American author and playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote that “time is the longest distance between two places.” His sentiment is especially resonant when the two places happen to be the present and an indeterminate time in the distant past. Such an inchoate span of time, and our efforts to give the past shape, logic, and meaning, have long occupied the thoughts of the Polish-born, Paris-based contemporary artist Gabriela Morawetz. She wrestles with and meditates on time in her new body of evocative, mixed-media works at Chicago’s Maya Polsky Gallery, brought together in “Gabriela Morawetz: ‘In That Time/In Illo Tempore.’”
The exhibition’s title is a Latin phrase and its translation is used to refer to an unfixed past, one that cannot be precisely pinpointed, measured, or assigned a calendar date. It is often evoked in the context of storytelling and lends the narrative a sense of mystery and timelessness, qualities upon which Morawetz capitalizes and builds her works. Depicting male and female figures, often presented in ecstatic or trance-like states and sometimes pictured in the midst of ritualistic behaviors, each one of her pieces contains the suggestion of a larger narrative or event, unfolding once upon a time. By using only black ink and rendering her images on materials like wax, felt, and copper, Morawetz imbues her two-dimensional works with a sense of history. Her sculptures read as both ancient and contemporary. They also feature human figures, expressively molded in white terracotta and adorned variously with bits of copper, glass, and birds’ feathers.
Some of her sculptures appear mythological, even otherworldly. In Ecstasy III (2014), a part-bird, part-human—and possibly part-machine—figure is set upon a distressed wooden plinth. Numerous thin copper wires rise from a copper plate to both pierce and hold up the arching female torso, which, in turn, sprouts wings in the form of two feathers. References to angels, fairies, monsters, goddesses, and the manifold stories that begin “once upon a time” may come to mind as viewers stand before this evocative work.
“Gabriela Morawetz: ‘In That Time/In Illo Tempore’” is on view at Maya Polsky Gallery, Chicago, Oct. 10–Nov. 15, 2014.