The album reproducing a broader selection of paintings in addition to those featured at the exhibition. Published by the aTAK Gallery, it contains essays by Agnieszka Sural, the exhibition's curator, and art critic Stach Szabłowski.
layout: Anna Piwowar
THE GEOGRAPHY OF FEAR
What may the painter contribute to the discourse of global politics? At which point does the artist become a cartographer charting political maps of the world and marking the areas of conflict. How does the multidimensional experience of the individual struggling with the plethora of information on the globalized reality translate onto the two-dimensional picture surface. Wiktor Dyndo answers these questions by using means at the painter’s disposal: he paints geo-strategic concepts, shows the colors of ideologies, analyzes the aesthetic of power, represents visual signs of fear and manipulation.
The White Spot
In a number of pictures Wiktor Dyndo refers to the convention of map. Cartography has always mingled with art. Both are essentially concerned with representing the world. Like the painter’s task, the cartographer’s job consists in conceptualizing a multi-dimensional reality and representing it through signs and forms. In this respect, cartography is closest to the strategies of modernist and avant-garde art with its proclivity for abstraction and conceptualism. The world turns into a circle or an ellipse, a territory into a geometrically complex area of color, a map of the world becomes a complex painterly composition.
One of Dyndo’s cartographic works represents a map of the globe. The painter charts the system of meridians and parallels but there is nothing between the lines defining the globe’s topography: no continents, no oceans, no islands. The impression of the emptiness of this “undiscovered” world is emphasized by the graticule having been charted on the unprimed canvas which can be interpreted as an allegory of the pure pictorial space. The painting is entitled Peace and Quiet.
The only land Dyndo has marked in this cartographic picture is Antarctica shown as a white shape on an otherwise empty map. Antarctica appears as a “white spot” not only because it is ice-bound but also because it is the only continent which has so far remained free of political boundaries in contrast to the rest of the world divided up between sovereign states. In other words, Antarctica does not feature on the world’s political map but Dyndo practices cartography à rebours. The lands divided up according to political criteria disappear from his picture and only Antarctica remains as the last preserve not defined by political allegiances – at least so far, as the continent and rich natural resources hidden underneath its permafrost have already become the subject of the great powers’ operations aiming at incorporating this last “white spot” into the global system of control and exploitation.
The Green Cloud
Let’s now look at another map painted by Dyndo. He renders Europe outlined in black against a pale-pink background. A green cloud invades this delicate, flesh-colored land: the contour of the Old Continent barely shows through from under the irregular patches of applied green paint. The green cloud – is color associated with Islam – seems to approach from the direction of Muslim North Africa. The painting is entitled Phobia and represents the geography of fear. But what is the object of this fear? Is it religion? The threat of terrorism? Or the migration waves coming from The Maghreb?
The empty space rendered in the Peace and Quiet becomes filled with details, contours and territories in Dyndo’s other works: Iraq and Iran, The Small Satan (map of Israel), The Great Satan (map of the United States), Masr (image of Egypt), The Persian Gulf. Drafting the contours of states and whole regions, the painter simultaneously employs various conventions. Some refer to the classic cartography, others to different symbolic systems; occasionally the former mix up with the latter, as in The Small Satan and The Great Satan in which the contours of Israel and the United States are filled in with the pattern characteristic of the Palestinian headscarf keffiyeh, the trademark symbol of Arafat.
Wiktor Dyndo’s cartographic project refers to the geographic vision presented in Samuel Huntington’s enormously influential book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). In this brilliant geopolitical essay the author posited that in the post-Cold War world the ideological conflict between the Capitalist West and the recently fallen Communist Eastern Block would be replaced by conflict occurring between the world’s major civilizations: the clash of ideologies replaced by the “clash of civilizations.” The masked Muslin jihad warrior – the anti-rational, religiously motivated enemy of secular modernization – would replace the Soviet “Big Brother” as the new strategic antagonist of the West. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the simplified reading of Huntington’s conception has served as the theoretical basis for waging the “war on terrorism” – prolonged and enfolding on many fronts of the West’s neo-colonial confrontation with the Islamic world.
