Sunday, 21 July 2013

Voids of Liminality: Michal Janowski

The individual is everything yet appears nowhere. 

The ravenous pursuit of eminence leads him to nothing but bloated egocentrism and stunted human identity. We regress into tribesmen as we disconnect from society and hunt like blind animals to acquire the dream that won’t make us happier. 

I first discovered the arresting work of Michal Janowski through Signal, a London gallery that has already provided me with an exciting roster of artists to review. I’m a big fan of anthropomorphism, elements of which I have started to include in my own work and which is of course being executed so well by Signal’s very own success story Joram Roukes. But Janowski employs his beasts in a more confronting way that forges a very direct relationship with the viewer. 

These are portraits depicting a new human identity. Janowski is holding up a harsh and disconcerting mirror here. At first you develop a sympathetic connection with these raw, faceless figures, as they stare back with the desperate angst and hopelessness of someone – or something, enslaved. Yet Janowski denies his subjects full human identity; they are neither completely human nor wholly animal and as such we are magnetised by the tension of these figures that appear in a constant state of flux; everywhere and nowhere - lost and abandoned in an ambiguous void of liminality. 

That tension is heightened by the figurative nature of his subjects and the abstract backdrops against which they are set. It’s as if Janowski teases the viewer with scraps of reality, only to have them warped by these monstrous hybrids and their origins that remain forever unknown. 

And there is another level to all this when you look at Janowski’s captivating titles which are almost works of art in themselves: ‘Shape Shifting as Favourite Method of Deception’, ‘Trickster; Shaman of the Liminal’, ‘The Assassin of Fake Sanity’* (an unforgettable favourite). Janowski leads us to fawn over his curious subjects that are in fact aggressive and hostile reflections of our own debased nature. ‘Permanent Liminality’, one of Janowski’s more experimental pieces quite literally oozes a psychedelic hyperreality, as the face of a human subject appears to spoil beneath the bleeding mask of a cat.

Janowski thus presents us with ‘shape shifters’, ‘tricksters’, ‘shamans’ of the liminal world: deceptive spirits of another universe that are harbingers of both reality and illusion. And yet these entities are precisely us: we are the abstract monsters masquerading as humans in our perpetual greed, hypocrisy and primal destructiveness. The ‘assassin of fake sanity’ is the subconscious version of ourselves as we indulge in the masochistic fantasy of a world that is not real, not true, and not sane. It’s a beautiful device from the artist that lures the viewer into more self-reflexive territory than a photorealistic rendering ever could. 

Michal Janowski’s work is available at Signal Gallery