Featured in
Issue 238

The Hallucinatory World of Dorota Jurczak

At KIN, Brussels, the artist’s androgynous figures are trapped in a state of leisurely calm 

BY Emile Rubino in Exhibition Reviews | 17 JUL 23

Piles of mattresses, quilted blankets, stacks of pillows and stage curtains orchestrate lavish worlds in Dorota Jurczak’s prints and drawings. Everything in ‘bratki’ (pansies), her exhibition at Nicolaus Schafhausen’s newly opened gallery KIN, appears to be moving in slow motion. An ominous feeling lurks behind the calm surface of things, similar to what you might experience on a hot summer afternoon. 

Dorota Jurczak, 'bratki', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: KIN, Brussels; photograph: Useful Art Services

Lost in thought or sinking into lethargy, the androgynous dandy figures depicted by Jurczak in her series of lithographs, drawings and aquatints passively merge with the interiors they inhabit. If ‘creation lies just between dreams and daily work’, as Alina Szapocznikow wrote in a 1971 artist’s statement, Jurczak’s allegories make this liminal state the very subject of her work. Cocooned in fur coats and comforters, awaiting enchantment, her sophisticated bohemian figures, such as those depicted in cźerwona kukurydza and antresola 1 & 2 (all 2023), are resting, smoking or reading – trapped in their own leisure by a web-like profusion of folkloric patterns and ornaments, all drawn with the same delicate lines.

Dorota Juczak, połatana polana, 2023, lithograph crayon drawings, 35 × 50 cm. Courtesy: KIN, Brussels; photograph: Useful Art Services

Not unlike these characters hidden in plain sight, the skill involved in the production of Jurczak’s works on paper and sculptures is concealed within the subjects. For instance, in połatana polana and bratki (both 2023), the most abstract drawings in the exhibition, the symbolic motif of the pansy – a flower praised by William Shakespeare and herbalists alike – takes the form of a meticulously drawn vortex. These drawings epitomize a recurrent tipping point in Jurczak’s work where the decorative becomes hallucinatory, thereby blurring the symbolic order of things. Jurczak, who is originally from Poland and recently relocated from Brussels to Palermo, nonchalantly resists affiliation to prevalent artistic discourse. Her persistent omission of contemporary markers paired with her choice of anachronistic materials and techniques – bronze, ceramic, etching – results in a false naivety that keeps us guessing, since it might always be neither false, nor actually naive.

Dorota Jurczak, antresola 1 (top) & antresola 2 (bottom), 2023, aquatint and chine-collé on bible paper, 45 × 37 cm and 45 × 33 cm. Courtesy: KIN, Brussels; photograph: Useful Art Services

Alongside the works on paper in the main gallery space, the presence of Tunia and Tonia (both 2023) – two pale, slender, ceramic dolls seated against a massive concrete pillar with their eyes closed – brings the viewer closer to Jurczak’s world. The figures’ awkward size – smaller than mannequins but bigger than marionettes – echoes the proportions of the freestanding and oddly low gallery walls designed for KIN by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen. In an unassuming manner, Tunia and Tonia playfully accentuate the life-size dollhouse effect of this permanent, pavilion-like structure built inside of the existing space. Clothed in an elegant, pastel-pink ensemble held together by a large round button, which echoes the rosy patches on its cheeks, Tunia, who has a beauty mark on its upper right lip, also wears a single fuzzy slipper on its left foot. This series of subtle symmetries and asymmetries prefigures the dolls’ inconspicuous double-sided head. Facing the wall, the more masculine-looking backside is featureless but for a nose, which physically supports the front figure’s pensive state.

Dorota Jurczak, Balasina, Gieniek & Alfred, 2020, bronze, 53 × 32 × 10 cm; 53 × 30 × 8 cm; 53 × 32 × 10 cm. Courtesy: KIN, Brussels; photograph: Useful Art Services

Two sleek ceramic animals with bodies made of the same fuzzy towel material as Tunia’s slipper occupy opposite corners on the periphery of the space: Bronski, a red dog, and Beat, a bluebird (both 2023). Unflustered, they give the impression of being altruistic and gentle – the qualities of emotional support animals. Facing the street, three bronze relief busts with a deep blue patina, Balasina, Alfred and Gieniek (all 2020), hang like a frontispiece. With their elongated necks sticking out of tight collars, these sculptural portraits have the solemnity of ancestors who know more than we do. This small cast of characters, who seemingly ignore their existence as such, triggers a feeling of recognition: we all play a role in the creation of someone else’s world.

Dorota Jurczak’s 'bratki' is at KIN, Brussels, Belgium, until 29 July

Main image: ‘bratki’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: KIN; photograph: Useful Art Services

Emile Rubino is an artist and writer based in Brussels, Belgium.