If it Weren’t for the War 2013-15

Exhibition at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Owen Sound, ON with Dick Averns, Allan Harding MacKay and Tim Whiten
Curated by Virginia Eichhorn, Director and Head Curator

Hitler and Stalin shared the goal of destroying the very fabric of Poland’s political and cultural life. The occupiers looted and demolished much of Poland’s cultural and historical heritage. Policies aimed at cultural genocide resulted in the deaths of thousands of scholars and artists. More than a million Polish citizens were deported to Siberia, many to Gulag concentration camps, including both of my grandmothers, my mother and father and all of their siblings. Over 20,000 military officers were executed in the Katyn Forest massacres, my grandfather among them. Unlike the Nazis, the Russians still remain unaccountable for their war crimes. Of the 1,500,000 Poles arrested, only 100,000 were eventually given amnesty, among them my family. Emaciated, starving, suffering from disease and stripped of all their worldly possessions, they wandered over 5 continents as Polish refugees—labelled derogatorily as “DPs” (displaced persons).

Understandably my heritage has an ongoing impact on my World View. There is a complex allure for me in observing how the process of decay and transformation are inextricably linked. I have made my art out of ‘debris’ or ‘detritus’ in the botanical world – underfoot, trodden on, ignored, yet of vast importance in the purification process of both land and aquatic ecosystems. I habitually collect despoiled and infested botanical matter (detritus) during hikes and canoe trips through the various Green Belts, marshes and beaches of Tiny Township, my current home. I have gathered and digitally recorded hundreds of Watershields (Brasenia schreberi), among our most easily identified floating-leaved aquatic plants. The works entitled Eaten Away are part of this ongoing investigation. The plant provides food for many aquatic invertebrates, who leave trails of nibbles and meandering pathways through the leaves. Each leaf is a small, floating elliptical form, shaped much like a Vesica Piscis. The Vesica Piscis is made by intersecting two circles that share the same radius. The intersection of these two circles represents “common ground”, “shared vision”, the “divine feminine”, the “bridge between heaven and earth”, among many other associations.

Another area of concentration has been an ongoing group of works inspired by the crocheted pieces created by my grandmother during and after the family’s dark times, entitled Infringements and Shudder. These pieces are ‘doily’ like wall sculptures made from rough hewn jute embedded with earth, decayed botanical matter, bits of mica flake, glitter and Winterstone in the centre, on which are painted folk patterns of various countries that have been invaded by the Soviet Union. These pieces are deteriorated, cracked and despoiled – remnants being taken back by the earth, the prima materia, the first matter. First matter or the fundamental substance is compared to everything; to male and female, to heaven and earth, to body and spirit, to chaos and quintessence in the Alchemical Magnum Opus. Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. Historically Alchemical objectives included the creation of the philosopher’s stone; the ability to transform base metals into gold; and the development of an elixir of life, which could confer youth and longevity.

The piece Sleep Pretty Darling Do Not Cry (mother and child), incorporates moss, wood ash, botanical matter, Swarovski crystals and crocheted doilies, again of roughly hewn jute. The title comes out of the Beatle’s song, Golden Slumbers, and is also inspired by its other compelling lyric, “Once there was a way to get back homeward”. As a child I had nightmares about being ripped from my home by monstrous forces. This experience was passed down to me through the family genome. Their small domestic world was destroyed beneath the weight of a powerful, monolithic, political ideology that set out to construct heaven on earth but instead built hell. Added to all of this is the sad fact that very few want to hear these ‘stories’. They are perhaps too difficult to bear. And so through my art practice, I am attempting to reclaim something of this lost past, this misunderstood history – to bear witness to these fading memories and to create, out of the wreckage, a visual and ethical imagination.

Tina Poplawski / Artist Statment