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>> Portrait: Anna Orlikowska
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Drowning Rooms
Anna Orlikovska’s Ambiguous Situations

She was nominated last year for Deutsche Bank’s Prize for Young Polish Art; her installation "Being" in the Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw created a stir. The jury found Anna Orlikovska’s work convincing and awarded her the second prize in the competition – an artists’ grant in Berlin. Jutta von Zitzewitz and Achim Drucks visited the artist in her temporary studio.

Anna Orlikowska in her Berlin studio
Photo: Achim Drucks

In Berlin’s problematic district of Wedding, the garden city Atlantic comes across as a cultivated oasis. This is thanks to the fact that the owners of the freshly renovated housing projects from the 1920s are concerned with more than just collecting rent – the settlement also serves the cause of intercultural understanding and the support of the arts. Georg Uecker has his studio here, while Anna Orlikovska lives and works just a few doors down. For six months, a renovated storefront apartment will serve her as a temporary studio: an unusual situation for the young grantee. "When I open the curtains, I feel like I’m in an aquarium" – a challenge that inspired her to her installation. At the close of her Berlin sojourn, she will be transforming the street-level flat into an art space – with an installation that passers-by can view through the large storefront window.

The artist in the storfront windows of her studio
Photo: Achim Drucks

For the moment, however, the studio seems almost unused; only an empty table, a bicycle, and a shopping cart filled with odds and ends are standing around. A large mirror is leaning against the wall. The shy 27 year-old invites us for a talk in a clean, Ikea-style kitchen. Anna Orlikovska tells us that she is in the middle of realizing a new photographic project in which she tracks down hidden locations in nighttime Berlin, using the flash to make them visible. "The simple fact of using artificial instead of natural light completely changes the character of the images. That fascinates me." In the process, she addresses a theme she has been involved with since her art studies at the academy in Lodz – rendering the invisible visible, recording the presence of a world beyond physical reality. In her photographic works, the artist is not interested in documenting anything. For her, the camera and the medium of photography are merely tools she uses to realize her conceptual ideas. While the early works of Cindy Sherman made a strong impact on her, today she raves far more about Thomas Demand’s laconic images. She stresses that she does not primarily see herself as a photographer.

"Danse Macabre", 2005,
Courtesy Anna Orlikowska

This is also reflected in her work Danse Macabre. The triptych confronts the viewer with a dense mess of colors and forms, an allover of colorful clothing spilling out of orange plastic containers, hanging on long poles extending to the ceiling of the high space, and piled up on tables – an improvised second-hand store in a former factory space. On the fringe of the picture is a mysterious figure that turns out to be the artist herself, her face hidden behind a plastic cow mask. This figure also appears on the other two pictures of the monumental triptych, an alien being from another world in a seemingly realistic everyday scenario. "The images depict locations from my own personal world in Lodz. My parents’ apartment with my ailing grandmother, or my father’s workshop. The masked figure brings a symbolic component into the picture." Yet she was less concerned in quoting the bulls of Max Ernst or Pablo Picasso than in establishing references to the gods of Ancient Egypt. The Ankh symbol that she wears in the form of a tiny tattoo on her right arm is also borrowed from Egyptian mythology; it symbolizes eternal life.

"Danse Macabre" (detail), 2005,
Courtesy Anna Orlikowska

There is also a very personal connection to the textile factory at the heart of the Agoraphobia triptych. Anna Orlikovska worked here for a time after finishing her studies. She says that the mess of the run-down factory halls was a shock to her after her years of refuge at the art academy, and it threatened to overwhelm her. "I was used to these clean, well-ordered spaces, and then I suddenly found myself in a total mess." In contrast to Danse Macabre, she evokes the presence of another reality not through mythological additions, but through formal components alone.

"Agoraphobia", 2006,
Courtesy Anna Orlikowska

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