In the last few years, the work of Irmina Staś has undergone a remarkable transformation. In her new painting idiom, the artist seems to have abstracted individual elements from her earlier work which is often described as organic or biological abstraction inspired by surrealism. Staś has abandoned her biomorphic, intuitive abstraction in favour of a cooler and more rational representation. Like never before, her canvases began to exude order. In addition, the artist discovered that some of her new motifs can be easily transposed to soft patchwork quilts. These trends can be viewed at the exhibition entitled “Repetitions”. The crowning achievement of this ordering, rational turn in Staś’s artistic career is the series “Ornaments” followed by the thematically linked “Cross-Sections” and “Chlorophyll and Blood” – all of them systematically expanded by the artist. The exhibition in Galeria Bielska BWA features both paintings and soft objects. Turning a repetitive ornament into a painting theme is not as simple a task as it might appear, and the ornaments used by the artist are far from typical. They are teeth, breasts, nails – all those elements which are not absolutely essential for the body to carry on its vital functions. Isolated from the human body, the teeth, breasts and nails may conjure up a variety of situations and individuals, including a visit to a dentist’s, a torture chamber, the life of a saint, plastic surgery, orthopaedists, disabled people... the beauty industry with its inherent pain; and at a deeper level, it brings to mind war, cultural pressure, and the need to adjust the body to the applicable canons and requirements of the ideal. Thus, the teeth must be properly white and even, breasts sufficiently large and shapely, nails evenly trimmed. The ideal bodies are completely subject to biopower.
Staś’s paintings and quilts do not show rotten teeth or breasts with cancerous Karol Sienkiewicz Repetitions growths, they depict ideal, archetypal teeth and breasts, which may be compared to signs and logos in that they both lack distinct or individual characteristics. In the real world, the teeth can be used for the identification of a corpse. Each tooth is different, each breast has its own individual shape. But in Irmina Staś’s work, they are all identical, and thus, they become signs; and then by being multiplied and distributed, ornaments. This multiplication and ordering of the composition makes the body, which is the starting point for “Ornaments”, become an abstract entity. Only then does Staś begin her creative play by exploring different possible combinations to see how effective they become on the canvas. After all, the ultimate goal is the painting. And there is something more at play here, something which can only be experienced through direct contact with Staś’s large canvases. The size is important – the viewer must confront the painting, stand face to face to it, and as it turns out, the paintings put up what might be called cognitive resistance. Our eyes become restless as they cannot zoom in. It is as if our eye balls kept extending and retracting, like a camera lens, unable to make up their mind. Were it not for the limitations of the stretcher, the ornaments could extend endlessly. Although composed of signs that have their counterparts in reality, Irmina Staś’s paintings trigger similar reactions to those produced by the work of Victor Vasarely or Bridget Riley, both representing the pop-art movement. These works contain hidden dynamics which is based on the interaction between the figure and the background, between two contrasting surfaces, the different afterglows, and systems of light that change with the viewer’s movement. The change is so extensive that we stop seeing the body parts, as patterns and rhythms come to the fore. Even female breasts cease to be associated with the human body or eroticism when they form an ornament resembling a fish scale. Although Irmina Staś’s paintings could be easily used as a decorative pattern on a piece of fabric, they fulfil a different function. The ornament becomes emancipated, it ceases to be an element of a larger whole, an accessory, an ornament filling vacuous spaces. We intuitively sense that the ornament is more than just a pattern or decoration. On rare occasions does Staś decide to arrange the teeth into the entire jaws, more anatomically, like an archaeologist or a forensic specialist. Then they obtain something wild and archaic, as they talk about the past life. At what age did the individual die? What did people eat then and how? It is not so much a promise of life as an announcement of an inevitable end. Although presented as neat, disease-free forms of the human body, they still carry a message of vanity. They convey impermanence and transience. Weren’t the bones of the dead arranged similarly in the catacombs? Will any of us ever make an ornament? In “Ornaments” there is no more drama or trauma, just like death is trivialized in the bone mosaics in the catacombs. Traces of corporeal emotions can also be found in “Cross-Sections” composed of laboratory samples which are evenly cut and waiting to be examined, or of the remains of torture. They bring to mind death as depicted in a painting by Andrzej Wróblewski. Staś is a rather cool observer, a laboratory technician accustomed to such views, an experimenter trying to combine animal and plant elements (the series „Chlorophyll and Blood”). In each of these paintings, and even quilts, we sooner or later return to the question about the essence of painting. What happens when an ornament becomes the main content of a painting?
Irmina Staś’s ornaments are not universal patterns. These are ornaments created especially for paintings, ornaments invented for paintings, ornaments emerging as part of the painting process, and attempts in a painting studio. As such, they test the durability of painting against repetitive motifs, but on the other hand, they also pose a question about the painting process itself. By definition, an ornament is supposed to emphasize the character of the decorated object. The same interpretation applies to the exhibition “Repetitions” in Bielsko-Biała, where Staś decided to show works from three series created in the last few years. Here, the idea of repetition involves a kind of research. Only by repetition can the results of an experiment can be confirmed. From this experiment, painting emerges victorious.
Karol Sienkiewicz, 2021