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Blue

‘A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.’[1]

Blue was born out of a simple question: what is the landscape which has not changed throughout history? In The Storyteller Benjamin talks of the landscape in which ‘nothing remained unchanged but the clouds’[2]. Following the idea of historical succession Hubert Damisch laid out in A Theory of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting (‘In Greek the word theory means succession […] so it is (or should be) the “theory” of all the /clouds/ in history, at least in the history of painting.’[3]) I thought: of course, the history of the depiction of the landscape is the history of painting, but what would be the historically relevant answer in the context I have been gradually introducing throughout my self-curated cycles (What remains the poets provide, Tears of Iblis, Journey to the West)? The cloudless blue sky!

Blue brings all of the history into the present. After all, an empty blue sky is one landscape which has not changed throughout ages and a view we share with all of our forebearers. But here lays a certain ambiguity. Although it would be right to say a cloudless sky is one landscape which has not changed throughout history, yet each time one experiences it, its colour is unique and cannot be repeated.

The project refers to both historical and art historical discourses. It is directly connected to one of my self-curated cycles – The Tears of Iblis in which context the intention is not to present another modern ‘image of destruction’ through removal of the cloud (destruction of Damischian history of painting), even though it might appear so at first, but rather through embedding relevant content into this historically relevant image. In The Storyteller Benjamin brings our gaze down, from the clouds to the sphere directly concerning ‘the tiny, fragile human body’. This landscape unchanged in history is perhaps the ultimate landscape of oblivion and it is thus that in its emptiness it awakens man’s urge to remember whatever might have been lost, or whatever man might want to ‘construct upon’. This results in reconstruction of theory. And ‘once again theory implies history’[4].

So, on one hand this project ventures into a discourse with history of painting. On the other, it is also important to note Blue poses an ongoing question on the nature of the readymade and its formal implications. As the painting tradition has taught us, blue is the most immaterial of all the colours. The large format photographs depict nothing, after all, but the empty space. Yet, this image deprived of any figurative representations is remotely abstract as it is a record of reality in the strictest sense. Thus, it is the colour of the sky which becomes the readymade with its conceptual dimension and all the implications that can be added onto a work of art: philosophical, political, historical, etc.

The Romantics have brought the existential framework into the landscape genre. For example, Friedrich claimed ‘The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself’. This view would have been later contested by surrealists like Salvador Dali who claimed ‘the soul is the state of the landscape on the contrary to the romantic view that the landscape is the state of the soul.’

However, both views are a proof of the genre acquiring a dimension which was a direct response to the changing political landscape of the time. Considering the wider context of my work this political dimension plays an important role, leaving the formal discourse behind.

Romanticism was a reactionary response to the scientific rationalisation of nature and material social changes in the second half of 18th century with the emerging and expanding industrial capitalism. The factory system of mass production utilised processes that used and controlled natural forces and increasingly used fossil fuels. These processes combined with the profit motive ‘degraded and despoiled’, as romantics saw it, the environment. Cities expanded, and grew into centres of pollution, poverty and deprivation. The masses consisted then of ‘units of production’ which became spiritually alienated from the land and nature. Both people and nature were objectified, and reduced to commodity status.

‘This was regarded as undesirable and leading to the degradation of the humans. According to the romantics, the solution was “back to nature” because nature was seen as pure and a spiritual source of renewal. It was also a way out of the fumes of the growing industrial centres for the new industrial rich.’

Many of the issues important in the Romanticism remain very much valid today. Conservation and environmentalism are two of the more crucial issues of the present together with the one of changing paradigms of individual freedoms which has begun during the time of industrial capitalism.

In this context the political character of Blue is evident. It may seem the cloudless sky has been the one landscape unchanged in history. However, will it remain so in the course of the near future? Environmental destruction, political dimension of ‘owning the sky’ which became evident in the course of recent wars, and exploration of the cosmos which might bring forward unprecedented concentration of capital and power in the corporate hands are a few of the major issues at hand and might irrevocably alter the landscape in question and place our freedoms at stake.

Each of the photographs of the cloudless sky has been taken in a particular region of the world. I chose to specify their ‘provenance’ with the historical name of every region as each photograph becomes an entry point to contemplations on history and its reverberations on the present.

As these photographs connect the viewer to history through a form of a personal experience, what remains at their centre are the histories of power structures with an ongoing struggle between the individual and various power units as one realises most associations like those of nations or cultural identities might simply be diversionary ideas.

 

Michal Martychowiec, 2013-2022

 

 

 

Blue #1 Lower Lusatia

Although we say the cloudless sky is blue, it remains unique in its every moment. In a different place or time, the exact colour of the sky can never be repeated.

The cloudless sky remains the only landscape unchanged throughout history. But it is otherwise with the land underneath it. Then, the question to ask is who can lay claim to either? It would seem sensible for the land to belong to the people who (currently) cultivate it. That would mean one could not ‘own’ land beyond their capacity to utilise it and capacity to consume ‘fruits’ bore by it. It is basic logic, but of course when various power units (e.g. nation, state, etc.) come into play, the case seems to be different.

We learn Lower Lusatia was inhabited by most likely Germanic tribes during the time of the Roman Empire. Those were later replaced by Western Slavs, and out of many cultures spread throughout the region, the Lusatian culture, from which now the region’s name derive, was the most prominent.

From 930s the lands were reconquered by the Germanic kings just to be going back and forth between them and the Slavs throughout the following centuries. The region became separated by wars and states – parts of it being claimed by what later became either Poland or German Kingdoms.

Putting states and nations aside, what of the people? The rights to the land and the sky have both been claimed by the centralised powers. However, among the inhabitants, those speaking the Sorbian language still remain, although in great minority.

But even those ancient people are not the first ones to have lived here. In the end, the only common space is the one nobody can lay claim to. The rights to the sky above might also have been claimed by the great powers. But the record of the view of the cloudless sky at a given moment is something that belongs to individuals and their given histories. And as the experience of that moment is shared throughout times immemorial with all of our forbearers a simple realisation comes to mind: we all share common history, even if it’s the great power units that divide and singularise it.

Michal Martychowiec, 2013

 

 

[1] Benjamin, W. (1969) Illuminations. New York:Schocken Books. p. 84

[2] Benjamin, W. The Storyteller in Illuminations, Schocken Books, 1969 p. 84

[3] Bois, Hollier & Krauss (1998) A Conversation with Hubert Damisch. October. Vol. 85. p. 9

[4] Bois, Hollier & Krauss (1998) A Conversation with Hubert Damisch. October. Vol. 85. p. 9

Blue #1 (Lower Lusatia)

(May 2013) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

art by Michal Martychowiec
art by Michal Martychowiec

Blue #2 (Red Ruthenia)

(June 2013) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #3 (Pomerania)

(November 2013) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #4 (Osterland)

(May 2014) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #5 (Upper Lusatia)

(January 2016) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #6 (Prignitz)

(March 2016) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #7 (Lesser Poland)

(June 2017) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #8 (Emei Mountain)

(June 2018) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm

Blue #12 (Hispania)

(September 2022) chromogenic prints, 175x220 cm