Kama Sokolnicka: a deceptive esthetic

Text written by
Gauthier Lesturgie

With an artist
Kama Sokolnicka

A tinnitus is a sound annoyance, an internal and individual symptom which can take a large variety of tone. While the English word from its Latin roots only suggests its sonorous nature (tinnītus can be translated as “ringing”, “jingling” or even “clicking”), the French term “acouphène” adds the notion of apparition, some kind of a ghost sound or a sound illusion. (“acouphène” brings together two ancient Greek terms akoúô, “to hear” and  phaínô, “to appear”).

Artist Kama Sokolnicka: a deceptive esthetic. A tinnitus is a sound annoyance, an internal and individual symptom which can take a large variety of tone. The text was written by art historian Gauthier Lesturgie.
Tinnitus, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, March 2017 (Exhibition view)
(photographer: David Brand)


Kama Sokolnicka’s objects immediately convey a strong visual musicality, which potentially provokes synesthetic sound sensations to the viewers which recall tinnituses. Thus, she precisely combines materials and textures which by themselves, ‘emit’ a precise sound or range of noise to one’s imagination. Yet, it is not here a merry melody which surrounds us but rather a sharp dissonance.

This quite sour characteristic we find in her practice (which does not lack humour as well, albeit sarcastic) is immediately apparent when reading her works’ titles rather than when looking at their forms which at a first glance, seem elegant and inoffensive. I refer to such ‘cheerful’ titles as “California Rocket Fuel”, (a medical slang term used to name a powerful antidepressant cocktail), “Jet Lag”, “Sleep Disorders”, “Pharmacy” or even “Atrophy”: symptoms and syndromes which resonate as many signals of dysfunctional bodies.

Artist Kama Sokolnicka: a deceptive esthetic. A tinnitus is a sound annoyance, an internal and individual symptom which can take a large variety of tone. The text was written by art historian Gauthier Lesturgie.
Jet lag
plaster cast of the unfolded paper plane, 2013

In contrast, she realizes compositions which share a rather identified and familiar contemporary art vocabulary: collages made up with old black and white magazines’ clippings, mural neon light writings, fine and delicate brass sculptures, loose felt masses, etc.

When looking closer and trying to connect the many different forms of Kama’s corpus, some constraints quickly stand on our way: she creates many subterfuges by associating opposites or oblique sensations at once with the quality of the material she chooses, how she treats them until the way she places them into space.
For instance, put down on the floor by all its weight is Jet Lag: unfolded paper plane casted into white plaster. The odd sculpture visually reproduces the common condition caused by traversing time zones, by combining light content into heavy form and might works as well as a concrete symbol or even emblem of the paradoxical nature of things.

Two preferred materials of the artist, the brass and the felt, play as well with their formal and perceptive dissimilitude and ambivalence. Obviously the first is rather cold and the other warm; brass is unbending whereas felt is supple; smooth, plain while the other is wooly and fuzzy and have disparate densities. However, both are used for music instruments but felt deadens sound while brass is often an amplified vehicle. Both are industrially produced while having organic basis structures and are non–precious material sometimes nicely transformed in order to decorate one’s body.

Brass is particularly interesting when thinking about its appearance and value. Because of its shiny yellow/orange color, this metallic alloy was and still is often posed as gold (many minor news stories of received gold ingots made of brass prove the topicality of such swindle). Systematic Kama’s choice for brass can be read as another symbol for fakeness and disappointment which denotes one’s avidity.

However, the artist does not try to trick us with fake jewelry but still work with deceptive strategies. When looking closer to the brass sculptures Interstellar and Situation is Facing Utter Atrophy, we can notice a quite raw treatment of the tubes. They kept a roughness on their sides contrasting with the polishing of their surfaces and seems to admit suddenly that they only are industrial remains.

Artist Kama Sokolnicka: a deceptive esthetic. A tinnitus is a sound annoyance, an internal and individual symptom which can take a large variety of tone. The text was written by art historian Gauthier Lesturgie.
brass floor piece, 2016

California Rocket Fuel is associated with the two photographs American Dream I & II forming a USA quadriptych. The two pictures depict typical private residences shot by the artist in the United States when she was there for a residency in 2013 and completed during her stay in Lille (FR). These are framed and covered with some kind of a finely wrought mesh fence made as well in brass which disturbs our gaze until it completely renders opaque the images when we look from the side. Literal golden cages, the mesh fence is a symbol and a tool par excellence to keep private a property, one of the founding principles of the United States. At once ensuring protection and as well allowing to survey, mesh fences are as well an omnipresent element in Polish landscapes: familiar albeit unwanted reunion for the traveling artist.

Another gesture of covering, although less thick, is applied by a layer of PVC above a drawing depicting a bleak gasoline station, another recurrent vision of United States’ imaginary. Another weird juxtaposition between a handmade delicate graphic illustration and a quite cheap industrially–made plastic layer, which softly clouds our vision, not unlike the soft smoke effect produced by a high heat on an asphalt road. A dim mirage which pursues Kama’s esthetic of illusion and disappointment.

The entire work of Kama can be apprehended as a montage. Whether it be in the artworks’ elements themselves or how she combines her different pieces in the exhibition space. Stop Looking Over Your Shoulder None is There no. 1 and no. 2 embody the most literally this idea of collage: roughly cut or torn photographs are associated at the centre of large black cardboard rectangles: each picture is placed in such a way that they are hiding parts of each other. They associate human’s hair and attitudes with close–up of flowers with cozy and dated interiors. Collage technique is a recurrent practice in Kama’s work forming an ongoing series which originates from a biographical anecdote. Born in 1978 in Wrocław, Poland, she witnessed her father collecting West European magazines pre–1989. The young girl imagined the West bloc’s territories and cultures through these mediated representations on glazed papers. Evidently, when actually being in person on this West side, the disillusion might have been quite harsh. Her collages are entirely made up with clippings from her father’s collection, and can perhaps be read as a never-ending attempt to appropriate and to make order/sense of her own biography and the chaotic, albeit associative, nature of memories.

Here we can perhaps spot the origin of her interest for deceptive dynamics, subterfuges and representations’ tricks and traps. She fabricates a formal language made of plural and opposite forms linked together to deliver an acerbic discourse on our/her contemporary world. A rather disillusioned melancholy issue from Kama’s pieces, ironically challenged by the ‘tonic effect’ of the yellow colour she uses to light up her artworks. Quite unusual for an exhibition room, the yellow obviously suggests the sun, yet it is perhaps here, another counterfeit: a ‘fake sunlight’ which brings to mind some shabby cocktail bars wallpapered with idyllic turquoise sea and palm trees, and fairy colored lights – Tristes tropiques. A picture which is not at all ease by the flashing neon light obsessively telling us “not enough” (Tinnitus), perhaps the closer embodiment of the tinnitus: a continuous, flickering and annoying sound, stuck in the head after a loud racket.

Text by Gauthier Lesturgie


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