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Text — Marta Królak
Part I. VANTA
You might not know that the universe is about 100,000 times too young to have seen any star ever go completely dark. Of course, plenty of them are in their twilight, shining less and less, emitting ever-weaker radiation almost approaching low-level cosmic background radiation. However, there has never been an instance when a dying star’s radiation reached such low levels – it remains a purely hypothetical event. Łukasz Dybalski invites us to explore these ideas through painting, which he says is “particularly well-suited to examining something that we can’t yet photograph.” The death of these pulsating bodies of energy dissolving into the universe is but a visual hypothesis for Dybalski, who uses them as the pretext for aesthetic experiments focused on the role of the color black in painting. How many different qualities can be contained in a color which engulfs everything?
The exhibition was held in one of the wooden Finnish Houses in Warsaw’s Jazdów neighborhood. The first thing you notice is the golden structure at the center of the room, it looks a bit like a space probe from a Sci-Fi movie or a NASA documentary, and various paintings, installations and photographs are displayed on and around it. The works on display are the artifacts of research project carried out in paintings.
First comes the triptych: a study of a dying star. The small monochromatic painting on the far right concludes the triptych’s examination of the subject and represents the actual starting point for the exhibition’s concept. As a representation of a void, its blackness is surprisingly equivocal; a rather pleasant blackish graphite color rather than a completely dead space. On the other hand, the representation of the star in the two previous paintings appears to be a quite stereotypical approach to the subject: a young, “fluffy” light framed in vibrant orange and a hardened, barely-glowing brown cooling lava.
On the adjacent wall, a large black canvas – a place to individually contemplate the exhibition’s main theme, free from the obvious scientific and astronomical contexts.
Finally, there are two paintings/maps surrounded by a collection of photographs. They compose a story of what physically distinguishes black from all other colors. Every electromagnetic wave impulse detected by the human eye creates the sensation of color, while areas which do not emit photons are perceived by the brain as being black.
The exhibition created a space that is hard to categorize ontologically. It invokes a sterile gallery exhibiting conceptual paintings, a spacecraft and a shrine dedicated to a massive lump of coal obscuring a small, intensely red painting. Every element of this semantically complex structure references a different historical aspect: of the Finnish Houses, the laws of optics and astronomy, and the practices of avant-garde art. All these themes are united by the conception of black as a phenomenon which can always provide new content.
Because of its fragmentary nature, VANTA resists attempts to impose a chronology and clear narration on it, it does not provide clear answers to the many questions it raises.
Part II. \/ /\ |\| ‡ /\
In 2015, Anish Kapoor acquired the exclusive rights to use Vantablack, the “blackest black” paint pigment in the world. The artistic community was nearly unanimous in its protest against this arrangement. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for such vocal opposition was the feeling that ‘black’ as a vessel for artistic expression cannot be exclusively appropriated by anyone, and its democratic nature is ensured by numerous 20th century avant-garde movements. After Malevich’s iconic Black Square, the color’s revolutionary potential gradually decreased and artists continued to search for ways to educate audiences to tolerate ever more.
\/ /\ |\| ‡ /\ is a virtual exhibition. It only exists online, and I’m not even sure that it exists at all. The website is a collection of situations which feature a black canvas – on a golden tarp, in bushes, between cars, on a sidewalk. It is accompanied by songs that I’ve heard somewhere before and a video of a B-2 stealth bomber’s flight. All of it is presented in a typical lo-fi blog format – a series of associations, thoughts, observations which invoke the fragmentary nature of the VANTA exhibition in the Finnish House.
“Painting and time are closely related on many different levels,” says Dybalski. “The first part of the exhibition was dedicated to an analysis of a black surface in the context of a probable future fact: an entirely extinguished star – an event which might not even take place during human-kind’s existence. The second part addresses the roles played by black surface in art’s past and poses questions about new possibilities created in today’s world: a modernity now long-accustomed to just about everything: even to all-black paintings. And exhibitions hosted on photoblogs.”
VANTA (part I) attempts to unravel real, existing mechanisms while \/ /\ |\| ‡ /\ does not need to try so hard – it remains an empty, neutral space. It is also significant that the entire project exists online. The online world is a space which absorbs countless amounts of data, where information disappears much like light in darkness, and is the default option for circulating images and events. As a result, it presents images outside of their original context, history, time and place. They are images which simply exist.
Neither one of these two projects provides an answer to what ‘black’ is. In both instances, it exists as a hypothesis, a means of evaluating whether a meaning can or cannot come into existence. The evaluation of these hypotheses about the color ‘black’ is of a secondary importance. Łukasz Dybalski’s works are evidence that there is more to gain by exploring the sphere of imagination rather than in verifying hypotheses.
Translation — Krzysztof Ścibiorski