Lecture: Ewa Opałka
The Female Subject or the Third Sex? Selected Aspects of Wanda Czełkowska’s Oeuvre from a Feminist Perspective
In her paper, Ewa Opałka will focus on the question of gender identity in Wanda Czełkowska’s oeuvre. Talking to the artist herself while writing a book based on our dialogue, Opałka was especially interested in her understanding of the influence that the female gender had and has on the perception of an artist’s work. Czełkowska refused to be called ‘a sculptress’; she preferred to be called, like a man, ‘a sculptor’. Opałka interprets that as a way to survive as a female artist – as we already well know, traditionally, in patriarchal society, women were not only perceived as physically weaker but were also denied the status of transgressive, creative subjects. Therefore, one can see Czełkowska’s aim of placing herself as a male subject as an act of survival, despite the fact that embracing the male gender does not automatically work in favour of the artist still perceived as a female. Czełkowska wanted to overcome the binary of male and female – she used the term ‘third sex’ to manifest this urge.
How can we interpret the sculptures and installations that Czełkowska made in this style? One can see the incredible tension on the level of matter that marks Czełkowska’s sculptures till 1968 and its release in the next, more conceptual period. The ‘elimination of sculpture as a notion of shape’ is her version of conceptual dematerialisation, and materiality can be seen as gendered and, moreover, traditionally connected to the female. As Opałka will demonstrate in her paper, in these works one can see the aim to eliminate sculpture as matter as such. However, at the same time, in a gesture of elimination, one can see mediation, visualisation and the demonstration that the conceptual is not without its victims. In Czełkowska’s work, one can see the constant urgency to point out that the fact of brutal abolition of what is material, organic and flesh is always present in the gesture of aspiring to pure thought, the conceptual.