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Artist Alicja Kwade's new show is informed by dichotomy

Artist Alicja Kwade’s show in Delhi questions usual social assumptions

'Little Be-Hide'

By Rahul Kumar

LAST PUBLISHED 20.02.2024  |  11:40 AM IST

On show at the Nature Morte gallery in Dhan Mill Complex, Delhi, are 26 stone works that are part of Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade’s solo presentation Matter Moments. One of the most striking of these is an Encyclopedia Britannica set squashed into sculpted rocks—Know-ledge. The 45-year-old Berlin-based contemporary artist has a distinctive language, which revolves around reflection and repetition and deconstruction and reconstruction of natural and man-made objects. In Know-ledge, both rocks and books are seen as holders of learning. For her, while books contain easily decipherable language, rocks and stones are repositories of millions of years of experience that are not as easy to interpret. By juxtaposing them, Kwade provides a simple yet profound perspective on acquired and lived moments. In an interview, the artist reflects on the dichotomies that inform her work. Edited excerpts:

You bring together the tough and the fragile in your work. How does this juxtaposition support your artistic vision?

A stone and a piece of glass are closely related, chemically, but they are often presented as opposites. In my work, I see relationships of objects to one another instead of looking for the differences. And in my view, there is nothing that is sharp or hard, fragile or soft. This stems from our perspective and point of view. I add a counterweight or balance to this view, even if there is none that exists.

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How do you want the viewers to perceive your work?

I don’t have a conscious straight-line goal. But I don’t believe in anything that I think I know and the prescribed meaning of it. I consider everything as one of the many possibilities. Nothing is merely based on the physical world as described in science. Layers of social construct are important too. I hope that the viewers will feel assured by the fact that my work enquires into the usual assumptions and prescribed realities.

You and your family had to move from Poland to West Germany in 1987. How does this history inform your practice?

I am grateful to have lived within these contradictory systems, in these two realities—on either side of the Berlin Wall. But the influences come from my lived experiences and not a direct biographical reality.

The fact that you use industrial products and processes, is this a commentary on the contemporary economic values of our society?

Well, capitalism is also an agreed system. Since I am living it myself, I am able to observe it better. Many of our realities like capitalism can often only be tolerated with a certain irony and that is reflected in my work. I do not state a stance or connect my work to a sociopolitical structure. My aim is to question everything that we believe to be true, which is prescribed to us.

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Is it daunting to be repeatedly called ‘the most influential German artist of our times’?

I don't think about it. I am not even really a ‘German artist’ or fall into any such categorisation. I am a human being, who was mostly educated in a place called Germany, with nine boarders. I am grateful that I am seen that way, however I would rather not try to capture this moment—maybe also because it would pass away, just when I think that I have become aware of it.

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On view at Nature Morte, Dhan Mill Complex, Delhi, till 3 March, 11am-7pm

Rahul Kumar is Gurugram-based writer and ceramics artist.