PHOTOGRAPHY BY WERONIKA GESICKA
TEXT BY ITIR YILDIZ
Atypical American family, posing outside their detached house - probably smiling in the original frame - but in Weronika Gęsicka’s new version, their heads are hidden by their shirts. Another family of four – having fun, oblivious to being the ‘victims’ of product placement. One theme is common in Weronika Gęsicka’s Traces - that of people becoming blurred, merging into the decor or the setting... Traces transforms the ‘perfect’ lifestyles force-fed to our collective minds, through the media, the photos full of details that make any moment beautiful; leaving the viewer with dark, uncanny, strange and often hilarious impressions. Whether for pleasure or from her desire to expose, Gęsicka’s photomontages remove the veil of perfection from lives behind closed doors, family portraits and holiday memories, where everything looks picture perfect. This is an opportunity to take a look at the memories our mind insists on remembering as ‘fond’.
Born in Poland, in 1984, Weronika Gęsicka studied graphic design and photography in Warsaw. She received a scholarship from the Polish Ministry of Culture. Besides photography, the artist is involved in projects with a focus on memory and its mechanisms. She scans online photos and image sites, old media photographs and police archives, in search of visuals. In Traces (2017), she uses vintage photos from online archives besides images from 1950s American adverts, magazines and newspapers. This is not that surprising, for an artist with a special interest in memory and reality, because some of the images manipulated by Gęsicka make it impossible to tell whether the original was a genuine family picture, or taken from an advert. It is equally difficult to figure out whether the people in the images have some kind of connection, or if we are looking at random actors/models. The ambiguous feeling of the original image presents itself in the artist’s work, too. Gęsicka clearly takes pleasure in meddling with this phoney, patronising world and the roles inherent in the images from these 70-year-old publicity campaigns. Whether working on real poses or mises-en-scene, in exploring the mechanisms of memory, Gęsicka invariably creates new images, in which the distinction between reality and fiction is blurred.
‘Photos from the 1950s and 1960s, especially the American ones, have a very specific atmosphere: they often depict an idealised pastel world, which seems to be perfect at first glance,’ states Gęsicka when asked the reasoning behind her choice of using 1950s American advertisement posters and studio footage for the Traces series. These images seem to have permeated the artist's visual memory. Supported by the glitter of Hollywood and a prospering advertisement sector, eager to cash in on growing consumption, images of an economically booming post-war America have been ingrained in the memories of people around the world. These familiar images often depict or suggest stereotypical gender roles. In one, the mother figure wears an apron and the father figure is dressed in a suit, just back from work. In another, we see the quintessential happy family line-up with children. The artist skillfully manipulates images typical of 1950s America, most of which portray idyllic domestic life. She ingeniously transforms moments in time, often by ridiculing the American dream, represented by a gleeful family residing in a detached house with a garden, or by conjuring-up a more sinister side to its rose-coloured outlook to life.
Traces could also be studied independently from the original imagery. Gęsicka takes stock photos of happy, unblemished people, where everything is ‘just fine’, and fuses them with evocative, dream-like images. They explore the subconscious and and are full of whimsical, absurd, humorous, outlandish and intimidating flourishes. Seemingly, the artist is mocking the universe of personal memories - a land of sweet nostalgia, easily changed to suit the individual. Her photomontage process probably works just like memory and the subconscious. The manipulated photos represent the liberation of certain memories that have been stored the way we would prefer to remember them, the fears we bottle up and the delusions we hate to accept. A glimpse of two guests, unwelcome to most of us, can be caught from the crack in the door: immensity and uncanniness. In the altered new version, stripped of a focal point and clarity, identities and existence themselves are blurred, as much as the emotions associated with specific memories. The human figure, especially the female, no longer is the subject of the photograph. Instead, she becomes part of the decor, an object, a psychological instrument that communicates with the viewer, a servant of the subconscious, a trace...