Self-reflexing formalism taken to its limits produces cancellation – and this can be revalued and reinterpreted as modern and post-modern vanitas.
Vanito Vanitas. Emptying emptiness. At the beginning, there is an image. And this somehow iconographic image is a base to operate with in this at first formal discussion. The initial images operate with symbols only in order for these symbols to be rendered inoperative. To empty the empty is to evoke the pure experience of it and thus I deprive my work of any symbolic representation.
“It is from zero, in zero, that the movement of beings begins” [K. Malevich]
In a way, the last series of photographs from my Vanito Vanitas project is a result of my ultimate struggle with the iconography of western morality, painting, and art in general.
If 17th century vanitas painting was about the very Christian ideas of passing away, futility, disappearance and vanity, in the final chapter of my Vanito Vanitas the works are not about, but re-present the very concepts, no longer through symbolism of the figurative nor through sensual experience of the abstract, but through them being the very quality of the actual artworks, i.e. quality of the body. What used to be the object of disappearance becomes its very subject. This no longer operates within the sphere of art alone but within the sphere of experienced reality.
The entry point of Vanito Vanitas is the classical western idea of art which is then faced again in the final approach and my goodbye to painting and art. Marcel Duchamp claimed a work of art has a lifespan, which he estimated to be 20 years. After 20 years, he claimed, a work of art becomes part of art history. And the history of art is not art. In Vanito Vanitas this idea is taken further. Does history have a lifespan? All passes away and so should history. What is to become of what had been a work of art and then has become part of art history? I mean, what does happen to an image of art history when it has almost completely disappeared. Is it possible to make art in post-historic time, is it possible to still remain within the discourse of what is art and what is not? To me these no longer valid questions leave one with no other option but to depend on what is left, i.e. the very crude reality, of what we touch and what we see, and what this reality takes from us and what it gives us. A ready-made found in the street, a memory of once a great artist, or a painting in the gallery, neither of these things is any different.
Michal Martychowiec, 2010