sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity. Interview with Marlena Kudlicka and Anna Tomczak


On the occasion of the exhibition by Marlena Kudlicka “sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity”, curated by Anna Tomczak presented at La BF15 in Lyon until July 28, 2017, we discussed with both the artist and curator.

When did you start to work on the exhibition “sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity” and how did you organize the process of work and your mutual collaboration in terms of artist and curator?
Anna: We can say that my reflection around Marlena’s work started much before this exhibition. When I saw her show Weight of 8 in Gallery Zak|Branicka in Berlin (2014) I was astonished by the way Marlena perceives the space, how she seizes it. This moment influenced my way of thinking about the relation between the sculpture and its physical context. Later on I did a studio visit when we exchanged a lot on these topics. So in June 2016, when I was invited to curate a show at La BF 15, I was sure that this was the moment to come back to her. Our work around the project started few months later, when she came to Lyon where we spent an intensive time on discovering the city and its history. We were interested in particular by the turbulent history of Canuts (community of the weavers in Lyon) and the magnificent projects done by Tony Garnier. Later on we discussed regularly how the project could evolve depending on different factors.
Marlena: Yes, we met for the first time in Paris where Anna came to visit me at my studio. After a while I received an invitation from her for a solo show at La BF15. The first step was to come to Lyon and to see the gallery space as well as to do a research regarding the aspects that may be interesting for my practice. After many long-distances travels last year, the final one was to fly to Lyon right before Christmas. Anna arranged a tight schedule and when I came we spent a quite intense time visiting the places mentioned above. As an accumulation of visual and historical knowledge, I started forming a quite radical concept for our solo show, which we both wanted to execute, but due to external factors it happened to be impossible.

What is the role of the institution in this multiple exchange?
Anna: The final project embraces the dynamic of any decision making process, where each opinion and idea is respected but not necessarily realized. The institution has played a role of a safe point of reference for our work, a regulator of what was possible and what was not possible, without limiting our independent thought.
Marlena: I consider three points: an institution as a platform to experiment on a theoretical and physical level, an institution as an architectural frame for containing artworks that may relate to the existing space, and an institution which functions as an office with its bureaucracy. After all, these factors induce a decision making process. The institutional aspect, that possess a certain protocol, became an integral part of the concept for the exhibition, partly it influenced the physical forms created for this occasion: a sculpture, collages, sculptural and glass wall compositions.

Tell us about the materials used for the sculptures on show at the BF15 and their significance in relation to the creative process?
Anna: Marlena uses materials which for her are pure, primer and fragile as a single idea which is a unit of the process mentioned above.
Marlena: Glass and steel are humble materials; the fact of placing them one in another makes me aware of this very particular moment when full concentration and subtlety meets together. From a technical point of view, both materials don’t like each other, but to me working on such bipolarity brings experimental challenge. However, sometimes, against any logic, the glass is the catalyst holding the entire steel structure. In a sculpture, both components are treated as counterpoints; moreover, if I compare them to language, they both are set to carry on a dialogue. There is also another aspect created by glass and steel combined together, it is a specific sharpness of color, a prism, a luminosity, that reminds me a photographic process.
Anna: Glass and steel are like the eponymous sugar in the ashes – two structures, which are so different but, put together, create a new quality based on a bipolar relation.

Forms and figures are considered as ideas in a communication, and sculptures as results of the collision of these different ideas. According to which protocol does Marlena materialize or associate the concepts and the presences in the space?
Anna: I don’t think that we can talk about any protocol of work in Marlena’s case. She adopts certain rhythm of reflection. The protocol here is rather an appropriated form, which allows making order in random thoughts. It is a kind of archive, almost an evocation of bureaucracy… maybe also this element recall the matter of the institution.
Marlena: I always start from the linguistic side, a title, which happens to be a work itself as well. It is an interplay of many juxtapositions; a diagram or a sculptural language where the communication begins. For the exhibition with Anna we went through the history of the city of Lyon, the physical gallery space, the institutional aspect mentioned above, certain systematics, non-verbal trust. I could say that the concept of protocol and bureaucracy influenced the decisions as well.

The space is conceived as a frame or a grid, that can be decomposed, for the artistic gesture. In which extent the mathematic language does join the process?
Anna: In my opinion, for Marlena the process of communication is the first topic and it was the main theme of our project. This is also how I understand her way of working with the medium of the sculpture – as a formal grasp of a dynamic creative action of thought shaping. I understand her decision of using mathematic symbols as a choice of the most universal language possible, which at one time can express her observation in a precise way and speak to audience despite any cultural or language differences. Numbers, technical drawings, acts of measuring, all tend to express a quasi-scientific approach, which in fact is a highly subjective way of seeing the communication process with all its mistakes and enormous potential.
Marlena: The physical gallery space itself is a metrical parameter. To go further I need to find a language to communicate with the given context. I invent a title, which comes into dialogue with the context; the rhythmic of the words builds almost a sculptural form. The title ‘sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity” refers to: unit, capacity, luminosity, shade, and beginning of a shape. It has a sound rhythm with the letter “sz or sh” that becomes almost like a sliding pause in the sentence’s structure. I reconfigure these components to rather infuse a parallel layer in the existing space.

