Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Review of Malgosia Stepnik: City of Angels at 20 Eastcastle Street

Malgosia Stepnik: City of Angels
20 Eastcastle Street
25 April – 23 May 2013

I try not to go to exhibitions with preconceptions or expectations, but with a title like City of Angels, I did, perhaps foolishly, expect Polish-born Malgosia Stepnik’s current show at 20 Eastcastle Street to be somewhat pleasant to the eye and gentle on the mind. But I was mistaken. City of Devils would actually be a more appropriate name. The painted-over photographs, displayed in LED frames, and the purpose-designed wallpaper, confront the visitor with zombie-like creatures, both disturbed and disturbing, with faces overrun by amorphous fluorescent spillages, dripping from their mouths, and scaly, scabies-like spots spreading across their beleaguered visages. The hallucinogenic colours conjure up a very bad trip, and the wallpaper, quite frankly, would induce nightmares of the very worst kind. 

Stepnik, whose work draws on the tradition of semi-autobiographical and confessional art produced by women artists since the 1960s, and is further influenced by philosophers such as Carl Jung (1875-1961), herself studied Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy in Wroclaw, before coming to London and acquiring a Fine Art Degree in 2008. Her multimedia approach incorporates photography, painting, performance and film, and, alongside the still works on show, there is also a film to be watched, and the opening night viewing was accompanied by a haunting and traumatised performance in which Stepnik, clad in a hospital gown, lopped handfuls of her hair with blunt scissors. Perhaps her aim is to voice a critical comment on the aesthetic focus and values of contemporary society, where even beauty is no longer beautiful until it has been airbrushed or “perfected” still further?

Admittedly, close-up, there is something strangely alluring about the glittering scabied pockmarks of the photoworks, raised blobs of acrylic paint, glistening like gemstones in the LED light, but even so it reminds me of Count Robert de Montesquiou’s topaz-encrusted tortoise from Belle Époque Paris, which epitomises the desire to adorn and beautify taken to such an extreme that one becomes blind to nature’s joys, inflicts cruelty, and truly loses sight of aesthetic pleasure.


Installation shot

Performance shot


All courtesy the artist (Malgosia Stepnik) and curator (Beverley Knowles)

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