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Basement Project Space

April 9, 2010

Entering Marcin Dudek’s installation for the basement of the Edel Assanti Project Space in Victoria is quite an experience. With little more than cellophane and tape Dudek has transformed the studio into a miniature labyrinth entitled Kopalnia (Polish for mine). Sounds and lights come from videos placed in unexpected corners, their projections stretching across the surface of the tunnels. The visitor’s path is already laid out, and we move into the space, wondering what is around the next corner; just as we begin to worry about getting out again we find ourselves unexpectedly back in the stairwell.

Dudek’s sculptural practice seems to follow an exploration of enclosed spaces – how we make them and how we interact with them when they are made. His father has worked in coalmines, a heritage that Dudek drew on for the title of this installation. Dudek himself grew up in the enormous housing estates that can be found across Poland, and his irritation with these flats was not so much to do with their size as with their repetition. He remembers that ‘you go to the neighbour’s flat which is exactly the same [as yours], you go to another friend, exactly the same. It was like a copy, really frustrating…You could go to north Poland, 500km away to visit your family and it’s the same flat!’

It is easy to understand the possibility of physically escaping the mundane as a reoccurring theme in Dudek’s work, whether that applies to the surface of a canvas or to the gallery space itself. Non Stop Painting, 2008, consisted of a pierced canvas suspended mid-air by several wires, and the viewer could actually climb into the canvas of How to rumble painting, 2007 and emerge, via a lift, on another level of the gallery. As Dudek puts it, ‘the transformative elements [in my work] are an attempt to break the monotony that I remember from Poland.’

Citing the claustrophobia conveyed in the drawings of Edvard Munch and Henry Moore as inspirations, Dudek’s phenomenological interest in space is reminiscent of Thomas Hirschhorn’s installation in last year’s ‘Walking in My Mind’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. Dudek, however, is less interested in what the tape represents as a lo-fi sculptural material than in the object itself and the process of using it. ‘When I’m stretching the tape…I’m producing time’ he explains. ‘Thirty centimetres equals five seconds. So I’m constantly producing time, through the tape, and the tape is an archive of time.’ The sounds made by stretching tape can also be heard coming from one of the two videos playing in Kopalnia, thus inserting the sound of the object being made even as we are moving through it as a finished piece.

The importance of movement, whether it is guided or interrupted, intrigues Dudek. During the course of his residency with T1+2 Gallery he extended this project by taking it onto the streets of London. He and another performer blocked part of the pavement on the Euston Road at rush hour and observed the reactions of Londoners faced with unanticipated duct tape. ‘Because everything happened so quickly,’ he says, ‘people didn’t really react, they just avoided it. So it was quite interesting, this intervention into the motion of the city.’ Apparently no one questioned his actions but ducked, often in unison, in order to avoid the tape and not break stride. Dudek puts this down to a degree of politeness peculiar to Londoners that hope to avoid confrontation.

Specific paths, created and used in order to avoid confrontation in a much more aggressive context, form another branch of interest for Dudek; two other projects he is currently investigating are the tunnels used by narcotics smugglers along the US-Mexican border, and the Cu Chi tunnels excavated by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. Re-presenting these illegal spaces within the gallery environment will, he hopes, alter perceptions of that environment, highlighting the artificiality of the white cube even as it fills and covers it.

In a sense Kopalnia is a sculpture that has formed itself around the movements of the viewers rather than guiding them. With two areas for viewing the video elements of the installation and a corridor that connects them, the ‘perfect cinema’, as Dudek describes the tape and cellophane structure, is an anarchic (but equally carefully structured) echo of the white walls and bright lighting of the galleries upstairs. In many ways it is more of a shock to leave the basement than it is to enter it, and Dudek hopes that visitors will carry an air of unreality around with them after they emerge.

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