Critics Back

Circle of Symbols, Anna Ciosk, 1996

The term symbol, which is derived from the Greek symbolon, originally meant one piece of an object (usually the object was a pair of dice) that had been broken in two, which could still be matched with the other, remaining part of the object. Objects used to be split that way as a sign of covenant so that by putting the two pieces together the two parties could recognise each other. From the idea of dividing and bringing together that this gesture represents may be construed the unity of multiplicity, or may express at the same time good and evil, life and death, growth and deterioration, rise and fall.

MAN – image of God, measure of all things, synthesis of heaven and earth, Microcosm, best of human qualities incarnate, moral entity, “Man — the rot, son of man — a worm”.

WOMAN – Chaos, subconsciousness, variety, the negative principle incarnate, purity, fertility, Earth, mother, love, care, beauty, virtue, temptation, debauchery, scheming, lies, nation, state, ecstasy, uncertainty, danger, cruelty, slyness, changeability, instability, frailty, fragility, extremes.

NUDITY – sincerity, openness, truth, defencelessness, simplicity, innocence, being human, natural state, defence, asceticism, fixation, elevation, delight, shamelessness, desire, lewdness.

PHALLUS – axis of the world, fertile power of Nature, perpetuation of life, immortalisation of the species, masculinity, sexual drive, fertilisation, abundant crop, offspring, invasion, permeation, ego.

HEAD – the Universe, Sun, the sky, order, divinity, object of worship, perfection, active principle, unity, royalty, power, authority, spiritual leadership, strength, courage, control, spiritual life, prophecy, mind, enlightenment, knowledge, wisdom, reason, individuality.

FLOWER – mystical centre, soul, mystery, logic, innocence, charm, adolescence, passion, love, harmony, earthly pleasures, creation, subtlety, accomplishment, choice, passage of time, hope, feminine beauty, Satan.

WREATH – sacrifice, defence, good crop, courage, pugnacity, victory, honour, justice, distinction, reward, glory, memory, slavery, freedom, death, virginity, joy, marriage, celebration, power, liveliness, fertility, abundance, affluence, magic, resurrection.

DREAM – the world, life, secrets of life, sweetness of life, shortening of life, life of the soul, memories, passage of time, death, miracle of Nature, fire, water, food refreshing bath, coat, worry, state of sinlessness holiness, gift of heaven, poor man’s possessions, friend in need, benefactor, brother, healer of sick souls, flattery, thief.

DEATH – levelling of states, moment, mystery of nature, end of wanderings, end of age, gate of life, transition from one existence to another, rest, travel, eternal sleep, great awakening, wisdom of the body, separation of soul and body, shadow, the West, valley of darkness, never returning wave, guards of Hell, unknown country, punishment, evil, undesirable visit, consolation, grace, panacea, gift, harvester, reign, salvation.

SKULL – dome of heaven, memento mori, mortality, misery, melancholy, piety, penance, Golgotha, fortune-telling, danger, indestructibility, immortality.

The notion of a circle consisting of the ten selected symbols has a symbolic meaning too. It seems to match most closely the artist’s personality and her work. For the circle symbolises the perfect shape, the inner unity, precision, the cyclic existence, the eternal law, Cosmos, and the feminine principle. In addition, the holy number ten signifies eternity, creativity, pioneering, the will, energy, rise and fall, masculinity, integration of the sexes, duality of life and death. The Tenth Muse is the nickname of gifted ladies.

Natalia Lach-Lachowicz’s art is so comprehensive and expressive an area that it is impossible to fill it or limit it with any finite set of associations, symbols or messages. At the same time it is readily reducible to a definite and identifiable iconography. However, its characteristic motifs are always set in a different context.

Man’s problems in his existential, individual and universally human dimension constitute the most pervasive theme and the artist’s most important concern. Aware of her sexual determination, she looks on the world from the point of view of a woman. It is her — the woman-Eve, the woman-Mary, and ultimately herself that she made into the object and at the same time the subject of her art. From the earliest to the latest, they have always been the artist’s self-portraits. What has changed is just the model’s appearance, determined by the passage of time and the biological stages she has gone through.

At first a half-nude girl-full of vitality and sexual energy-joy-fully, shamelessly and greedily bites off a piece of “the fruit of sin” in the form of a phallicly charming banana. Then she changes into a nymph, fairy and sorceress, always dreamy but perfectly focused. Wearing a wreath of plaited wild poppies, daisies and cornflowers on her long fair hair and a white robe, she just hangs around. Then, transformed into a witch clad all in black, she will wrestle with the Devil and extraterrestrial forces, only to eventually assume the form of the victorious Wagnerian Brunhild clasping a human skull, her head crowned with a laurel wreath of fleshy bells of anturium flowers.

Recently Natalia’s self-portrait has undergone further changes and modifications. The attributes familiar from her earlier work as integral constituents of her canvases have know acquired new meanings. The complementary background elements have changed too. The person, usually reduced to the head or face, is new depicted with an extreme intensity of self-denial, self-irony and self-destruction. As a result the emerging representation is that of a repulsive, distorted, withering woman. The transparent shroud covering her face tightens her skin and spreads over her hair. An impression of the countenance lingers on the fabric, registering the twists of the mouth, its teeth-baring grins, and the stuck out tongue, on which grimaces reflect a tremendous spectrum of emotional states-from unimaginable suffering to scum and mockery. The general impact is enhanced by the expression of the fainting, impassive eyes. The drama of these representations climaxes when they are brought together into larger sets — “the installations”. Multiplied in a variety of variants and configurations, and turned into chairs, the veracious become a metaphor of Golgotha in its human dimensions and conditions.

The tragedy penetrating Natalia’s latest work is to some extent offset by the artists distance, which is clearly seen in the way she quotes and manipulates her earlier motifs. Bananas and flowers-multiplied on the scrolls of canvas cascading through vast spaces — in a way reconcile the masculine with the feminine. On the other hand, the symbolic skull can be seen not only as a remainder of death, but also as a sign of hope and immortality.

Anna Ciosk
Zielona Góra, June 1996

The data concerning the meanings of symbols is based on Dorothea Forstner’s The World of Christian Symbolism, Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, Warszawa 1990, and, above all, on Słownik symboli (The Dictionary of Symbols) by Władysław Kopaliński, Wiedza Powszechna, Warszawa 1990.

Translated by Bogusław Bierwiaczonek