In Dyndo’s art, like in Huntington’s vision, the world’s geography is approached from a specific perspective. The actors starring in the global drama feature prominently on the map of the globe: the United States, Israel, Persian Gulf states. The axis of this world, propelled by the energy of “clash of civilizations”, is located in the Middle East which no longer appears as a mere place on Earth but turns into the archetypical “conflict zone.”
Does Dyndo question this vision? If his intention is to criticize it, he hides it under the deadpan disguise of objective cartographer. He does not counter-posit any ideology to the extremely ideologized discourse of “the clash of civilizations.” He paints the facts: the geography of fear created in the minds of the people in the West by the media and politicians. He examines visual forms through which this state of mind manifests itself. And yet, the artist’s apparent political indifference is a form of resistance: in the world in which the governments require of the public opinion to form polarized views, the refusal to take a stand becomes a polemical voice.
The Discourse of Banners
Likewise neutral is Dyndo’s approach to the aesthetic of power which sets the stage if global conflicts. He paints the series of banners – the emblems of territories which feature in his painted maps. He represents the flags of the European Union, Arab states, and also of Poland. One painting renders “the flag of the world” featuring red shapes of the continents set off against the white background: they resemble blood spattered on a white sheet. Some banners wave in the wind, others are limp. Occasionally, we glimpse a microphone set for an orator who is about to speak at some official international event, conference or state visit. But the speaker never appears in Dyndo’s pictures. There is a gaping void between the flags: the discourse is not articulated and there only remains the visual violence of symbols.
The Oriental Landscape
The conceptual abstraction of political cartography and ideological abstraction of banner both refer to the notion of territory which in Dyndo’s paintings takes on the form of landscape. Entering the landscape is like penetrating through the surface of the map to examine what hides under its conventional forms. Dyndo’s landscapes are almost all Oriental landscapes. A bar under construction in the desert. A mirage obliterating the perspective of a road cutting through the Middle Eastern steppe. Clouds of smoke creeping behind the concrete facades of some settlement. An explosion set off against a palm grove. These landscapes are always deserted: the only trace of human presence is a Kalashnikov or rocket-launcher – the jihadist’s favorite weapons – propped up against the wall of a madrasa. Some landscapes are painted to resemble images delivered by spy satellites and used to plan and direct air strikes. Mosques are shown as seen from the air and the field of conflict gets transformed into constellations of pixels on the monitors of the army waging war on terrorism.
The Oriental landscape has a long tradition in European painting coinciding with the development of modern thought and colonial politics. The modernizing West’s expansion to the pre-modern East corresponded to the need to create the Orientalist vision, to colonize the Orient through images. Delacroix painted his famous Women of Alger in 1834, just several months after France had launched the campaign which would result in the colonization of Algeria. It is hardly surprising that so many Orientalist works of art created in the 18th and 19th century in the colonial West are underlain with more or less ostentatious erotic fantasies. The Orient was the object of the desire of the West dreaming of subjecting and penetrating the Eastern countries. Almost forty years have passed since Edward Said in his classical book Orientalism showed the longevity of the West’s sexualized attitude towards the East. The book shows that the way the Orient was being imagined and portrayed by Western artists and writers had a profound effect on creating mental attitudes in Western societies which were conducive to political expansion. After the 9/11 attacks, Said’s perspective has proven relevant again in the face of the new Orientalism concerned with creating the stereotyped Muslim “Other” in the era of the “war on terrorism.”
The Surface of Events
With his keen interest in the Middle East and the wealth of iconographic motifs he has drawn from the Muslim world, should Wiktor Dyndo be regarded as a neo-Orientalist? It may seem so at first glance especially that the painter refrains from clearly stating his political views. He makes no suggestions, drops no clues, does not wink at the viewer, and sends no comforting signals to reassure of his approach being “politically correct.” One of his paintings shows the view of Hurghada in Egypt. The holiday paradise is shrouded in an ominous bloody gloom of fire and from behind the frame of the image protrudes a green saber, the Arab fanatic’s weapon, doubtless striking at tourists. The piece reflects the darkest fears of the Polish tourist usually concerned with the political situation in the Middle East to the degree of its potential effect on his plans to enjoy cheap holidays in Egypt. Does Wiktor Dyndo share this nightmare with the crowd of holidaymakers fearful that one day the locals may stop serving them drinks and instead raise havoc in seaside resorts located in the areas of conflict?
