Gina Czarnecki

Bluecoat Arts Centre
Friday 9th December 2011 – Sunday 19th February 2012

Reviewed by Minnie Stacey


As the Bluecoat leaflet said, Gina Czarnecki, through sampling, generating and reprocessing images and sound, transforms gallery spaces to create unique, immersive experiences. Influenced by the arena of biomedical science, she’s been Artist in Residence at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and also worked in collaboration with Imperial College London to research and create the new work in this exhibition.

Life as a visceral aesthetic alongside the athletics of experimental progress poses big questions and Czarnecki’s kinetic work provokes a living dialectic, a critical view. Will Science find the combinations to our safekeeping or are we to be biologically colonised? Is our DNA personally precious or to be mined? Are we personalities or marks to further profiteering? Can our hearts go the distance?

In her latest show, Czarnecki emphasises and contrasts our co-existence with a clinical exploratory arc. From the mean-minded memes of a mythological powder magically manufacturing body parts for capitalist competition in Pixie Dust, to juxtaposing markers of human medical ingenuity with datelines of morbid politics and historical conflict in Precious, this exhibition is Brechtian in its scope.

The discourse of the human condition in a coercive system of tension has dancer Iona Kewney personifying the frantic physicality of being bareback on the bronc of life. In Quarantine she’s a body caught in an inhuman race, experiencing the agony of chasing that elusive orgasm of enlightenment, to only experience a fleeting joy before looking lost and disappearing into darkness. The eerie ice-like structure of Palaces – crystal resin embedded with thousands of milk teeth donated by the public – evokes mythical creatures holding hands and hides the stem-cell keys to mend ourselves.

Two orange leather art deco chairs are like comfy smiles in the corner, but step closer and you’re on a roller coaster ride. The seat cushions are filled with yellow fat from body liposuction and suddenly you feel repugnance and disgust, but when you start prodding there’s a playful bounce and a natural acceptance that we all sit on the stuff, literally followed by experiencing a sinking feeling when you sit on these. The chairs are buckets of debate about the preternatural relationship we can have with our bodies, the pitfalls of airbrushed perfection and cosmetic surgery.

Czarnecki is interested in what’s left over and the life-giving potential of discarded body parts. Although Wasted – a series of filmic sculptures projected onto window screens, exploring the use of human tissue in art and medicine – only comes alive at night, it was not wasted in the daytime. Again, it had something to say. The blank white screens were vertical stretchers, carriers of human potential – for ill or good. Below them, rows and rows of dental plaster casts of gums and teeth were more quantum mechanics than 3-D machine maps. Wherever the missing people were, they were here too, in the portals of a living language shared by us all.

The cyclic geography of Spintex is atmospheric. It begins with the red jewel of a dawn sun and moves through daylight’s wide-open eyes to the soft focused faces of dusk, then we see gleaming glances and the joys of open-air dance in a Ghanaian night. Around the corner, I sat beside Infected, a filmic birthing pool where atom soup hosts a double helix and hones a human dancer. She’s flexing, ready for a jump in evolution. Or will that be a jump out of evolution into the petri dish of scientific designs?

Cellmass is stunning, I was transfixed, had to sit in the dark room on the bench and watch it four times. Multiple bodies fall and dance in three dimensions, a soundscape setting puts you inside the Universe’s bell as a sizzle-fire surfeit of humans shape kaleidoscopic structures – like a momentary Michelangelo frieze, some Francis Bacon morphed meat, or a feather-boa spine. The whole thing meets me as a summation of our homo sapiens collective, a connected home of humanity continually making shapes with breathtaking being. But with a hint of locust behaviour.

Upstairs, away from the stark clinical medical settings, life is war but is also full of colour. A highly infectious agent lies deep in the shadows of Contagion while engaging the gallery goer in an interactive display – you’re making puffs of purple, green and white smoke on a target screen as you move about the room. You, the people in the films and installations, the artist and fellow viewers, are thrown into perspective as a creative presence. Or is that a smokescreen for biological bloodshed and weaponised combat?

A friend of mine visited the exhibition on the last day and was surprised by a spectacular finale. A woman in a body suit with a mask over her mouth stood in a glass box as attendants climbed up to the open top and showered, bag by bag, one and a half tonnes of salt over her. Powder drifted about the room, momentarily setting off the fire alarm as spectators, alchemised by sodium chloride, tasted salt in their mouths. On the way to being cured under glaring spotlights, the woman was chest deep in it, until, after a Pinteresque pause, shuffling her arms, she began to dig her way out.

Czarnecki published a book called Humancraft – Contaminating Science With Art. Whilst raising the frightening ethical context of medical scientific progress, this exhibition shows that without the art of being human, science wouldn’t exist. The sweet and sour spirals of this unforgettable airing are inspiringly powerful and dynamic.

If you missed the show, Czarnecki is at Palaces will tour to the Science Museum, Imperial College London and the Centre of the Cell, London in 2012, and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry in 2013.

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Comment left by Sandra Gibson on 29th February, 2012 at 19:40
I enjoyed reading this eloquent piece and regret having missed the exhibition at Liverpool.