Publication: Ceramic Review.
24 January to 2 March, 2014
Małgorzata Et Ber Warlikowska’s wonderful, puzzling and eccentric ceramics, prints, paintings and sculpture are matched by her personality. Characterful, direct, emotional and colourful, ‘Etber’ or ‘Beret’ as she is universally known, wears a cardboard face mask at the wernisaż of her two concurrent exhibitions Mycie Twarzy (‘Face Washing’) and Jedząc Marilyn Monroe (‘Eating Marilyn Monroe’), apparentlyto shield her from the cameras’ gaze. Suddenly one is plunged into her world — fantastical, confrontational, vibrant and, occasionally, shocking.
Several themes run through this extraordinarily diverse and powerful body of work, clearly the product of a prodigiously fecund imagination. Money, corruption, the mother and child, the body, scatology ¾ and much else besides ¾ are all there, underpinned by a strong graphical element. Tangentially these works offer a critique of, and challenge to, the patriarchal hegemony which continues to thrive in Polish society. (Warlikowska is one of the small, if growing, number of female teachers in Wrocław’s prestigious Academy of Fine Art).
One work depicts some kind of genealogical structure. A question about its relationship to Warlikowska’s family background provokes a charged response. It would be easy to infer from Beret’s reaction that her emotional relationship to her family is the engine which drives her imagination.
Warlikowska assimilates written text into her ceramics. These fragments, in a variety of languages, have often been transferred as graphical facsimiles from their original sources in newspapers and other printed media. They offer inroads and tantalising insights into Warlikowska’s concerns.
One striking installation consists of nine hands (each about 1 metre in height) with palms displayed outwards. Each is covered in a different set of imagery and text. One refers to the Republic of Cayman (a well-know tax haven), while another prominently displays the symbol ‘15%’. A third shows the universal sign for female ( ♀ ), sandwiched between a knife and fork.
The title of this part of the show is Mycie Twarzy ¾ literally, ‘face washing’. Fake banknotes, in a bewildering array of currencies, festoon the walls and floor. It is carnival weekend in Poland, the traditional celebration before Lent, and the preview assumes a party atmosphere. Women in colourful feather boas toss balloons and notes in the air.
The levity belies the sinister and tragi-comedic quality of some of the exhibits. An array of white glazed ceramic masks are mounted on one wall, like the trophy heads of hunted deer. Several have sets of faecal-looking antlers, while the scatological theme continues with slogans such as ‘Girls Do Not Do Poo’. Elsewhere, a series of large ceramic turds are covered in images of banknotes and Monroe.
It is not easy to tease out Warlikowska’s exact relationship with her ceramic medium. Her clay and porcelain is always glazed and then painted or otherwise changed by graphical means. A series of ceramic male torsos (from the thigh to the navel) are typically covered with imagery and slogans. These are modelled at least in part from life. Each male member is a different size and shape, while real grass grows from the top of the truncated abdomens. Sexualised female imagery pervades this culture (as elsewhere) but what are we to make of this use of the male anatomy? These are not explicitly sexual, although many will impose this meaning.
The range and complexity of Warlikowska’s oeuvre is impressive, enigmatic and complex. It provokes a visceral and intellectual reaction, which is ultimately highly rewarding.