What does the future, that half of time, matter to the man who is infatuated with eternity

Cioran, History and Utopia


History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time 




‘Plasma’, ‘flesh’, ‘fibre’, ‘blood’, ‘carcass’, ‘worm’. Formless materiality - pointless, blind, indifferent. Cold instruction to ‘grow or die’. History’s regressive contaminant.


‘Path’, ‘mystery’, ‘passage’. ‘Revelation’, ‘hero’, ‘legend’. Ascension precedes canonization, distorted and twisted into ambivalent titles of flourishing spoof and anthemic pastiche. 


Witness a woman’s hand disclosing decorated eggs. Crafty and folkloric; imaging rebirth, fertility, cyclical time. A taloned hand furnishes three eggs fronting ornamental replication. Elsewhere, enhanced spawn are delicately evinced between a thumb and a pointer, rivaling a hen’s beak, a dyadic unit of complex, gendered artifact.


In Joanna Bryniarska’s work, some artifacts are objects; decorated eggs, crystal cut plates. Others are intellectual placeholders; ‘the problem of the frame’: 


‘The Confounding Mystery Of The Passage Of The Revelation Into The Mist Of Legend’


Iconic geometry, with neo-platonic spirituality sticking to it like glue is hounded out of town by the blustering pomposity of a title, designed to astound with preposterous expectation as much as to orchestrate. For some, enforcing frames and boundaries may be the aim. Mimicry, the enemy. Copies, fakes, forgeries and reproductions threaten the imaginary of their self-governing island. On this self-determined landscape, art opposes life where contamination and regression are to be feared. Crafted, kitsch, decorative, reproductive –  these become characterised as feminine. The gendered linking of progression, autonomy and originality is pursued. Concomitantly the gendered linking of regression, dependency and reproduction is bullied.


Proposing a subjectivity that baffles and refutes biological parentage, ‘we are not hatched from eggs’ is a provocation, recapitulating ancient parental relationships. Denial of the mothers incubative role emphasizes the father as non-reproductive contributor. Eschewing the role of insemination ushers forth a paternity distant from the physical, material lineage now ascribed to the mother. The genetrix becomes tied to the reproductive and repetitive copy. The genitor breaks from this ‘messy’ relation to reproduction and materialism by becoming the absent legislator and sole authority. (1)


‘we are not hatched from eggs’ is a parodic hubris. Taken literally it is a statement of gargantuan, ridiculous arrogance. Approached with biological humour, an absurd reflection upon the origin of the species. If taken as anthropological parody, it is arrogance itself that is ridiculed. Gently piloting originality, ‘we are….’ queries the historical valorization of originality at the expense of reproduction, views it as ideologically symbolic and gendered, and so lampoons it. With equal parts derision and yearning, ‘Great Originals Die Young Like Romantic Heroes’, ironises a masculine notion of originality. In an early 20th century salon-style room, paintings end up mirrors, imitating the decorated surfaces of adjacent parlours. 


Science fiction has often operated as a foil for forms of moralizing. Infrequently a question of time and/or being, its content rather becomes a proselytizing rejection of one aspect or another of modernity; a warning sign limited to the controlled action of a wagging finger. Turning this conservative aspect of SF on its head, Bryniarska pursues an enquiry into obsolescence, which allows her to propose a future (in which reproduction and technology meet), existing precisely because there is no attempt to visualize it, nor an attempt to extend teleological thinking as a foundation for futurity. 


“Moments where complete breaks or ruptures occur in history, where future projection leaps forwards yet backwards at the same time in an equivocal motion that signals regress just as much as progress. Like a wheel turning round slowly clockwise powered by a hand on a handle that conversely moves in the opposite direction” (2)


A ceramic cemetery memento of an eye either elucidated or obscured by digitally woven purled paint, colour-blindly crocheted between tarsal plates carries the vampiric injunction:


‘Drink Deep Or Taste Not The Plasma Spring’


At the boundary drawn between art and life, art is deposited with death - in a future colonized by  a motionless binary of eternity.


Etymological links between testimony and testes have anciently gendered the notion of the witness. ‘Grow or Die’ shows a tabletop with 35mm SLR camera lenses inserted within its ornamental patterning, a florid obsolescent surveyor. This callous instructive title could have it’s opposite number in ‘Worm Is To Flesh As Flesh Is To Worm’,  where the hands’ apparently generous gesture of display places its spectator as witness, objects exhibited as evidence. This is a typical aspect of Bryniarska’s work where a woman’s hand acts as a display device, modeling ornamental, pagan motifs. We are asked to witness, not to contemplate, attest not participate. ‘Grow or Die’ is a pictorialisation of this spectator. It is a witness of mechanical composition, a surveyor, an absent authority. A paternal witness.


Within Bryniarska's work we have a linking of paired terms. Progress/regress, witness/spectator, artifact/evidence, original/reproduction, history/time. The understated rhetorical mode here is parody and pastiche. Utilizing the distance of the mock-heroic Bryniarska has reproduced, mimicked and woven together complex images of technology, gender, history and death.


Martin Westwood, 2010


(1) see Jean Joseph Goux ‘Sexual Difference and History’ in ‘Symbolic Economies; After Marx and Freud’, translated by Jennifer Curtis Gage, Cornell University Press, 1990


(2) Extract from statement by the artist 24/07/10