Interview with the Polish visual artist Karolina Jaklewicz
Authors of the Week: Poland
Karolina Jaklewicz is a painter, art curator, and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Architecture at Wrocław University of Science and Technology. Last year, she published her debut novel Jaśmina Berezy.
Dorota Wodecka: When you imagine you are feeling good…
Karolina Jaklewicz: … I am in the large open space. I see the mountains, the water, the sky. I feel relieved to have left the city behind, with all its concrete multiplications. I grew up by the Baltic Sea and, regardless of the season, I used to spend plenty of time on the beach. I think that’s why I am so soothed by unlimited space. Boundless and empty; and that’s what makes me feel good in the mountains too, as there are not many buildings or people.
DW: And in this space, does your imagination work or does it take a rest?
KJ: Oh, it never takes a rest. It’s the activity of mind that you can’t really control. Once human imagination is roused at the age of three or so, it never goes to sleep. Being in nature triggers my painterly imagination, which is strongly rooted in the senses of sight, smell and touch — and everything I see starts to transform itself in my head. The imagination that comes to life in the landscape carries a soothing feeling and creates images which are not so poignant. It is a positive kind of imagination.
DW: But you don’t paint landscapes.
KJ: When I come into contact with an ascetic space, my imagination doesn’t simply depict it or suggest a completed work of art, but rather unleashes a kind of aura that I later transfer onto canvas in my studio.
DW: Imagination is not something angular. It has a liquid quality to it, just like emotions that you, as an artist, reduce to organised structures. What happens to them when a viewer stands in front of your paintings?
KJ: An image that emerges in my imagination is fluid and I need to catch it, to pin it down with a shape or a symbol. That is, to condense the flowing impression into a sign that has a definite form. A person who is looking at it passes from a specific point to fluidity again. This angular symbol gives the viewer a pretext to activate their imagination. In a nutshell, my imagination reduced to one specific point becomes the beginning of liquid imagination in a viewer who is starting from this point. One fuels the other.
DW: As a geometrist, you are able to visualise emotions using geometric figures. How is love related to geometry?
KJ: Love means not only light, peace or space. Love needs strong intrinsic tension, represented by relations between geometrical solids. A straight line or a section illustrates a relationship as an infinite or finite path. Geometric art often means painting proportions, depicting mathematical sequences or numerical ratios. Yet what’s most important in my art is a form of deconstruction similar to that practiced by Tadeusz Różewicz in literature and by Daniel Libeskind in architecture. Space sometimes disintegrates, and sometimes constructs new orders. It is always dynamic and restless.
DW: Why is it restless?
KJ: Art that is untamed is disconcerting and disturbing, because it emanates energy we are not able to harness. We know that what we are looking at comprises a lot more than what is seen at a first glance.
My creative imagination is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s a state similar to love or desire, that you can’t fully control. It doesn’t want to listen to me and when it kick-starts, it switches off the brakes. I sometimes want my imagination to stop rushing, because I am sick of thinking about cruel things, things that generate fears and make me anxious. Still, I have to give in to them, since they are pivotal in my artistic work. Art is not born from beautiful landscapes and affirmation alone. Art must confront dark things, too.
DW: In your recent series of paintings I can see combinations of green and emerald, but when I realise what these colours symbolise, it almost makes me cry.
KJ: I can’t help it if when I look at the Mediterranean Sea, I do not see the cradle of European civilisation nor beauty, whichmany of us associate with paradise. I see people who want to get to the paradise called Europe. Emerald sea waters might be the last colours those people see, drowning. If they drown during the day.
People strive for peace and calm, but it is not the state that is congruent with the real world’s energy. Art leads us to translucent spots we don’t always want to peek into, although we know what is hiding behind them. And when we do look into them, there is no turning back. Imagination will arouse empathy and bring about uncomfortable thoughts about uncomfortable things.
DW: Have you ever cursed your imagination, when you felt like you didn’t want to think about your life and your future anymore?
KJ: I have, yes. Because imagination intensifies various states, blows them up, distorts them, and those distortions are unbearable. I’ve often felt that my imagining what may happen in the future exhausts me and takes my strength away, but rather than surrender, I have encouraged myself to formulate action — that is to think about how to give shape to this poignant experience.
DW: You transform those experiences not only into paintings, but also into literary writing. How is your literary imagination triggered?
KJ: My visual imagination is activated in the open space, whereas my literary imagination is rooted in the city. Here, I can hear words, I listen and observe, and all that is heard and seen is transformed into a literary image.
Words and plots are revealed to me on long walks that I take in a rather steady pace around the urban fringes. I often go on trips along railway bridges, which may not be very attractive, but, for a change, generate whole paragraphs. As I walk, I arrange them in my head, repeating them again and again, and I write them down on returning home.
DW: Do literary and visual imagination have any common ground?
KJ: Yes. It’s empathy. I guess people who have no empathy are deprived of imagination as well.
Dorota Wodecka is a journalist for Gazeta Wyborcza, the most important liberal daily newspaper in Poland, and for its monthly women magazine Wysokie Obcasy Extra. She is the author of the book-length interviews: Życie to jednak strata jest ("And yet life is a loss" – conversations with the writer Andrzej Stasiuk, 2015) and Kapitalnie ("Splendidly" –conversations with the photographer Tomek Sikora, 2018). She also published two selections of the interviews with Polish writers and artists: Mężczyźni rozmawiają o wszystkim ("Men talk about everything", 2010) and Polonez na polu minowym ("Polonaise on the minefield", 2013).