Piasecki’s whole body of work, and this field in particular, testifies to his fascination with Italian neorealist cinema and documentary film of the period. Its traces can be found both in the themes that focus on “raw” reality, as well as the composition of the frame which appears as a random, unprepared snapshot. 

The rich and original oeuvre of Piasecki – forgotten for many years in Poland due to the fact the artist emigrated to Sweden in 1967 – has been rediscovered in recent years with growing interest. His works are in public collections in Poland and Sweden, as well as numerous private collections.

Roger Ballen (b. 1950)  is one of the most recognisable contemporary photographers. He was born in New York. Aince 1970s he has lived in Johannesburg, where he started to photograph in 1980s. He has gained worldwide acclaim for his dark vision of the human being, reflecting existential anxieties, weaknesses and aberrations. Constructed as visual allegories, his black-and-white series of works, such as Shadow Chamber, Boarding House or Asylum of the Birds, often feature background drawing motifs. 

17.09.2014 19:38:04

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Marek Piasecki
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Roger Ballen