Through her powerful yet mysteriously delicate sculptures and installations, Olga Ziemska pays hommage to the miraculous force of nature and rekindles the intuitive dialogue between human beings and the elements, “making the human body a part of the whole, not the whole part“. As another version of her Stillness in motion: The Matka Series is being revealed this weekend in Cluj for the 18+ Festival, we joined Olga in an extended conversation about art, intercultural communication and inspiration.
keywords: nature, intuition, interconnected, stillness
My studio looks like… an organized creative research laboratory within an industrial building in downtown Cleveland, Ohio right next to beautiful Lake Erie. It is a space filled with natural light from the large warehouse windows with tall ceilings and walls plus floors painted bright white.
I always find time for… walking outdoors in nature with my dog Bluejay.
Nature is… the universe. Nature is us. I belive that nature is everything here on earth, including us humans, to everything that is above, below and beyond this planet. Nature is everything… even our imagination is a reflection of nature.
Growing up, I wanted to become a… teacher, then a veterinarian, then a writer, then a book illustrator, then a fashion buyer, then a psychologist and finally an artist.
One habit I cannot kick… is buying books. I have a bit of an addiction buying and collecting books and I plan on building a floor to ceiling library in my next home.
My favorite breakfast… is a homemade vegetable omlette with a banana, almond milk and spirulina smoothie and a cup of hot green tea.
A secret, wonderful place in Poland… is not so secret but one of my favorite places on earth and my earliest creative and artistic inspiration. Mount Giewont is a moutain in the Tatra National Park in which the profile of the mountain resembles a giant sleeping human being.
I like to listen to… Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 Disc 1. This is often the start to my day and my go to album when working in the studio for the past 15 years. It never gets old for me.
I sometimes read… fiction books. I LOVE books and about 95% of my book collection is non-fiction books on the topics of science, psychology, philosophy, poetry, art, design, etc.
3 artists I resonate with… are my late Grandfather Teofil, Guiseppe Penone and Kiki Smith.
Cristina: Hello, Olga! It’s great to find out you will be constructing a version of Stillness in Motion: the Matka Series, your best known project until now, in Cluj at 18+ Festival. How did it all start? Why did you choose art as a medium to express yourself?
Olga Ziemska: I have always been interested in art since I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are at the table drawing intently with stacks of paper and a box full of crayons. As a child I was a quiet kid that had a very abundant internal world, where I spent a lot of time in my imagination. Art became one of my earliest forms of pure expression and a direct way I could communicate my thoughts, ideas and experience friends and family, without having to rely on words. Both my parents and brother immigrated from Poland to the United States in the early 70’s and I was born shortly thereafter. I have always said that “it is Poland in my house” despite the fact that I lived in Midwest America surrounded by American families and American culture. I always felt as though I was living in between two cultures and two languages, so naturally I developed a space of my own with a language and culture that existed in between these two places; a space that was based on all things universal and bridged these apparent cultural and linguistic gaps.
Art became one of the ways I could communicate with others without the need to know a specific language or culture well, and instead I could intuitively communicate about all the things that are universally shared and understood by all human beings; the things that underlie all of life and connect all of us to one another.
C.: In almost all cultures, the human form is central. Where does Matka stand in relation to the Venus figures, the first human art figures found to date?
O.Z.: I think the Matka’s are simply a continuation of this instinct and need to express the female form in art through nature.
The generative quality that women hold I think has always been a fascination and inspiration and also a symbol of human connection to nature and nature’s transformative life force.
The Upper Paleolithic Venus statuettes were found all over Eurasia dating back 35,000 years ago and were made from the natural elements at hand whether that be soft stone or clay. The Matka’s, just like the Venus statuettes, are made from materials that are found locally where I use tree branches specifically to create my figures.
C.: How much time does it take you to construct Matka and for how long will it be there? What is your view on time in relation to art?
O.Z.: The first Matka I made was at the Center of Polish Sculputre in Oronsko, Poland. This one took me three months to create because I performed the entire process by myself from gathering and collecting the material, to trimming down each branch individually, to stacking and forming the female figure. I have since been working to stream-line the process to where I was able to make a Matka in Korea in under one month. Now in Romania I have further improved on my process and have been able to create a Matka in under two weeks with the help of volunteers in cutting and trimming the branches.
C.: What does your work process look like? How do you start and take an idea to finish?
A large part of my process is the research-phase which consists of me walking through life, finding inspiration and making connections. Usually a sculpture idea comes to me fully formed in my head and I can clearly visualize it.
But before I see it and before I am able to physically make an artwork, I spend a significant amount of time researching, writing, sketching, developing, experimenting. Once I start to physically make an artwork the process goes very quickly and intuitively to completion.
C.: Your artistic residence at 18+ Festival will result in a version of Matka in Cluj, which will add to the city’s identity and attitude towards public art in public space. Have you ever visited Romania before? What are your thoughts coming here?
O.Z.: No I have not visited Romania before, but I was excited to have the opportunity to visit Cluj and learn a bit about Romania first hand and in person.
C.: After Cluj, where will Matka show up next?
O.Z.: I plan to make the next Matka in the United States, since I have surprisingly not made one there yet.
C.: Your artworks are on display in the US, Europe, and recently, Asia. What feedback did you receive? What are the differences and similitudes in the way people belonging to diverse cultures perceive your sculptures?
O.Z.: I am always excited to see that my art connects with people from all over the world, of all cultures, faiths and perspectives. I have always felt that art can be used in a way that communicates universally beyond cultural language and cultural understanding, to a type of visceral understanding that encompasses all of nature and all of humans. I feel that art can be a great connector and I see that my work resonates with people around the world about this universally shared experience.
C.: Where do you feel you’ve gained the best insight into the world of art? Was it in the school years, in the various residencies, group exhibitions or somewhere else?
O.Z.: All of the above. I think art and understanding are an endless ongoing process and my best insight about the world of art always comes from within.
C.: Feeder.ro turns 11 years old. What were you doing in 2004 and what are you planning to do 11 years from now?
O.Z.: In 2004 I was attending graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where I was studying for a Master’s Degree in Sculpture. That summer in 2004 I traveled to the Czech Republic for a solo exhibition in a 520 square meter church where I created the site-specific piece titled „The tree told me so…”. Eleven years from now I plan on still making art and continuing travelling the world every opportunity I get.