Russian Joke (2009) is a photograph of a steel tap coming out of a white wall, one of a series of pictures taken by Susanne M. Winterling in the Polish artist Edward Krasiński’s Warsaw studio, which has been preserved by the Foksal Gallery Foundation as it was at the time of his death in 2004. Winterling’s exhibition, ‘…Of Mice and Blood (for E.K.)’, formed an elliptical homage to the artist and his work. The tap in Russian Joke is, in fact, a Duchampian art work by Krasiński; he attached the fitting to the studio wall, unconnected to any water supply. The title comes from an old Winterling family story about some visiting Russians who were fascinated by a tap. Returning home, they fixed one of these mysterious objects to a wall and expected it to gush forth miraculously. These two references – the tap as art work and as illustration of a personal anecdote – converge around the relatively inarticulate photographic image.
Winterling’s documentary snapshots of Krasiński’s studio which make up the series ‘Zeitkapsel’ (Time Capsule, 2009) and sie imitiert die Wahrheit (Imitating truth, 2009) at first seem exceptional in the context of the theatrical artifice of Winterling’s work, but she invests the details she captures with the aura of fetish objects that possess the capacity to be more than they seem. Illusionism – a preoccupation of both artists – opens out like a trap door from the here and now. Winterling makes the toy mice which litter the studio appear frozen as they scurry up a chair leg; a bowler hat lying on a sideboard is transformed from an item of old clothing into a resonant Surrealist symbol.
Krasiński was known for applying a strip of blue masking tape around the walls of a gallery, at a height of 1.33 metres, a Minimalist lassoing of the dimensions of the space. Passing over his paintings, the line would buckle off onto illusionistic depth only to emerge again into real space on the other side. Winterling’s Untitled Forever (Embrace Space Projection) (2009) imitates this practice using a strip of 16mm celluloid film, as though the opacity of the blue tape had come to contain the possibility of revealing a narrative. She has also raised the line to 1.55 metres, the standard height for hanging pictures, and added a parallel string of bracelets and necklaces from which her own cheap pendants – heraldic medals, a crown, a heart, a teardrop – dangle over the black film. Like the black frames around the photographs, the colour of the reel denotes an air of mourning which is superficially lifted by the jewellery’s specious glitter. The two lines, each following the other, are a metaphor for the give and take involved in her act of homage. Curtailing the limits of the gallery, they are also barriers that seal off Winterling’s referential hall of mirrors.
Where the installation is more than the sum of its allusions it manages to translate the irreducible particularities of another artist’s life and work into Winterling’s own language, like a dreamy adolescent who absorbs the image of a pop star into the private universe of her bedroom. Speakers in each corner of the space play a recording of ambient birdsong from outside the closed door of the gallery. Aside from its title, Birds (For E.K) (2009) is the only piece that makes no overt reference to Krasiński, and, fittingly, it is also an escape valve from the overlapping interior worlds of his Warsaw studio and Winterling’s Berlin homage. It may be only an illusion but the barrier is symbolically breached.