Tomasz Plata

Text accompanying
Minimum, Necessary, Objectively Reasonbable
exhibition (2015)

... Puffer jacket? Or rather a gorilla defending its territory? Anomalia – just like many earlier works by Ewa Axelrad – confuses the viewer. And on top of that this collar triggering anatomical associations... What are we supposed to see behind the sculpture, an aggressor or a victim?

Minimal, Necessary, Objectively Reasonable is an exhibition about minor changes, slight shifts, about what happens when things that were meant to provide security or comfort begin to restrict and discipline us. Here a thermometer may just as well be a police baton or a dildo. Similarly, dental tools subtly reveal their repressive, violent character. Our bodies turn out to be a field of control. The control is hard to be ignored, even if it’s for our own sake.

Ewa Axelrad remains faithful to her favored subjects. She returns again to the relationship between the realm of the visual and the contemporary techniques of discipline, between hygiene and social order. One could say that she is a good student of the Polish critical art school. Wrong. Ewa Axelrad is less confrontational than her predecessors, and more sophisticated. There is more to her work than a critical comment on adaptation practices. Rather than stigmatize strategies of oppression, she reveals their mechanisms. Her works are visually seductive and accurately rendered – and attractive in their sensuality. Viewers faced with Ewa Axelrad’s work discover in themselves not only a victim but also a participant of a social exercise, someone who subjects themselves to violence without any special resistance, sometimes even with pleasure.

In the background obviously linger memories of recent riots – especially those in American ghettos. During the incidents in Baltimore or Ferguson the language of concern for health and purity of the collective body was often used to justify the police activities. Obviously, as the authorities assured – all actions were ‘minimal, necessary, objectively reasonable’.


Marinella Paderni

Extract from the catalogue
La Memoria Finalmente. Arte in Polonia 1989-2016 (2016), p. 82

The themes of Ewa Axelrad’s research are often taken from specific events in the past, personal recollections and collective memories. Once isolated from their original context, they become universal representations, contemporary and capable of expressing both familiarity and distance, representing the tension between these two polarities, tangible of much of her work.

Among the recurring subjects in Axelrad’s practice there is the violence to be found in interpersonal, collective relations, and its repercussions on the personal objects of the everyday cosmos, on architectural contexts. An emblematic example of this are the site-specific installations produced by the artist between 2009 and 2013, focusing on the analysis of violence in architectural designs and spatial layouts, areas where Axelrad examines the dynamics between control, disciplinary power, authority and vulnerability. In particular, over recent years her work has focused on temporary formations, such as the structures of police riot shields and uniforms (the puffer jacket in the work Anomalia on show). All these references originate in her interest for shelters, hiding places and deceiving structures. The artist has always had a certain fascination for militaru bunkers, transferring their dimension of restriction and coercion to the movement of spectators, their gaze, confusing the observer with the observed, the subject with the object. Nevertheless, it is the very potential for a shift in power that lies at the heart of her interest, the possibility that the current dynamics of power may change from one moment to the next.

Alongside this theme, Axelrad is also attracted by the role of aesthetics and design in the interplay of certain social set-ups. Several of her projects concentrate on the ambigous relationships in which an attarctive surface deliberately misleads the attention to the point of revealing its underlying opposite. Hers is often a kind of feedback between aesthetics and ethics, manifested in psychologically laden installations. Her work often references historical and political events, literature, cinama and science; these sources are profoundly stratified in her work so as not to appear over obvious, always maintaining her instinctive level on the front line.


Warm Leatherette

Anna Czaban

An extract from
the catalogue
The Handy Ones (2013). p.20-23

Warm Leatherette is the title of a project by Ewa Axelrad, consisting of a series of objects, photographs and drawings, the majority of which were shown at the Arsenał Gallery. The title was borrowed from one of the first pieces by Daniel Miller, composed when the author was deeply impressed by reading Ballard’s Crash. Initially the musician decided to write a movie script for the novel but ultimately gave up the idea for the sake of a minimalist text, recited against the background of cracking electronic tones emitted by the then state-of-the-art Korg synthesiser. Miller’s recording reflects a perverse moment of bliss of a physical intercourse with a machine, a sense of speed and fear of the final crash, whose near perspective only enhances the desire. “[…] warm leatherette melts on your burning flesh / you can see your reflection in the luminescent dash […] a tear of petrol is in your eye / the handbrake penetrates your thigh / quick, let’s make love before you die”.

