Tension that transforms, an interview with Mariusz Kruk

In your works, the dichotomy is clear: a feather is juxtaposed with metal, the sharp with the rounded, the colourful with the monochromatic. What is behind this? Do you believe – as per Ying and Yang concept – that the world is governed by two opposing powers which together create harmony?

You could identify in this dichotomy references to Ying and Yang, but I prefer not to go into it as I would need to carry out a comparative analysis of two systems of perception of reality. So just let me say that I distinguish three possible states of oppositions – conflict, harmony (which could be called collaboration) and symbiosis. In my opinion, it is not unidimensional activity like, say, water – fire, hate – love, but rather it depends on what field this activity is taking place and the complication of these configurations gets bigger. We usually look at it from our own perspective as we are on a platform on which we are, but on a higher or lower platform, somewhere close to us, these configurations can assume other shapes and lead to other solutions.  

But then do you see this as the opposition of forms or perhaphs a kind of completion, which we still do not see, perceiving it as the opposition?

Yes. Because if we interpret it too literally, then we see the opposition. But from a distance, when we are not involved in an event, we can perceive it more objectively. When we are engaged in something, it gets more difficult to analyze it in different ways and from different levels of being.   

So there is no division into the proverbial black and white, but you assume that this is a way from black to white through all the shades and that this is a connection rather than two extreme situations?

Yes. I can see this situation in a different way. To me, it is configured differently.

As a more monochromatic course of the line than jumps over the stones?

It is pursuit of objective observation when I am not involved in an activity. Or – in other words – outside of it. And when I am „in” a situation, I perceive it personally. I have my own corporeality, I have my own psyche and then it is difficult to present the activity in a different shape. It can be very annoying or very pleasant. But then we would need to define what it means to be annoying, what is physical or psychic pain,  is pleasure a simple experience like having ice-cream or chocolate, or is pleasure related to some finding. There are different possibilities. Still, now we are discussing all this on one platform on which we actually are. We are unable to go above it or under it, as we are no plant, animal or bacteria.

In your works, you use natural materials such as pieces of wood, and products made by humans of these materials like fragments of cardboard, tape or string. Does the human activity not disturb the natural harmony of the world?  

As far as my observation is correct, I believe it doesn’t. Here, we are coming back to the multidimensionality of the world. Humans are part of nature. They are composed of what nature is composed of, i.e. the matter. On different levels of being, the matter transforms in different ways. As far as we can observe it more objectivelly, it is not conflicted, it strives towards something. I believe, that it learns. That after all these transformations, we are not outside of nature, we are nature. We can create things that, say, a beaver can’t. It also transforms nature in a certain way by building its lodges, it has different needs and behaves according to its needs. Our needs are of a different type and require a different extent of transformation. Which in my opinion, is not a conflict. It can be a conflict from our perepctive but I am not sure if we actually make any mistakes. And if so, correction will undoubtedly follow, if necessary.

The matter organizes itself, as you say, it changes. It is partly natural decay, partly intervention by humans, and at other times through phenomena which we still cannot name.

The intervention of humans is the intervention of nature. I once asked why the matter needs such a plenty of organisms eating one another and bringing one another to life? Why does it incessantly recreate itself through destruction and construction? This is a huge expenditure of energy. In our contemporary thought, humans place themselves outside, and I believe they are „in”. Meaning that they refer anything that exists to them and themselves to what exists, drawing a demarcation line between these two worlds. But here we touch upon the matter, and do not touch upon energy or spirit. The movement of energy is there for a purpose, through this movement energy comes into being. But there is no point in going deeper into these issues at the moment. We transform nature in a necessary, determined way. We are self-transforming beings, like nature, it is only that on different levels of being this transformation looks differently.

In your works, you can see fragments of everyday objects, sometimes as banal as a roll of paper toilet. Is your intention to sublimate these objects to the rank of art? What is art for you?

Let me answer that toilet paper is just as banal as paint tube. It all depends on what we do with this. But we are looking here at a function. We have used something and we are left with an unnecessary object. And paint is always necessary for something. Some painters did not even dispose of squeezed out tubes. But it is important what we produce from this material. As this is a piece of the matter, i.e. amongst other – a piece of us.

And what is art for you?

Art is happiness. It is the joy of creating forms, i.e. transforming. So from this tube or from this roll of toilet paper, I bring a new form into existence. Whether on canvas, assamblage or an object. In other words, I make the matter through transformation mobile. And I treat art as laboratory of reality perception, and perhaps even creation.  

Why did you decide to create your works with a roll of toilet paper – we just mentioned – rather than paint tube, meaning classicly perceived painting? Some time ago, you used to realize a number of work cycles in this technique. 

This was a greater extent of illusion, squeezing out the painting and applying it on a surface. Now, it is more one-to-one, it is more tangible, there is more direct contact with the form. Because when I paint, say, a rectangle on canvas, it has its virtues, but when I have a cuboid made of wood, concrete, stone, or found somewhere – the contact is more blunt. But here we are entering the issue: why all this?

