Gina Czarnecki Retrospective – Reviewed

Emma Sumner finds evidence of life at The Bluecoat’s winter blockbuster…

The current exhibition at The Bluecoat is a retrospective of multidisciplinary artist Gina Czarnecki.  Exhibiting internationally, you may be familiar with her most as a short listed artist for last year’s Liverpool Art Prize. Bringing together for the first time several of her major works, this is the largest collection of the artist’s work to date. A combination of art and science, Czarnecki’s work raises questions “about the developments in the ‘life’ sciences and changes in culture, society and language”. Through projection and the manipulation of its medium, Czarnecki creates a space for our contemplation.

The exhibition begins with a series of stills from Spine Series. The stills, taken from a large scale moving installation, were originally exhibited on the side of a building as part of Newcastle’s AV festival. In their original format, these images would have been awe-inspiring, but as stills seem lost and drained by the vast space of The Bluecoat’s atrium space.  Shown with two of Czarnecki’s earlier films, the space works as an introduction to the artist’s work, but does feel a little underwhelming. Fear not: this space is by no means a reflection of the emotive sci -art world you are about to enter.

Moving through to the main gallery space, you are greeted by the distinctive humming and groaning sound of the various installations’ sound tracks operating in anticipation of your arrival. The small space of Gallery 1 contains one of Czarnecki’s newer works, the film installation Quarantine. The intimidating sound, emanating from stethoscope recordings of the internal movements of the performer’s body, leaves you wondering if it is safe to enter. Finding the courage to round the dark corner you are greeted by a muscular, androgynous woman “challenging our reading of pain, pleasure, endurance and beauty”. Sitting within this woman’s presence feels uncomfortable, and wrong, but watching someone who is apparently uncomfortable is never going to feel pleasant.

Gallery 2 has been transformed into a darkened, multilevel space for the projection of three film installations. The first, Cell Mass, invites us in to sit on what can only be described as a padded park bench. Sitting down, you feel as though you have been swept onto the set of a sci-fi film.  A twisted, manipulated mass of bodies are being merged in front of your eyes by a mad scientist, seemingly hell-bent on the creation of a new life form. A highly immersive film, it is a struggle to drag yourself away from its hypnotic motions. In the centre of the gallery is a ‘pond’ containing a gloopy white substance on which is projected the “almost liquid” figure of Infected. The futuristic human form whose movements are timed to the swelling, beating, distant sound track keep the sci-fi experience in progress.

“The work is a warning of our continual meddling with the possibilities of the human form” 

The gallery window space, carefully selected to help entice the L1 shopper to drop their bags and come in for a cultural hit, has been transformed into Czarnecki’s experimental lab. A collection of body parts and human tissue harvested for the good of her art, the lab explores the “life giving potential” these spare parts can provide. The output is a series of works, demanding of a second look, entitled Wasted. In the corner sits an unsuspecting pair of art deco arm chairs. On closer inspection you will find its cushioning comes from a substance sourced from processed human fat extracted from liposuction procedures.

The window contains two hanging sculptures entitled Trophies of the Empire 2. Containing clusters of engraved casts of femur bones, the willing donors signed consent form hangs nearby.  Resembling a stalagmite, the other a stalactite, one is made of salt crystals that will grow, the other of sugar which will dissolve over the three month exhibition period. Dominating the centre of the space is the crystal form of Palaces (pictured).  Commissioned by The Bluecoat, the work is an ongoing project due to tour the UK collecting the milk teeth of young children who want to donate.

The last work to be shown from the Wasted series is Diagram for a summerhouse.  Rows of discarded dental casts stretch the full length of the corridor space and lead you up the stairs toward the upper gallery. The installation has a disturbingly human quality, emphasised by the inclusion of dental casts deemed unsuitable for landfill. The windows usually providing views across the courtyard have been covered by opaque paper blinds onto which Versifier:  Stages, Elements Human, has been projected. With the daylight shining through, these ghostly dancers can easily be passed by. You may not at first see them, only on closer inspection do you notice them dancing over the rows of human dental remains.

The large upper gallery has been darkened to show Czarnecki’s major new interactive video installation Contagion. Commentating on the spread of viral disease, the work has a beautiful but deadly feel to it. On the large screen is a red circle with two red lines stretching its diameter, resembling cross-hairs on a gun. The CCTV tracks your movements through the gallery space and turns them into clouds of coloured smoke, weaving precariously through the target. The feeling evoked is one of vulnerability, as if at any sign of the viral disease, you could be shot and your remains placed with the other that line the stairs that brought you here.

Gina Czarnecki is an artistic Dr. Frankenstein, experimenting and producing work that contorts the human form into impossible positions and recycles its parts to create art that questions scientific motivations. Although absent from the exhibition space, the changing forms and possibilities of the work leave you with a sense of Czarnecki’s omnipotence. All of the work within this exhibition is finished to an intense standard, a highly polished product of a unique combination of bespoke effects and processes. The work is a warning of our continual meddling with the possibilities of the human form.  A powerful exhibition, you will leave questioning what part science is playing in our lives.

Emma Sumner

Image courtesy the artist

Until 19th February 2012: open 10am until 6pm daily at The Bluecoat

Posted on 22/12/2011 by thedoublenegative