Marlena’s work is based on the redefinition of sculpture in relation to the physical and mental processes of its creation. What are the historical or conceptual references related to this practice?
Anna: In the curatorial concept I was strongly inspired by Minimalist’s writings, especially Robert Morris’ texts. With regard to his ideas, I proposed to make a reference to very classical artworks: the tomb of Medicis by Michelangelo (especially two sculptures known as The Night and The Day) and Porte de l’enfer by Auguste Rodin. Both these sculptures raise crucial questions for our show: the process of emancipation of the sculpture, or even wider – the form – from an architectural context as well as the moment (as Morris said the here and now of the sculpture) of their perception by a viewer. We can’t even deny that Marlena’s work is based on a very peculiar tradition of Russian (Constructivism) and Polish avant-garde (grupa “a.r.”)
Marlena: When Anna introduced me the curatorial concept of emancipating sculpture from its medium with applied references to Morris, Michelangelo, Rodin, it intrigued me a lot. In that moment I perceived these references quite relevant to how I look at my sculptures. They seem to me not strictly as sculptures but more as language’s shapes. For example as it was implemented in the series of works shown during my solo show “Quality Control and Standard Verification. Sculpture” curated by Dorotea Monkiewicz at Wroclaw Contemporary Museum in 2016 and in the same year in a solo show ‘Actual Size f=different’ at Revolver GaleriaIn my upcoming solo show titled “Elements of Peaceful Engagement” curated by Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk at Zak Branicka in Berlin (Sept 2017) , I refer to history of a workplace as an architectural and design phenomenon, which meets the needs for building strategies, systematics and control ; also provides flexibility to work individually and collectively on shapes of thoughts and which tailors a decision making process. Nevertheless from the history of art perspective as well from my education, we tend to associate my work to Polish avant-garde and Russian constructivism. This school of thinking has a complex spectrum of different disciplines like art, graphic, architecture, engineering, textile industry… with its visionary philosophy and theories became, in early stages, a starting point of my interest. Over the course of years I developed an interest in the idea of communication; protocols, classifications, system of methods, concept of norm/standard (DIN history), concept of strategy; how it influences an interchange and a decision making process.

What are instead the contemporary artists with whom you relate or would like to work with?
Anna: When I look on Marlena’s work with the space and how she is appropriating it, stretching it, measuring it I think directly to Tatiana’s Trouvé’s oeuvre. But this is a very formal connotation. I think that in Marlena’s work we can see a very widespread reflection on the project shaping dynamic, which in fact is close to many contemporary artists. This is not an inspiration or a reference to other artists’ work but rather a soft negotiation with any possible variable situation among the people involved. We can call it an artwork, a project or whatever you want.
Marlena: At this moment I thought of Trisha Donnelly’s work and Sarah Morris films. John Baldessari and Christopher Williams.


Marlena Kudlicka, sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity, 2017 sculpture, 230 x 150 x 52 cm, powdercoated steel © Marlena Kudlicka Courtesy: Zak Branicka, photo: Amandine Quillon, exhibition view : La BF15, Lyon


Marlena Kudlicka, sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity, 2017 sculpture, 230 x 150 x 52 cm, powdercoated steel © Marlena Kudlicka Courtesy: Zak Branicka, photo: Amandine Quillon, exhibition view : La BF15, Lyon


Marlena Kudlicka, solo show “Actual Size f=different” at Revolver Galeria 2016, f=different version 8,5:A4, 2016, sculpture
730 x 235 x 163 cm, powdercoated steel glass © Marlena Kudlicka Courtesy: Revolver Galeria


Marlena Kudlicka, sugar in the ashes. Official Capacity, oA oB oF, 2017 sculptural collages series of 3, 42 x 35 x 4cm cm each collage, 3 collages 42 x 130 x 4 cm, powdercoated steel, glass © Marlena Kudlicka Courtesy: Zak Branicka, photo: Amandine Quillon, exhibition view : La BF15, Lyon


Marlena Kudlicka, solo show “Quality Control and Standard Verification.Sculpture” at Wroclaw Contemporary Museum 2016 photo: Arek Wolek Courtesy: The Artist, MWW Wroclaw, Zak Branicka


Marlena Kudlicka, solo show “Quality Control and Standard Verification.Sculpture” at Wroclaw Contemporary Museum 2016 photo: Arek Wolek Courtesy: The Artist, MWW Wroclaw, Zak Branicka


Marlena Kudlicka, solo show “Quality Control and Standard Verification.Sculpture” at Wroclaw Contemporary Museum 2016 photo: Arek Wolek Courtesy: The Artist, MWW Wroclaw, Zak Branicka

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Giulia Bortoluzzi

graduated in contemporary philosophy/aesthetics, has been working in collaboration with various contemporary art galleries, theaters, private foundations, art centers in Italy and France. Is a regular art contributor for L’Officiel, editor assistant for TAR magazine, founder and editor for recto/verso and editor in chief for

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