The Austin, TX Fusebox Festival asked me to write an essay to include with the performance of sculptor and choreographer Magdalena Jarkowiec. Included are some studio images I shot of her with her fabric sculptures.
A Smiling Giant
It is very different to be very tall in this world. Anonymity is impossible and one must choose to either boldly inhabit the extra space that one occupies or one must apologize for it. A treetops avalanche, an ogre stomping a village, there is always an unfettered force present in much of giant artist Magdalena Jarkowiec’s work. Her art, as she does, occupies space with a blind authority. It is accosting without malice. Things get knocked over because the world isn’t big enough for her presence. We forgive, embrace, and are unharmed by the process.
Part of this gentleness comes from how Magdalena explores our adolescent parts that haven’t yet learned a facade of politeness. Her approach is without guile. It charges forward, ignorant of its own strength. Her sculptures twist and turn sexuality and the human form with fascination, discovering the weirdness and the grossness of a body, poking and prodding it to see what it will do. Genitals are everywhere; hanging from trees, tucked between the legs of a scarecrow that is bending forward to stretch its impossibly long neck. Plaques of 3-dimensional vaginas and penises hang like trophies — surprising and adorable. Magdalena uses improbable fabrics that bring to mind an inherited age-old craft of sewing. As viewers we are not engaged in simple provocation, but rather a bold exploration within a form. The fabric functions as content. It is odd, tacky, garish, and faded, but its use is not kitsch. She revels in our personal history and our brokenness. Magdalena smiles, but she is not joking.
This same reverence for craft and inheritance is evident in the dance works that Magdalena makes. Her experience and expertise in the traditions of ballet and modern dance are clear, but she approaches both with the similar undaunted way she prods the human body. It is as if the characters she creates are making up these styles for the first time. Or they are like kids imitating the logic of ballerinas and in the process, stumbling upon their own wicked geometry. Her choreographed dance pieces become as twisted as her sculptures and in the end, a new form is created. When the dancers eventually don grotesque masks, it is so they can finally personify the twisted complexity of existing as forms of flesh. They bash through space and fuck everything up, innocently unaware that they can’t help but carve a new path.
Magdalena tumbles with conviction into the melancholy and the complexity of the human experience. In her dance piece Us Kids Are Alone in the House (2016), the performers move to the sound of an episode of the television show Taxi (1978-83) playing in the other room, underscoring the loneliness of being a latchkey kid whose only connection to an adult voice is a fictional character from the TV. The performers stampede through a living room and knock over stuffed versions of a table and coffee mugs. The constructs of an adult’s space are turned upside down but no one is hurt in the process. Within our flaws, we find hope and know that everything is going to be okay, probably.
Magdalena’s work cannot help but be an original, idiosyncratic, and bold form that is manifesting itself with the unconscious urgency of already existing somewhere, if only she can sew fast enough. The forms she creates are unrecognizable yet we can instantly see ourselves in them. There is an intimacy and we are honored by its forthrightness. To simultaneously be gnarling her work into absurdity while being sweet, kind, and playful is a masterful maneuver. As the occupiers of human bodies, our worst parts are integrated seamlessly with the magic of our spirits. Magdalena’s work makes us feel loved.