Joanna Christian: Maria Pinińska-Bereś (2000)
(The text was published in: “Sculpture”, vol. 19 no. 7, September 2000, pp. 74-75)
Pink is traditionally ascribed to girlhood and womanhood, as well as to submission, mildness, and kind-heartedness. It is associated with “sweetness” of character and infantilism. Presumably for this reason, and by way of opposition, it was adopted by Maria Pinińska-Bereś to be her trademark.
This strategy goes hand-in-hand with a tongue-in-cheek humor in her objects and installations. Though their subject matter is closely connected with vital issues of female physical and psychological experience, irony is her means of expression. The artist laughs at the stereotypes of womanhood and depicts their cultural contexts, but she also considers issues of the cultural determination of gender.
In Is a Woman a Human Being ? (1972), Pinińska-Bereś displays a woman’s swimming suit, or perhaps a mold of a woman’s body, bearing multiple lip-prints. It is accompanied by a sell-by label: “produced in … best before …”. Cruise across the Seas and Oceans around the Table (1974) presents “the female world,” which has been diminished to a washtub filled with water. My Enchanting Little Room (1975) displays yet another female experience, the feeling of seclusion and the lack of any possibility of escape. It does so by evoking the atmosphere of a lunatic’s house where the walls are covered with quilts and the window stuffed with a pink pillow.
The world enclosed in Pinińska-Bereś’s works is composed of objects and situations belonging to the female iconosphere. These include a corset, dressing table, mangle, washtub, and swaddle among others. Biblical, mythological, and fairytale heroines are also recalled: Venus appearing from the sea froth, the Graces, Leda, Salome, and Beauty and the Beast.
Two series of works, Windows and Existentiariums, demonstrate a woman’s mental and physical seclusion and submission to restraint – a window often being the only way of communication with the outer world. The Psycho-furniture cycle is the artist’s commentary on making a fetish of the female body and its objectification, e.g., Table I’m sexy (1969).
Pinińska-Bereś wrote that art, to be female, should reach out for the centuries-old female techniques. She herself hand-sewed her works from textiles, stuffed them, modelled and painted them. Papier-mâché and plywood are also employed in her works. I have fulfilled my postulate that I could carry my sculptures by myself, she says. The forms of her works are therefore soft, oval, and organic. Matched with the color pink they often evoke biological and erotic connotations. The common motifs are water and a tower, Freudian sexual symbols.
The essential part of each work is a word. It appears written on a work’s surface or acts as a title and describes, comments on, and names the situation displayed. In this regard, the Dada movement, which was respected highly by the artist, can be recalled as having employed written texts in its artworks. Pinińska-Bereś also explicitly refers to Dada/Surrealist art through her use of text, interest in archetypes, and the collective subconscious. Hence, in my view, Flaming Giraffe (1989) is a variation on a Salvador Dali painting. She was also fascinated by Henry Moore’s achievements and, though she denied any direct inspiration, I believe she was inspired by his King and Queen sculpture. She transposed it and added the important element of a ball. She commented thus on an age-long “match” played out between the two sexes.
At the very beginning of her creative life, Pinińska-Bereś chose her means and subject matter, resigning from traditional workshop sculpture and its materials. She decided to take a difficult path, unpopular in the prudish time of socialism and under the later, omnipresent patriarchal Catholic outlook. Neither of them appreciated her humor and light-heartedness. But at present the artist and her works are starting to be widely accepted and recognized. Though her oeuvre is still treated merely as “woman’s art,” she is also justly regarded by some critics to have been a precursor of feminism in Polish art. Her accomplishments may be compared to those of Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, and Valie Export.
In this context, Pinińska-Bereś’s performances are worthy of mention, since they focused on a similar female subject matter. The most striking example is her performance with a Letter-kite (1976), on which she wrote, I’m sorry that I was, that I am, exemplifying a common attitude of women toward life and themselves.
Pinińska-Bereś art is thoroughly non-academic, very private and intimate. It might seem delicate and passive though, in fact, it announces its right with a loud voice, which cannot be calmed or passed by indifferently. This exhibition was initiated in cooperation with the artist herself. Sadly, Pinińska-Bereś passed away before her first individual large-scale exhibition was finalized and officially opened.