The answers to these questions lay on the surface of Dyndo’s works. The painter has travelled extensively through the Middle East and lived in Egypt for an extended period of time. He speaks and reads Arabic. And yet, having had first-hand experience of the Orient, he paints it from the perspective of somebody who has never traveled outside northern Europe and only knows the Middle East from TV reports. This perspective sets him apart from 19th-century Orientalists yearning for the exotic and voraciously exploring the Orient with ethnographic zeal. Exoticism is missing from Dyndo’s vision. His vision of the Orient is constructed of simplified, conventional forms which are closer to signs and ideograms than to realist representation.
From the aesthetic perspective, his approach to imagery is informed by the lessons of post-Conceptual painting, Minimalsm, Pop-Art, and the Polish art of the early 21st century, particularly the Ładnie (“Prettily”) group. But there is more to his approach than creative processing of postmodern conventions and artistic strategies. His restrained, schematic style of representation is conducive to the visualization of the worldview formed on the basis of media reports, ideologized discourses, and propagandist manipulation. The image of the Orient in Dyndo’s works bears more resemblance to a computer simulation than to reality.
Like the map which is but a visual construct extremely simplifying the multi-dimensional landscape populated by individuals, communities, and societies and their complex interests and conflicts, the painter does not depict the world but renders its construed representation based on simplifications and stereotypes. He relies on flatly applied color, signs, and contours. His paintings have no depth. He focuses on the planar surface and, as the cartographer does, he reduces reality to flat images. Portraying global conflicts, he claims no right to resolve them, he refrains from moral judgments. We won’t learn from his paintings who is right and who is wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with whom he sides. And anyway, what if we knew? Instead of useless ideological declarations, Dyndo offers us something much more valuable: he focuses the viewer’s gaze on the surface of the picture and provokes him or her to try to penetrate underneath, to see what hides beneath the simplified image. At this point, his painting starts to stimulate the viewer’s critical thinking – the job the painter cannot and does not want to perform for the viewer.
Finally, yet another recurring motif in Dyndo’s works has to be mentioned. It is the brilliant – a rough diamond which has been cut and faceted and polished to transform it into a gleaming jewel. In his pictures, brilliants appear set off against the burning oil fields and captions from TV news: occasionally, they may be splattered with blood. Today, a large portion of the world’s supply of diamonds comes from the areas of armed conflict. The perfect stone, the ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury becomes an allegory for dangerous entanglements of beauty and death, money and political manipulation. Cut and polished, the diamond becomes the perfect brilliant and at the same time it turns into a deceptive mirror which refracts light and splits up the image of the world into numerous fragments – a shimmering and volatile mosaic governed by no ruling “correct” perspective but composed of multiple points of view.
LIFTING OF REALITY
“This story is happening in our times ...” – is the first thought that crosses our minds when looking at Wiktor Dyndo’s new paintings. And so, we know the “when”, but “where”? Diamonds drenched in blood or placed in front of burning oil wells in Kuwait presented in “The Stain“ and “Lessons of Darkness“ – remind us of a story that had begun some time ago in South Africa. It is there that the largest deposits of this precious crystal are located and where control over them was seized by rebel groups. The sales of “blood diamonds” played a major role in financing the operations of revolutionary, military and terrorist organizations from all over the world. They came to represent violence and death, contradicting the popular image of diamonds as a symbol of love and happiness.
The pixellated UN headquarters in New York presented in “Distortions – Security Council“ – recalls the simultaneously idealistic and utopian belief that it would be possible to create an international organization that could safeguard worldwide order and security. Several years before Dyndo painted that image, the United Nations had published a map presenting the actual proportions of countries and regions. Comparing to maps drawn out by Europeans centuries ago, it turned out that Scandinavia is actually much larger, Africa longer and Europe much smaller than traditionally presented. Another artist‘s painting presents a map shown from the perspective of the Chinese empire. Oriented towards the South, the map places China in the middle, leaving Western culture somewhere in the periphery. The growing domination of the communist country and its spectacular economic success over the last three decades are also apparent in the painting “Chinese Vase”, which presents a Chinese porcelain towering over a European art collection in a museum.