Axelrad’s artifacts also include references to Ballard but remain haughtily unmoved. The movement or rather a neck-breaking rush captured within them is laid bare in a clean, polished and therefore greatly sensual and erotic form: a car chair bent during a crash, its leatherette the colour of a white man’s skin, resembling a human body in a sexual compulsion. From a certain angle it assumes the shape of a vagina. The crash barrier (Chłonna), showing traces of a genuine collision, rammed into a wall at the height of the solar plexus, is a deeply phallic form, additionally covered with metallic car lacquer. In a tragic manner the moment of crash merges the shattered car and the injured body, until the apocalyptic sexual fulfillment. That is why the upholstery is delicate as human skin, the barrier adopts the texture of a car and the photographs of a dented car bodies (Fluids) look like draped soft textiles.

Axelrad follows Paul Virilio and analyses modernity not only as the history of progress but as a history of constructing ever more sublime accidents. The ever tighter links between technology and the human body and the creation of devices that are increasingly adjusted to humans is a process that is both alluring and pernicious. There is an equation mark between controlling the machine and controlling one’s body, life, and sexuality. Furthermore, it is a tool of power, often in its military aspect. It is not a coincidence that pioneer technological solutions are tailored first to the military. The desire of power is inextricably linked with sexual desire and perhaps that is why its attributes such as weapons are so sensual, black (the colour of dignity), heavy and majestic. The same can be said about cars, whose elaborate and aesthetic design is synonymous with luxury and sexual desire.


untitled: crash
Huw Hallam

An extract from
the book
Warm Leatherette (2013). p.36-53

the handbrake penetrates your thigh

At terminal velocity, resistance matches the active force propelling an object through space. The object enters a temporal equilibrium, gliding with neither acceleration nor deceleration. It enters a zone of seeming paradox where motion and stasis meet. Here, at terminal velocity, the instant becomes eternal. The push and pull of past and future cancel each other out; time and movement become abstract, without implication. Though the expectation that something will intervene – the free-falling body will crash to earth; trucks will pile upon speeding trucks; life will be lost – is so strong that we call this strange sauntering terminal.

The cancelling out of forces transpires neatly on the mathematician’s page. In the physical world of colliding automobiles, by contrast, there is a bloody interpenetration and melding of alien bodies. Crumpled highway barriers bear the marks of the vehicles that shoot through them. Barely perceptible scars embroider those monochrome flashes. Even the impermeability of air – its unfelt density, its grit– becomes a part of the enigmatic constancy of terminal velocity. But in that clash before the crash, that moment of infinity before death, it’s not simply diverse bodies that tear at each other and conjoin. The collision ensues at another level as well, where the concrete, impure and finite refract into seemingly pure, atemporal abstractions and the physical melts into the metaphysical.

This is the stuff of eroticism. Philosopher Georges Bataille argued that the whole business of erotics ‘is to destroy the self-contained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives’. Those who engage in eroticism, he said, enter into ‘a quest for a possible continuance of being beyond the confines of the self [in its finite, discontinuous existence]’; they aim to ‘strike to the inmost core of the living being, so that the heart stands still’.1 Warm leatherette and the viscous gloss of clearcoat automotive paint prove the ideal fetish tools of this break-neck grasp for nirvana at terminal velocity. (...) The hard copy is available here.

1 Georges Bataille, Eroticism, trans. Mary Dalwood (London: Penguin, 2001), 17.

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Catastronauts (fragm.)
Tomasz Plata

An extract from
the book
Warm Leatherette (2013). p.10-22

(...) You will not find anything of the sort in Ewa Axelrad’s work. For her the Ballardian catastrophe has an altogether different dimension. It does not put one in mind of the apocalypse, and certainly not of the carnival we are to experience thanks to the apocalypse. It is rather one of the most important mechanisms that drive reality. It is for that reason that it requires careful analysis, calm description. For Axelrad both our technology, as well as our politics and biology constitute a catastrophe.

Axelrad follows the lead of Ballard, but also of Paul Virilio. This French philosopher, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, attempted to introduce a reflection on the theme of catastrophe into the field of art. His Parisian exhibition “Ce qui arrive/Unknown Quantity” was accompanied by an essay (in Poland published in “The Original Accident”), in which he called for a Museum of Accidents to be established. One must begin to document and archive accidents, and draw conclusions from them, as today an accident is not a deviation from the norm, but the norm itself, the guiding principle of civilization, as Virilio writes. It is the finale of the industrial revolution, which “invented the accident”, he adds. “To invent a sailing ship or a steamer is to invent shipwreck. To invent railway is to invent the rail disaster, derailment”. Perhaps a more important experience than the collapse of the Twin Towers (which after all was not an accident, but the consequence of a terrorist attack) was constituted by the earlier Chernobyl disaster, when, to use Virilio’s terms, the nuclear disaster was invented. It is then that it was finally proven that the by-products of the progress of civilization endanger the civilization itself. Or rather, that what threatens, undermines and destroys civilization is at the same time what establishes and creates it. It is excellently evidenced by the world of politics – Western political modernity was after all launched by a disaster, by the gesture of radical and revolutionary break with the past.(...) The hard copy is available here.

