Anna Orłowska is a photographer and multimedia artist. She participated in the exhibition reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today, and holds a scholarship granted by the School of Visual Arts in New York. In her early works she explored the boundaries between the staged and documented, and her current works question the faith we have in images.
Orłowska was born in 1986 in Opole. She began her artistic education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, but continued her studies at Łódź Film School, where she’s currently doing her PhD. At the same time the photographer has also been studying at the Institute of Creative Photography in Opava, Czech Republic.
Commenting on her early works dating back to her studies, Orłowska said she was allured by the possibility of staging as such – the richness of means and the possibility of orchestrating the ambience. She prepared her photographs in a film-like manner: singular frames had their own air and characters. She also referred to the autonomy of photography in this context:
I always feel a little piqued when I hear that my photographs are very film-like. By the same token you could insist on films being reminiscent of photography. Following Jeff Wall, I’d say photography can contain only suggestions of narration but not narration as such, as it has no duration in time.
The aforementioned staging reminiscent of film is visible in the The Day Before cycle.
I was interested in the moment when we suddenly come to realise something, start understanding it and seeing it in a broader context. We become aware of the irreversibility of some decisions. It was these elusive, strange moments that I wanted to depict in the photographs.
Both young women and the photographer herself were the heroines of the carefully composed, colourful photographs. They were depicted after dawn, in interiors lit by dim, artificial light.
It was The Day Before that opened the doors of foreign galleries and festivals for Orłowska. The photographer was invited to participate in the project reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today (2010). The photographs were presented on a series of exhibitions (including displays in Arles, Toronto and New York) and a catalogue accompanying them.
As Professor Grzegorz Przyborek wrote about the works from the Leakage cycle:
We encounter a strange paradox – the mechanical reproduction of reality, a product of our civilisation mingles with a mental image, a sort of a spectre. This is how a myth is born. In the photographs of Orłowska it becomes credible.
Orłowska combined staged photography with documentation. In the photographs from Leakage, she joined several sets of opposites – beauty and repulsion, serenity and tension, among others. It is noticable that the photographer drew inspiration from Roy Andersson’s films. Like the Swedish director, Orłowska creates unanticipated coalescence of meanings, strange stories, and universes.
Working on Leakage, the artist changed her approach to the creative process:
I took a photograph of a girl painting the world map black but it bothered me that the viewer is looking at the map and not the heroine. I decided to limit the frame to the object itself.
The exhibition of her project at Lookout Gallery in Warsaw was an anticipation of this change. It was noticed by the critic Lidia Pańków:
Nature, the object of contemplation, loses its depth and dramatic tension. Instead, it becomes a study of visual record, subjected to scrutiny.
At around the same time, Orłowska published 150 copies of the book My Bones Will Knit in 30 Days. The language used to narrate the story is resemblant to that of Leakage; some of the works are repeated. The story in the book is more intimate, the photographer reaches out to details, an ambience of anticipation is dominant.
The analytical approach, already in Leakage, dominated the works forming the next cycle. Invisibility was a project oriented at the possibilities of seeing. The photographer was interested in techniques linked to the art of camouflage. As she commented on the way she works in an interview:
Collecting ideas was like twirling candy floss on a stick, the word ‘invisibility’ being the latter. Anything would stick to it: gossip, anecdotes, information that I’ve read or overheard. The first impulse stemmed from being in the position of a photographer pondering upon the way in which to photograph something invisible.
Jakub Śwircz, the curator of many projects by Orłowska, wrote of this invisibility as one of the mimetic strategies allowing for concealment and avoidance of criticism. He also pointed to Invisibility as being a commentary on photography as such:
In its visual quest, photography tells us a lot about the medium as such, exposing anew the irrational aspect of its possibilities and making us doubt in the capacities of a machine.
In the photographs, Orłowska showed scenes from Hollywood productions, nursing homes, an invisible tank. She also looked into the mystery of disappearing bees.
I wanted to create a work that would be less introverted and basing more on well-known elements, such as gossip, notes, facts, information, footnotes. I liked how the images I’ve collected speak for themselves and I didn’t have to explain why they were created because they (in a documental sense) just existed. I just collected them and created a new statement.
The multimedia projects Orłowska has realised up until now were co-created by Mateusz Choróbski. This was the case when it comes to, among others, Blackground, Museum shop and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
Blackground is an installation created during Grolsch ArtBoom Festival. It is aimed at rattling cognitive routine. Museum shop was made in XS Gallery in Warsaw. During the presentation the visitors could buy souvenirs referring to postcolonial issues. In the project The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner a black man was running the empty streets of Katowice. The only trace of his activity was a loudspeaker transmitting his panting, located in front of BWA Gallery.
Originally written in Polish by Michał Dąbrowski, 19.04.2017, sources: Culture.pl, Magenta, Szum, dwutygodnik.com, curatorial texts by Jakub Śwircz. Translated by NS, April 2017.
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