When realizing a new cycle of works, you began with collages, then came assamblages, and finally you decided to reject this medium and turned to objects.

It began in 1984. Then, I turned to painting again, then to different kind of objects, and then painting. Let’s say that this was like a wave. I never really analyzed the reasons for acting like that.

And if you were to analyze it, after all?

Deficiency. Simply, deficiency. I do not want to call this an escape from a habit, but after a time I came to the conclusion that in a particular form of representation I simply have nothing more to say.

So you are tempted to try to see and describe the reality, or a given phenomenon, in a different way?

Yes, I am. If it slips away there, but let me come back to the notion of laboratory. With this description of reality and different situations, I strive to build situations which make it possible to bring closer or – to speak effusively – to touch the reality. As if I were closer to these mechanisms which could be called the rules of reality. Which is what physics has been looking for: how come it spins around? That is why I have been talking about a cognitive laboratory because in addition to beauty inherent in art and the joy of bringing shapes into being, I am excited to learn how it works to bring these shapes into existence. Where does it come from? Obviously, intuition, psyche, preferences, culture and other things may be at play here. But without extending this field too much, I am keen to show in my works the processes I observe, even without naming them. I.e. relations between forms.  

It is difficult to break away from a situation on which you have been working ardently and from the images of series of works into which you are very engaged. And still you manage to take a deep breath and look at the situation again, with a fresh eye, which however will never be fresh, and then transform this situation into a new form. Do you have a key to close and open the door of a new perception? But let’s try not to refer to, say, Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. Please, try to break free from the background which has been imprinted into you.

This exceeds art, and we would need to start talking about transcendence. I.e. certain behaviour which is not fully perceptible. An inner compulsion, as it were. And it is difficult to find out where it comes from, because it is common for everybody not only those circled around art. The tension you experience that you don’t know where it comes from. Of course, it can be made simple and it can be said that it comes from work experience, vibration of the mind, anxiety. I do not know. Analysis of this phenomenon is unnecessary for me at the moment.

Is the natural proces of corrosion, decay of materials you use a part of the creative process? And if so, where does it put you in this process?

My role is very active. If I want something to corrode momentarily, which I have learned from my partner, I use ferric chloride, and corrode these things. It can also be used to look for a proper colour on canvas. While it is easy to correct a colour on canvas, if I don’t like it, it is riskier on metal. It works out or it doesn’t. If it does, I can seal it to stop it from corroding further.  

When you do not allow your works to corrode further or block any other natural processes, then you treat these works as objects. And – I believe – when you allow continuous and natural corrosion, maturation – as it were – of a work, you treat it as a separate entity. It begins to live its own life, recording its history on its „body”. Changes in temperature, light, changes in weather conditions. Thus creating its own story.

In this one piece to which you are probably referring, there is only one element corroding. What you mean is anthropomorphization, following Pygmalion’s footsteps. Let’s leave the philosophical search, and focus on the aesthetical view of the form. In each work, there is a few of such representations. It can be social, philosophical, there is a number of threads. And the piece, when it is done, has an aesthetic aspect, and what is called a-aesthetics is still aesthetics. It is a choice of certain conditions. And there is no need to go deep into it. As a piece of art is still received like this, anyhow. Why complicate something which is simple?

You are a versatile artist: you create poetry, painting, assamblages, spatial objects. What significance has the medium for you?

I don’t believe I am versatile. I express myself in a few different forms. With this reservation that I would not call what I write poetry, especially in the context of what has happened in literature. It is not my business how it is called or described. I have no intention to impose any literary formula onto it.

Let me rephrase the question then. When do you feel the imperative to use alphanumeric characters and when symbols expressed by the matter?

It depends on the phenomenon, on what I want to present. Some phrases that I use are composed of two words, and there is tension between these words, some kind of information relayed. Why should I present it in a medium which would require a greater amount of material? Why? When only one signal suffices. If – instead of two or three words – I used it in an object, I would not achieve the quick association. And this would start creating a different figure which would have other qualities.

So the realizations done with words are not completion of your plastic works but separate micro-works?

Yes. If an object or a painting refers to a situation, it does not illustrate this situation. One more important thing: with certain matter you cannot do some things in any different way than by using the tension of illusion. A painting will tolerate the line, space – not necessarily, as the line needs to be fixed in that space somehow. And it loses the quality of gesture despite its appearance as a casual gesture. It is not as natural as a drawing with pencil on a piece of paper or canvas. Or more complicated when the landscape is synthesis of what we see. Because you cannot represent all the details, even in a photograph. Building of a landscape in space would mean that you would need to recreate a park. Soi f I feel the tension, let’s call it poetic, and I recreate a landscape and my emotions, I can do it on canvas while I need to find a different form to convey the tension and thrills I have when looking at a piece of nature. In my case, the different emotions I have inside of me require – sometimes – a different form. It can be a painting, word, object, assamblage. Depending on the level of illusion.

A show of your works in MakGallery, Poznań, is approaching. Could you, please, tell us a few words about this show?

I just did.

Interviewed exclusively for Mak Gallery by Michał Begiert and Magdalena Kleszyńska.