Plexus solaris

What Photography reproduces infinitely happened only once; it mechanically repeats what can never again be existentially repeated. In photography, the event never extends beyond itself towards something else. (…) Photography is Individual Existence in an absolute manner, the highest Adjacency and Contingency (…). It is precisely this (this photograph, not Photography as a whole) that, in short, constitutes: Tangible, Accidental, Encountered, Real, in their inexhaustible expression. [1] Roland Barthes’ remarks, taken from his famous book “Camera Lucida,” with their strong emotional and existential resonance, could serve as a complete commentary on Paweł Dudko’s exhibition titled “DISAPPEAR,” taking place at the Baszta Gallery in Zbąszyń. They could, if the installation, both in its form and content, did not surpass Barthesian notions of Photography, Existence, Contingency, and Reality on a purely encyclopedic level. However, the quoted passage and the title of Barthes’ book, “Camera Lucida,” seem to be a good starting point for reflecting on what essentially happens in this tension-filled, multi-dimensional exhibition.

The work “DISAPPEAR” was treated with very minimal formal means. The darkened space of the gallery was filled only by a phosphorescently painted area on the wall and a photographic flash set on a tripod, positioned several meters away from it, triggering a flash every 15 seconds. The rhythmically repeated fractionated flash cast onto the plane of the wall activated a distinctive chemical process – the emission of greenish light, gradually fading until the next repeated cycle. However, importantly, this technique constituted the role of the viewer, who, while moving within the gallery, naturally cast a shadow that was captured in the process of exposure on the phosphorescent wall. In this way, frozen silhouettes were drawn on the glowing plane, gradually disappearing over a span of several seconds as the chemical reaction faded. Each subsequent cycle thus provided a view of a new composition of bodies and gestures, creating momentarily captured portraits.

The arrangement of the gallery space as a kind of photographic studio triggered a series of new qualities that made the installation full of ambivalent content. Paweł Dudko approached the mechanism of creating quasi-photographs in an extremely objective and impersonal manner. The programmed flash, devoid of control, became a self-sufficient tool, thereby eliminating the subjectivity of the author-photographer. The image of human shapes on the wall became the result of a specific role reversal in deciding the moment and appearance of a particular slice of reality. It is not the photographer’s eye and the finger on the shutter button that determine the resulting view, but rather the subject being captured, the model whose role in the tradition of fine arts was limited to maintaining a passive pose. Thus, the entire weight of meaning was transferred to the happening of the here and now, the “second-long perpetuation” of ephemeral contingency unfolding against the backdrop of glowing light.

However, this interpretation of the roles of the “photographer” and the “subject” in Dudko’s work is rather secondary to the consequences it evokes. The issue of momentary, one-time commemoration seems crucial, as it raises a series of existentially charged questions in this context: about existence, physical presence, and ultimately about disappearance, which in the long term appears to be nothing more than a flash, leaving a trace only to dissipate and make room for subsequent existences. This seemingly Heideggerian type of reflection on being is shattered by the formal elements of the installation. “Phosphoros” in Greek means “carrying light,” and phosphorescence, as a phenomenon, does not involve reflection but rather the emission of an object’s own light, triggered by prior exposure. One could say that within the installation, a feedback loop occurs where one element stimulates the next to come to life. The exposure of the phosphorescent paint in the darkened space, lacking its own natural color and essentially dependent on light, dematerialized the surface of the wall, turning it into a perceptually elusive curtain… of color? Of light? The answer is as elusive as in James Turrell’s light installations, which induce a kind of contemplation that engages all the senses. The common denominator in the reception of the works of both artists is the viewer’s confusion, encountering the amorphous matter of light, who, by renouncing (necessarily) rational deduction, surrenders to a purely transcendent experience. The mesmerizing suspended greenish fabric in Dudko’s work is no longer merely a passive background on which a play of shadows unfolds. It becomes a reality in itself, active within its own structure, creating a symmetrical counterpart to the real living world, much closer to a Platonic perception of the world of ideas. Thus, the viewer finds themselves caught between their inherent reality and what is its opposed consequence in the metaphysical realm.

fot. Maciej Bohdanowicz

The treatment of the wall surface and the application of paint on it in the “to disappear” installation may initially seem like a purely technical process, but it actually enlivens what was originally thought to be eliminated in the work – the individual mark of the artist. The extent of the painted rectangular plane ends at the height of the artist’s outstretched arm, connoting their bodily presence. The unevenly covered wall surface itself could become a monumental framework, a readable record of the creative process – moments of dipping the brush into paint, quick strokes, or applied corrections. The resulting painterly fabric evokes associations with color field painting, one of the tendencies within the abstract expressionism movement, represented by artists such as Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko – a tendency in which form coexists integrally with meaning, where the non-representational monumental painted surface becomes a medium of expressing the artist’s emotion while also serving as an arena for the viewer’s absorbed spiritual experience. This somewhat hidden element of authorship in “to disappear” is complemented by the placement of the pulsating flash lamp at the level of Dudko’s solar plexus. In the theory of photography, this point is considered optimal for positioning the camera when photographing a subject. Anatomically, it is a location close to the heart in the chest, where its rhythmic pulsation can be felt – an unconditional, mechanical, programmed activity, yet strongly individualistic. Once again, the dimension of the body is emphasized within the elements of the installation. And although these techniques are confined to the realm of details, they give the work a strongly individual, emotional profile.

The exhibition “to disappear” is characterized by an extraordinary fluidity of forms and meanings. Opposing values are constantly balanced here, spanning between cause and effect. The boundary between the photographic and painterly mediums, between action and stillness, automatism and randomness, “mass” seriality and unique individuality, matter and metaphysics, and ultimately between objective mechanism and creative gesture seems to blur. Within this interplay of opposing concepts, a polarization of values emerges, proposed by Paweł Dudko to engage the viewer in contemplating what is lasting and what is transient.

Dorota Perszko

[1] Roland Barthes, Światło obrazu. Uwagi o fotografii, wyd. Aletheia, Warszawa 2008, s. 13-14.

Work presented at the Baszta Gallery in Zbąszyń.