One of the first images of the international political scene that Wiktor Dyndo remembers were Christiane Amanpour’s reports from the Gulf War that he watched on CNN as a child. The famous reporter delivered news of dramatic events, while traveling the conflict zone in a tank. The artist, a son of an Afghanistan and Iranian studies expert, has since directed his interests towards the balance of powers in international foreign policy. Dyndo is captivated by the drama he witnesses. “Photo and video reportages from the front lines of battle contain beautiful shots in which smoke clouds and explosions appear exceptionally picturesque,” said Dyndo.
Dyndo borrows images from television and Internet. He recalls them on canvas in pieces, juxtaposing and giving them new meaning. The artist never takes any sides. He is an observer who ascertains but does not judge, leaving the freedom of interpretation to his audience. What we see in his paintings are mainly landscapes, featuring often repeated motif of a cloudless sky – a nearly azure space, where bad decisions, tragedies or exclusions occur.
Aside from his fascination with armed conflict, terrorism and interests of individual nations and religions, Wiktor Dyndo also pays attention to the refined aesthetics that accompanies the processes. War reports in magazines and newspapers are often printed next to jewelry or perfume advertisements. News channels on TV interrupt their reports with ad breaks. Dyndo includes this created reality of information media in his paintings.
His works oscillate around the sensations of fear, terror and beauty, things that can both fascinate and seduce as well as disturb. The artist points out one place in the world that is, for now, full of peace and order. In his painting “Peace, quiet” – on unprimed canvas – he painted a map of the world with all the continents gone but one - the Antarctic. The empty globe is mesmerizing in its vision of the end of the world.
In his painting Dyndo refers to the concept of aestheticization, which in modern culture affects all things. Not only pieces created by artists and dealing with the most drastic events but also media and entertainment are affected by aesthetic conventions. In today’s world, globalisation, besides affecting trade and production, causes the domination of a uniform popular culture together with transnational idols and role models. The result is a universal aestheticization of reality. In the case of the arts this process began in the 1920s when avantgarde artists demolished the barricades dividing art and reality. The first known attempt to deprive art of its aura of holiness and to include in its scope “ready mades” is Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” – a urinal placed in a museum space. Dadaists and futurists used abstraction to search for the hidden structures of objects, however the final result of these actions was aestheticization, perceived by Jean Baudrillard as a decidedly negative phenomenon (connected with the overproduction of images in the modern world, images in which there is nothing to see). The aestheticization of reality in his view has led to the impression that an oeuvre is everywhere but it cannot be distinguished from other objects.
Wolfgang Welsch followed the same line of thought as he described the process of aestheticization of everyday life on two levels, distinguishing between superficial and in-depth aestheticization. The first one is most visible and is essentially about making everyday reality pretty, using aesthetic elements. Welsch described it as “styling”, embellishment, “face-lifting“ of reality.
Just as the piece “Lego. Concentration Camp” by Zbigniew Libera has revealed the practice of taming violence that occurs in our culture as well as our arrogance towards other cultures or distant historical events, Dyndo seems to be the only Polish artist who negates the above thesis. By touching upon international conflicts the artist ponders the amount of time that must pass in order for the problem to become an element of our culture, or perhaps even popular culture, strapped into the neoliberal machine. The farther we reach into history, the greater the indifference to past tragedies, particularly if they occurred in geographically distant locations.
And so Kant’s principle of combining aesthetics with ethics, which states that, what is beautiful must also be good, appears completely outdated.
SILENCE, PEACE, 2011, oil on canvas, 110 x 170 cm
NATURE MORTE 2011, oil on canvas, 110 x 170 cm
CORRIDOR, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 190 cm
FLAG, 2013, oil on canvas, 140 x 190 cm
Pictures from the exhibition, "MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES", aTAK Gallery, September-November, 2013