It is hard to fully perceive Kinga Bartis’s large-scale mixed media drawing WhileAway, 2023. Both the exact material and the subject seem willfully elusive. Perhaps paradoxically, this is what absorbs the spectator. Spending time in front of this piece makes it feel like we, too, are melting into this universe of blended bodies, vegetation, water, and earth.
With multiple eyes, faces, and gestures overlapping like small waves on water, WhileAway captures an imperceptible moment and location that the artist does not strive to represent in exact detail but, rather, gives the freedom to evolve autonomously. It borrows the name of a planet inhabited solely by women in Johanna Russ’s 1975 sci-fi novel, The Female Man. Despite the potentially anti-trans nature of its source text, Bartis’s work coaxes the same fluidity out of the materials used as in the figures that they shape. The canvas seems to breathe its own materiality, as if its internal figuration was still not settled and tomorrow the picture might still shift. Examining the surface, I’m thrown back to memories of handling charcoal, which is capable of solidly coating a surface while still responding to the touch of a finger, the brush of a small breeze. It feels like any physical presence has the potential to affect this composition, a vulnerability that also gives it power.