Zuzanna Rachowska: Since 2012 you have been consequently specializing in the technique of pyrography, mostly on paper. How did you discover pyrography as a medium? And why did it become a core of your artistic practice?
Zuzanna Dolega: I have always been searching for the perfect way and a perfect tool to express my uncertainty about the world, the fragile state of my inner self. I think that I would compare myself to a very patient observer and listener of the symptoms of the presence in the world. Subconsciously, I have always been avoiding colors in my artworks as well. Fire came to me after hours of talking, listening, the trust and wisdom of my beloved ones, who always support me so we can patiently listen and talk about all of the doubts we have.
For the From Scratch to Scratch project you decided to show for the first time to the public your latest works from the Pirosłowa series (English transl. Pyrowords). You use fire to erase words from pages in books. What is the source of inspiration for these works?
I have just finished reading “L’empire des signes” by Roland Barthes and I got strongly inspired by the approach to foreign language and haiku forms. It somehow has encouraged me to continue my old and a bit “dusty” Pyrowords series of burnt poetry forms. Also, the situation of an obligatory lockdown right now is unbearable and – except videos, sounds and images – for me, words and messages are the most powerful forms of expression again.
As my artworks are being created in my mother tongue – Polish language – it may not be that clear for everyone in the first glance. But I truly believe that somehow those emotions are powerful enough to be transported beyond the language barrier.
Most of my works will be shown here, for the first time, and for the first time in 2020. They could be the mirror of the times we live in.
Pages of Polish books and various texts are the base of your works. Is the meaning or the context of the books important in your working process? How important is the understanding of the language in the perception of your works?
As we must state – “book burning” is a very strong symbol in our culture and history, I would rather save the debris of the meanings and signs than to turn all the wisdom into ashes.
I think that it would be interesting if I could describe the whole process from the beginning. My local library had some spare books to give away for free. I have decided to collect them, without any particular thought of what to do with them at that moment, but I knew that they would show their power sooner or later. I have always been obsessed with trash-hunting, to save anything that could be reused and recycled, somehow. The whole process always starts with getting rid of the cover and presence of the author as well as the title of the book. I don’t want to follow the mood or compete with the context of the original book I have. Next, I follow my emotions, heart and mind – with no plan or scenario. It just happens, as the fire and heart lead me through the words.
The words spared from fire, even if randomly selected, always seem to touch on feelings and emotional states. They often deal with vulnerability, in one of your works we can find the following words: “It’s going bad ___all __cry secretly.” Can you tell about the process of building new meaning by selecting and burning out words?
I always try to follow my heart and my emotional states. The best explanation could be the quote from the song Jóga by Björk
They puzzle me
Then the riddle gets solved
And you push me up to this
State of emergency
How beautiful to be
State of emergency
Is where I want to be”
While we are talking, almost the whole world is in the state of emergency caused by Covid-19. Many galleries and museums worldwide have locked their doors, the majority of art fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed. Many curators are experimenting now with “translating” their shows into online projects. From Scratch to Scratch is an exemplification of such attempts. What is your opinion about showing your art at the online exhibition? Do you think this will be a new future for exhibition making? If yes, how will it affect your artistic practice? Do you agree that this form of art presentation will encourage viewers to look slower at your art, more in detail?
As an introvert, who (ridiculously) avoids exhibition openings, I think that it may be an interesting alternative to admire art without leaving the comfort zone (or simply – your pyjamas).
For me, taking part in From Scratch to Scratch is an honor and a new challenge. I think that (except the fact that my artworks are somehow transmitting the spirit of the recent times – not only in the field of significance, but also in their quite universal form) for example – for the fragile structure of paper it could be a safe way of presentation too. I could also imagine that an international online exhibition could also solve some technical problems that we, the artists, struggle with – for example … safe work transporting, which scares us the most, I guess.
You mentioned that the lockdown already has some influence on your practice, but did it give you more time or calmer circumstances to focus on your work? I know that you’re working on your doctorate, is the lockdown a blessing or a curse in this context? Can you briefly outline what is the subject of your doctorate and what are the main fields of your research?
As I work as a full time assistant at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, I am in charge of many duties connected with e-learning now. I try to support my students in this uncomfortable situation, hoping that they will not lose a willpower to make art.
I feel like I have been split into a thousand little pieces that need my attention like it was an emergency state in my mind too, but the lockdown is slowly teaching me how to focus and also find some time for my PhD research. I am working on my thesis and I explore the fields of some sort of asemic writing, communication and perception of word(less) signs that are somehow establishing the core of human interaction. It might be interesting, especially right now, when the form of communication changes, and makes me wonder about the condition of mankind and our connection between each other.
Zuzanna Dolega interviewed by Zuzanna Rachowska, May 2020.