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Spatial Agent
Aneta Kopczacka
In ORANƵ (eng. ORANGE), in the same manner as in her previous projects, Ewa Axelrad begins with the space of a gallery, in which her pieces are to be presented; she tries to adopt the way, in which that space affects the viewer. Once more, we are also dealing with an exceptionally aesthetic, pristine and minimalistic exhibition; in fact, only two objects have been displayed. Nevertheless, in ORANƵ the most significant is what is physically absent.
Preparing for the exhibition the artist acts like a spy - conducting land reconnaissance, recruiting the space, swaying it to her side and taking it over entirely. As a result, when entering the gallery (a classic white cube) somewhere under our skin we sense that we have entered a hostile territory. The military vocabulary that I'm choosing here is most appropriate since the exhibition ORANƵ in a way takes on the subject of the warfare - the clue implied in the text accompanying the exhibition written by curator Piotr Pękala and in the titles of the pieces - Leakage (Based on Two Photographs of Disturbing Resemblance) and Fair Child UC-123K.

The central element of the show is a small aircraft mould lit by a spotlight. It is a somewhat transformed replica of an American aircraft Fairchild, which was commonly used, among others, in operations in Vietnam. (...) read more....

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Ewa Axelrad’s ORANƵ
Piotr Pękala

Text accompanying
the exhibition
ORANƵ (2011)
Does not lucidity, the mind's openness upon the true, consist in catching sight of the permanent possibility of war? 1 E. Lévinas

An ovaeresthetised image of phenomenas occurring in contemporary culture, in Ewa Axelrad’s art releases its opposite shadow
in the form of a disease. Like in a mental disorder of a bopilar character, one manic episode inevitably entails an outbreak of an opposite neurosis. Despite the fact that initially the latter syndrome remains dormant, it does exist parallely to arisen dysfunction and manifests itself with the same force.

These marginal affections are reproduced by the artist and incased in one space. Every time the gallery gets actively involved
in the development of this disease; it serves as a stage for releasing subsequent psychodramas. Therefore, it becomes a sort of
a mental space. Its ‘condition’ affects both the figures and objects placed in it, as well as it evokes specific emotions in a viewer entering it. The gallery thus, despite initially appearing as a friendly place, eventually turns out to be the home hosting a daemon. The spirit detained in this interior, that we are shut in with on our own, has a crime on his conscience. And despite the fact that the suspect meticulously cleanses his cell, the gainsaid guilt of the elegant man* appears on one of the surrounding walls in the form
of a ‘projection’.

However, refferring to Emmanuel Lévinas ‘This separation is not simply a negation.’ 2 Rather, the clinical nature of the exhibition
is employed in order to clearly observe the disease. We recognize it first on the surface of the perfect object. The disease of the beautiful body’s skin turns out to be only a symptom, revealing profound dysfunctions concealed somewhere inside of the ‘body’,
in which we can recognize the contemporary culture. ‘Being is exteriority’ 3 states the French philosopher, then adds: ‘This time exteriority would acquire a relative meaning, as the great by relation to the small. But in the absolute the subject and the object would still be parts of the same system, would be enacted and revealed panoramically. Exteriority, or, if one prefers, alterity, would be converted into the same. And over and beyond the relation between the interior and the exterior there would be room for the perception of this relation by a lateral view that would take in and perceive (or penetrate) their play, or would provide an ultimate stage on which this relation would be enacted, on which its being would be effected truly.4

In this exhibition the function of the room for the perception is held by the specially arranged gallery space. Staying in its interior we get an access to the reverse of the exteriority of objects placed there, we perceive them in the absolute terms. Therefore, we reached the space enabling us to get on to this game; what is more, thanks to us it begins to take place at all. [...] read more....

