unravelling | sugar
click on image for info / enlarge
statement (relating to work on MA)
Senior Lecturer Department of Art and Design
Kingston University 1998
For the visual arts, the last twenty years have been a period of profound transition. As the certainties embodied within modernism have come under scrutiny, a less stable cultural system has arisen, more willing to acknowledge the mutability and contingency of knowledge and to question cultural codes that reinforce political or ideological hegemonies. A significant impetus towards this evolution has come from investigation into issues of identity and gender undertaken by feminist practice.
If the visual ordering of reality, the impulse to define the formal and material boundaries of the physical universe, has often been understood in symbolic terms as masculine, the feminine impulse, by contrast, represents a need to recognise the less structured emotive and sensory areas of experience, as well as the transgressive nature of creativity – a domain more difficult to conceive of as a bounded system. And where modernism saw art as the product of a strong independent (usually male) identity, contemporary practice views identity as more culturally defined, and, in the case of women, inextricably linked with social and cultural attitudes to the female body. Subjective experience of the body, however, with its potential for unruly emissions and evidence of dark, invisible processes, poses a threat to the language of symbolic and cultural representation. As a reminder of the uncontrollable and untidy edges of existence, the subjective body becomes a potent site for re-contesting cultural value.
It is into this charged psychological and cultural space that the work of Grazyna Cydzik enters. Sugar, in many languages and cultures, has a specific range of connotations. Metaphorically, sweetness evokes love, tenderness and the comfort traditionally dispensed in society by the female. The promise of pleasure contained within the sweet object transforms it into one of desire, yet with desire also comes its antithesis and negation – avoidance of temptation, guilt, repulsion born of indulgence and the moral necessity of denial. It is women as the perpetrators of original sin, as well as the providers of pleasure, who suffer this dichotomy most intensely, a battle often played out and made visible in the shape of their own bodies. At the same time, the conflict between desire and renunciation, desirability and defilement represented by the female form is heightened by its cyclical manifestation of internal change, the appearance of fluid that echoes in its sticky, viscous consistency the quality of liquid sugar. While sugar, when hardened, can be aesthetic, inviting, mimicking the appearance of other objects and abiding within discrete borders, liquid sugar is often less appealing: opaque, refusing containment, attracting dirt, exerting a powerful appeal to the senses, yet capable of rapidly provoking nausea and disgust.
Encounter with physical process in art can be intrinsically unsettling, denying the reassurance of formal resolution. When that process involves progressive degeneration from mass to liquidity, it prompts more fundamental and disturbing issues – intimations of birth and death, and of the universal laws of organic matter. Despite this, confrontation with disorder and chaos, and its attendant emotions fear and anxiety, have often yielded fertile ground for artistic exploration. Whether offering the opportunity for catharsis by exposing the culturally inadmissible, or providing a new vantage point from which a culture can be reappraised, it is a region rich with possibilities for renewal.