AGNIESZKA POLSKA Little Planet
OVERDUIN & CO. | FEBRUARY 5 – MARCH 25, 2017
In Watery Rhymes (2014), one of three videos by Agnieszka Polska in her show Little Planet at Overduin & Co. in Los Angeles, a cool, anesthetized voice meditates on language, intervals of time, the shapes these intervals take, and our processing of them. Devoid of emotion or inflection, the speaker calls to mind computers and androids such as HAL from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner’s chief replicant Rachel, or even Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like these sci-fi greats, the androgynous voice sounds sedate, decidedly emphatic, and strangely alluring in its not-quite-humanness. “Language particles travel at a great and constant speed”; “You are as well, dear lover / built from words undiscovered / quantum nouns, micro adjectives,” are just a few of the lines uttered during the four-minute video. All the while, a minimal, percussive soundtrack sometimes adds to the mesmerizing textures of vocalizations and sometimes punctures them. The irregular tempi, odd syncopations, and synthetic tones make the video read almost like a handbook for an artificial future towards which we are rapidly moving. This is to say nothing of the visuals in the video, which consist of a champagne glass full of petrol, blocky typography recalling 1970s album designs, and digitally rendered forms and figures, the latter of which are vaguely reminiscent of Robert Overby’s leather-clad hands and heads (also from the 1970s). If this sounds like a lot, it’s surprisingly not. In all of her videos in Little Planet, Polska makes an abundance of information translate into a spare, hypnotic space.
Yet, this deceptively spare space affects a rather complex cognitive experience. Take, Leisure Time of the Firearm (2015). Projected onto a huge panel leaning in the corner of a room, a woman’s eye looks down the barrel of a gun. During the twenty-minute loop, the eye never moves from the barrel, but a ripple across the image oscillates between almost imperceptible motion and complete interference of calming, rhythmic waves. The soothing ripple across the surface of the screen both soothes and disturbs. It’s as if Polska wants the viewer to catch herself thinking, wants her to get caught between being lulled to sleep and feeling unnerved by the video’s disconcerting image.
In an adjacent room, a menacing, mechanical chime marches on endlessly. A slow, sort of cuckoo, sort of door chime over a low snare drum accompanies the eight-minute My Little Planet (2016)—another, at times more light-hearted, meditation on measuring time and language. Predominantly featuring a huge ashtray with Marlborough cigarette butts floating gently through the cosmos, with their last wafts of smoke commingling pleasantly with stardust, the video talks about the butt eclipsing the sun, and an interstellar bottle cap’s decaying orbit, in text blocks that appear, disappear and re-appear over the slow-moving image.
In a tsunami of memes, tweets, clips, and cuts; in a perpetually filtered world washed in Clarendon, Gingham, and Slumber, Polska’s work triggers a powerful mental shift, causing us to question our own sensorial and cognitive borders. As one gets swept into a trance-like state walking through the exhibition, it’s hard to know where the cognitive time of video and viewer begin or end. A dim, ominous quiet pervades the show (both in the videos and prints) and it is here Polska both hypnotizes us and provokes us to wake.
Anthony Hawley is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. Recent solo projects were presented by the Salina Art Center; CounterCurrent in partnership with the Menil Collection & Aurora Picture Show; and Spazju Kreattiv in Malta. He is author of two full-length collections of poetry, and in 2019, Print the Future Press in Amsterdam will publish his artist book A Book of Spells. Along with violinist Rebecca Fischer, he forms one half The Afield, a performance collaboration for violin, video, electronics, and more. He teaches in the Hunter College MFA Studio Art Program.