1 Emmanuel Lévinas, Infinity and Totality, Published by Duquesne University Press, Pittsburg, Pensylvania, 15282, p. 21
* the reference to Adolf Eichmann’s time in prison during his trial in Israel.
2 Ibidem, p.105
3 Ibidem, p.290
4 Ibidem, p.290

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Being Ensnared
Anna Czaban

Fragment of the text
featured in a catalogue
from the Guerrillas
group show(2011)
(...) An elaborate openwork tunnel the shape of a huge funnel that grows out of a metal construction of the gallery’s ceiling is an installation by Ewa Axelrad titled Plant. In the title of the work the artist provides a footnote – Eng. plant 1. tree, shrub or herb.
2. to put or set in the ground for growth. 3. trap. 4. to place firmly or forcibly; power plant 5. power plant, thus disclosing possible interpretations. A monumental object was intended as an upturned smokestack of a nuclear power plant. Unfinished, it resembles rather a tornado which you can enter, shifting the body to the position of its centre, point zero. The work recreates perfectly the ceiling pattern and therefore we do not know where we deal with actual gallery space and where the artist’s project starts. One can say that the artist takes hold of this space and imperceptibly claims and appropriates it. The work done is so impeccable that it is hard to say what kind of material was used to make the object. And, not to damage its charm, let it remain a secret. Axelrad one more time* tantalises the viewer by attractive precision and subtlety of her project. This is done only to make a viewer discover
a mire of uncomfortable thoughts that lay at its origin and which at this moment become part of the work. It is charming in order to confuse, and the more it enchants the more it is confusing (...).

* In March 2011 at the Arsenal Municipal Gallery the artist made a site-specific installation SUCHE (The Dry), also intended to entice the viewer by a clear and pure situation, which however generated uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings.

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Zuzanna Hadryś
& Michał Lasota

The text featured in
MIR group show (2011)
Ewa Axelrad's photography installation is a work that requires the audience to meticulously decode the hints left for them by the artist. On a large lightbox situated in a not easily-accessible part of a darkened room there appears an object whose shape resembles a rock, irregular stone block; the photograph can be viewed only from a short distance.

The other element of the installation is a clove oil aroma, used as an anaesthetic in dentistry procedures. The work brings a myriad of unexpected and disturbing associations related to domesticity such as cleanliness, safety and the intimacy of physical contact.

* IS IT SAFE, instalatio 2011

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Anna Czaban
Press release for
SUCHE solo show
Ewa Axelrad's works start with thinking of (architectural) space, its physical and functional qualities as well as its subtle tensions and dynamics that one experiences in response to it. The artist perturbs viewer's conventional codes of behaviour, lets him/her into a state of confusion, doubtfulness and disturbance. The methods she employs are very subtle, and formally the works are very simple and aesthetic. The most recent piece SUCHE is a site-specific installation, which utilizes the architectural qualities of the Arsenal Gallery's ground floor, causing an uncertainty of what has been built specifically for this show and what is the actual, ordinary shape of the gallery. Axelrad justifies: The indefiniteness of these elements gives a viewer the possibility to immerse themselves in the work on many different levels and allows him/her to question their function. I'm inclined to settings in which the viewer can be drawn in by seductive sterility of the piece, in order to begin a kind of autopsy that is underpinning its lure... At this point, the viewer him/herself becomes an inextricable component of the work. In this context the motifs that the artist brings are not coincidental - hygiene and violence falling into a disturbing relationship. The hygiene gets pushed to a level of disinfection, which gets escalated to a level of erasure or even liquidation - just a few steps away from extermination. Hygiene may occur as an aggressive tool of control, domination and violence, and even a war tactic element.
The military is hardly implied in the work, hence it is entirely up to the viewer how far he or she will follow this trail. The artist abstracts its characteristics such as discipline, domination and hierarchy, but also smartness, cleanliness and fitness. These attributes the viewer can find in various forms, starting with proportions of the composition, through lustrous and smoothened surfaces and olfactory stimuli. All these factors are brought together in order to lure the viewer, who inevitably gets seduced and has a chance to feel like a perpetrator. The installation built upon deceitfulness, seemingly clear and straightforward, abounds with unexpectedness. The snellen chart piece (Commission) has been made in collaboration with Steven Press.

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Jean-Luc Nancy

Text featured in
Picking Up Bouncing Back
catalog 2010, p.41

Pushing. The hair most certainly suggests the presence of a head. However, it is not a question of serving these locks of hair on a platter. Instead, the head is pushed into a corner, and turned to face it, as is indicated by the position of the hair. What pushes the head into the corner is yet another corner, which threatens to crush it into the wall. Or is it perhaps a photographer who is being pushed in this way?