VERA'S ROOM: AN INSTALLATION, 2002

Maria Chevska’s work, drawing on both painting and sculpture, examines a number of interrelated issues, including the implications of language upon the visual world and the narrative dimension of the visual. In Vera’s Room these two interests come together in an exploration of displacement and exile — conditions that necessitate their own intimate, and yet collective, narratives.

An installation of varying sizes and components, Vera’s Room has both ‘real’ objects in it - furniture, for example - and a number of sculptures made up of both found and made objects. The objects, simple forms made from cloth or paper rendered solid in kaolin, look familiar and functional; however, they are not quite the same as the articles they appear to resemble. This uncanny, abstract quality is given further tension by the intimate setting of the room and a transient domesticity which speaks of a fragile, nomadic existence that achieves visibility through sheer resourcefulness — the making of something out of nothing, for example. In this latter respect, the room suggests a place and the act of creativity such as the artist’s studio, where experience and memory are the very substance of an artist’s work.

MEMORY MATTERS

Profile by Mark Gisbourne for Art Review, April 2001

Maria Chevska's latest project, Vera's Room - a site of those personal feelings of depletion brought about by sudden doubts as to the status of her Polish origins, a belated crisis of severed connections. For Vera's Room is both a project of memory and mourning, the au-delà of objects and their role in touching upon her lost identity. Yet, unlike her earlier work this project has a greater narrative reality brought about through contact with her virtual friend Vera Kasmiach (I have deliberately declined to use the term alter ego). For the personality of Vera Kasmiach is that part of Maria Chevska which speaks of “what might have been", the displaced person who is strangely a refugee in their own land. Vera's Room is therefore a homage to that self-displacement, that hiddeness which out of nowhere suddenly re-emerges in our life. It is a room filled with material elements of truth and fiction, accumulated objects that have actual connections to Chevska’s life and past, and objects that might have been, those which have been seemingly passed to her by Vera. For it is not so much her status of Englishness that worries her ( with her mixed Polish-English parentage) - in that respect she is quite secure, rather the fulfillment of the Polishness which as the daughter of a refugee she never fully attained and which has recently been brought back to her by events in Eastern Europe. A feeling of living between two poles (pun intended) has always existed in her life and artistic production.

The material aspect played by the role of language, as opposed to its necessary but arbitrary vocal transaction (simple structural function - symbolic or otherwise) has always interested Chevska. For this artist the material role of language finds a far greater sense of substantiation in painting.Words - be they stitched or sewn, dripped or poured through the back of muslin, quilt, linen or cloth - become integrated into the physical skin of the surface as a material presence. She wants to give a tactile presence, to ground the abstract perception of language. While the artist has made autonomous object-sculptures in the past, they were deeply painterly in their motivation. She used kaolin-soaked calico and cloth bound around the forearm in the series Weight (1996). They were reminiscent in visual terms of the drawing workshop casts of drapery studies in the Renaissance. In the ephemeral and newer works for Vera's Room she is using them with an explicit sense of narrative. The gravitation towards and preoccupation with Vera's Room has been going on for well over a year, a dislocation brought about by the millennial shift and the historicisation of her own origins. The changes in Eastern Europe placed the post-war migrations, the Cold War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall into a detached and sealed vacuum of the past. Suddenly, those we formerly saw as democratically short-changed by Communism (with our feigned empathy for these people), became the political threat of refugees, illegals and economic migrants. This was again brought into sharp relief for the artist following the events in the Balkans, as she found a desperate need to know what she might have known had her father not migrated - in terms of cultural reference and the Polish language she does not speak. “I visualise Vera as a sort of twin, someone who is clearly part of me,” Chevska says, “but who is also separate and looking at me.”

The domestic installation Vera’s Room is just that, a summation of that which Chevska has lived, set alongside that which she might have lived. The second-hand and bricolage nature of some of the included objects talk of that which Vera has known. The conical forms are in part alchemist-wizard and part Catholic Inquisition cap; the strange slippers like bleached-out residue from the Arnolfini Marriage. There is a wall drawing which refers back to Mimic, a dripped narrative fragment, its communication denied. And, alongside all this, the extraneous elements of potential truth or fiction (which include a real Refusal of Entry declaration) - fiction as truth and truth just as easily fictionalized. Maria Chevska and Vera Kasmiach are the two memories that live side by side, one of them imagines and the other repeats - which of them is Maria and which Vera is the quest that this project pursues.

© Mark Gisbourne, 2001