Text by Oksana Barshynova, curator of National Art Museum of Ukraine. january 2012

January 17, 2013

Maria kulikovska’s works created from 2010 to 2012, made in different techniques and genres, are combined with themes of the boundary (like the membranes), of relativity of time and search of interaction. Performance, video, painting and object accentuate a very personal artist’s experience of the common human problems, that all in all forms a holistic and simultaneously versatile project.

Expanding/deployment of the project began with ‘Clone Army’ (2010–2011), in where the sculpture, which is the replica of artist’s body, problematized the surface of the human body in general, the theme of a skin, the outer covering of the body as the boundary between inside and outside, living and non-living, as well as the definition of identity.

The exact repetition of the person, with its ad nauseam duplicity, cloned, was placed into a world where it went through stages of destruction and death, presenting a ‘death in one’s waking hours’. According to artist, gypseous clones could do something that no one can – to provide an opportunity to see the destruction of his/her own body, its after-death state.

What is more Maria was interested in the aspect of frailty of human’s envelope, like that social representation, which completely disappears along with the physical death of the person, and not the repository of the immortal soul at all. Being devoid of color, the ‘neutral’ white sculpture, placed in different environments, was emphasizing some special spiritlessness and moldness of mannequins – it was refering to the working plaster moulds, which were not designed for eternity, completeness, significance.

Human individuality, traditionally associated with appearance, is questioned when replicating one’s image, cloning it. In essence, the membrane, the skin, which envelops the void – this is the figure of the ‘Clone Army’.  This emptiness, unplenitude is highlighted in the ‘remains’ of sculptures, that have been on display in a dilapidated form at various exhibitions. In this regard, the skin – is not just a boundary between who we are and who we are not. On the contrary, skin becomes a body, and we ourselves – become the skin, this is the contact area, and the body, like the skin, is a kingpin in art today.

The sculpture, initially understood as a memorial representation, returns to itself in ‘Clone army’ – as an opportunity and necessity to talk about the termination of human existence. This theme of fragility, frailty has reached its culmination point in another kulikovska’s project  – ‘HOMO BULLA (2012, Foundation IZOLYATSIA. Platform for Cultural Initiatives, Donetsk), where the mannequins were cast out of soap and placed in the open air for its natural modification and extinction.

The performance, conducted by Maria kulikovska at ‘GogolFest 2010′ (and video art based on it), was demonstrating the process itself of creating a plaster shell in real time, and problematize the border of Interiority/exteriority at the level of experiencing of claustrophobic sense of isolation.

Skin connects body and the outside world in many ways, serving as the surface between two areas, it doesn’t only separate, isolate, but also serves as a medium for the exchange of air and fluids. This state was experienced by artist herself – she herself was in that solidifying mass of gypsum, which forms the second one, impenetrable, alien cover, and then she abruptly freed from it.

Intention to tear the membrane that separates us from the world – a symbolic barrier to unity with it and at the same time protective, physically providing our existance – is manifested in a multi-day performance called ‘Music nedobytyh sounds’ as a part of the project «SEARCH’ (2012, Foundation CSM, Kiev). It was held in two special laboratories of the State Research Institute of Building Structures – ‘an anechoic chamber’ and ‘a room of echo (reverberation)’, affecting not only the problem of finding the links between art and science, but also appealing to the purity of concepts of noise/silence.

Issue of the relationship between external and internal was made not only by intentional isolation of small groups of visitors – at first in the room of complete silence, where the artist was saying over the text of Zen koan about the sound of one clapping hand, and then in the room where the sound was exaggerating and multiplying. Maria herself has been turning up inside something profound, tightly closed with cover (walls) with a special coating, that was changing the perception of their own voice, sharpening an invisible contact with breathing, vibrations of other people’s bodies, and then was giving a new way to experience a deafening stream of sounds in the real world.

The protective function of membranes that were artificially created by humans, such as architecture, which is thought by theorists to be a second skin, with its ephemerality and unreliability, was peculiarly articulated by Maria kulikovska in her performance- and object-project Sweet / Swiss Life, implemented in 2012 in Switzerland. The artist herself made ‘bricks’, that were cooked out of milk and sugar, of which she was constructing a wall, symbolizing protection from all shocks and traumas of the world, and at the same time associating with the image of Switzerland as a country of peace and prosperity – i.e. ‘sweet life’. The wall was falling down in the process of its building, and continued to ruin after, reminding of the vain efforts and vulnerability of human, who seeks to upbuild around himself a variety of shells – symbolic or real.

Another aspect of working with cover, membrane – but in the form of things, carrying certain information and memory, like skin, inclined to age-related changes, the power of genes and dependent on the internal state, was Maria’s turn to painting on old ‘borrowed’ from relatives tablecloths, curtains, bed sheets, carpets. The artist is quoting the high classical European art, often exposing the inside of Raphael’s and other Renaissance masters’ characters, making them vulnerable, humane, mortal. Or there are very personal experiences related to her parents, childhood traumas, which may pass through such a unique artistic filters of purification as an appeal to the shroud of Christ or The Veil of Veronica – depictions which are largely related to the act of liberation from the earthly image and translating it into the category of transcendental.

In 2011 Maria kulikovska went to so called ‘skin’ of things, when was creating an image on the upholstery of chairs and armchairs. They may seem frightening and enlightening (like portraits of Pope Innocent X and his daughter Olimpia Maidalchini, who are embodying depravity and debauchery), but they are not eternal, they were designed for gradual erasing, vanishing and change.

New anthropology, highlighting the value of a unique individual experience for history and culture, reveals itself in the need for direct contact, involvement of others in the creation of the new field of social interaction and communication. This communication can be based only on the creation of objects which are holding concentrated ‘life experience’ as pure ‘Presence Effect’.

Art, not opposed to life but built-in the dynamics of organic changes, aging and fading like body, not offending humans with an ambition to outlast them, but on the contrary tending to be around and friendly share with them those burdens of existence, – is in focus of Maria kulikovska’s creative activity.

Being free from socio-critical pathos, it can tell a lot about contemporary man and his place in society – namely: about ephemerality of any kind of boundaries that define our identity and lines of interaction with others, but never become absolute and permanent.

 Oksana Barshynova (curator of National Ukrainian Museum of Art, art-critic 2012)