AA|LA Gallery is pleased to present "Some women can take their eyes out," a solo exhibition by Polish-American artist Ilona Szwarc. The exhibition and included works borrow their titles from a short story by the late feminist writer Angela Carter, in which a kidnapped young woman is made to believe her memories are not real, struggling to maintain her sense of self. Szwarc turns to genres of horror and fantasy to understand the latent violence in everyday processes of making and re-making oneself.
Informed by her experience moving from Warsaw, Poland to the small town of Canadian, Texas as a teenaged girl, Szwarc’s practice is rooted in the joint pressures of female adolescence and cultural assimilation. In her photographic series "I am a woman and I cast no shadow," Szwarc casts a white silicone mold of a model nearly identical to herself. Her doppelgänger flashes expressions of alarm as Szwarc’s hands press, pour, and cut away synthetic layers of flesh. Stretching out the process of becoming, Szwarc’s subject never reaches a fixed identity. The artist simultaneously creates a mask that obscures her subject’s face and a template that uncannily reproduces it.
In "Her eyes retain a devastating memory," Szwarc photographs her own reflection in the bloodshot eyes of her body double, appearing progressively blurred as her model secretes a single tear. The artist situates herself as both the subject and object of her gaze. These large-scale photographs tether questions of appearance and perception to processes of identity formation and manipulation.
In each body of work, Szwarc unsettles the notion that such transformations exist only theatrically. She allows flecks of reality to creep into the frame: a scrawled reminder to pay the bills, a Pyrex measuring cup, a bathtub setting outside of the studio. Situated between photography and performance, portrait and self-portrait, the works presented in "Some women can take their eyes out" consider what it takes to shape a self, with all the mouldings, omissions, transformations, and stylizations involved.