War: Light Within/After Darkness 2012-13

Exhibited at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery, Waterloo, ON
Curated by Christian Bernard-Singer

Tina Poplawski’s installation references the emotional reverberations caused by the enforced displacement of people from their homes by violent military assaults. Her grandfather, was an officer in the Polish Military, was executed by the NKVD (the Russian Military Polish that later became known as the KBG) and all of his known relatives were sent to the Gulags. Like the Nazis, the NKVD was responsible for mass extrajudicial executions, mass deportations of entire nationalities and operated its own system of forced labour camps. Of the 1.5 million Poles arrested, only 100,000 were eventually given amnesty, among them her family. Emaciated, starving, suffering from disease and stripped of all their worldy possession, they wandered over 5 continents as Polish refugees – labeled derogatorily as “DPs” (displaced persons).

Poplawski says: “I have been negotiating the cultural residue of war through my art practice for many years now. This has led me to a fascination with ‘debris’ found in the botanical world.” She sees the natural world as a place of reassuring comfort as it continues its cycles of cleansing and renewal. Whether observing the trace actions of tiny insects on half- eaten leaves, or the decimated carcasses of uprooted trees lying like broken beings, these elements found in nature evoke powerful symbolic associations.

Dreaming Tree speaks about violent uprootings and issues of disassociation often found in people who suffer from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The upper part of the tree is ‘cut away’ from the lower half, each trying to reunite into wholeness. The cradle alludes to the fragility of the notion of safety and to the moment that fer family was ripped from their home at 3am by Rusian soldiers in the middle of winter. What would you pack of you had only moments to grab a few belongings and didn’t know where you were going? The colour refers to the down comforters, covered in pink cotton, that were made by her grand mother and one the very important things that they bring with them on this trip to hell.

In “Sleep Pretty Darling Do Not Cry (mother) and (child)”, Poplawski incorporates mosses, wood ash, earth and other botanical matter, Swarovski crystals and crocheted doilies of roughly hewn jute. The title comes out of the Beatle’s son, Golden Slumbers, with its other powerful lyric “Once there was a way to get back homeward.” The use of doilies in this body of work symbolizes the notion of discarded, anonymous feminine labour. Repetitive actions, according to Jungian psychology can have a balancing effect on the brain during times of crisis. “I can imagine her (grandmother) pulling out her crochet hook, the small movements of her hand, repetitive and silent, creating these protective magic circles, while the small domestic world she knew and loved fell beneath the weight of powerful, monolithic, political idealogies.”

Poplawski’s use of diamonds, Swarovski crystals and bits of glass imparts a fairytale dream-like quality to the works. Given the fact that diamonds are created under the most extreme elemental pressures, their incorporation here suggests the notion of cataclysmic transformation caused by forces well beyond control.

Christian Bernard-Singer / Tina Poplawski Gallery Didactic