What is it what we see when we look, speak, play, read?
Recently I came across the old story about the reasoning why, in the 15th century, the Natives didn’t recognise the English ships when they arrived in America. When the tall European vessels first approached the coastline of the New World, it must have been an appearance so alien in their reality, that their highly filtered perceptions couldn’t register what was happening, thus they literally failed to ‘see’ the ships. The relation between space and time didn’t coincide with anything they were able to relate to. But when reversing the question, we could ask what it is that the English failed to see when setting foot in America. This story brings us to the question of what is ‘perceivable’, how come it is ‘perceivable’ and where this perceptional blindness is coming from?
The one medium that is best suited for observation and depicting reality is the drawing. A draftsman looks at composition, at detail and tries out different scenarios. The process of drawing is exploratory and as such it is very well suited as a vehicle for solving problems. Anna Olenicenco masters this process and treats the drawing as a tool not only to reflect upon issues of perception, but also on the means of communication and its creative, as well as descriptive, possibilities.
Through the process of communication we describe our world, we relate to and create our environment. But many things are left untouched, unnoticed and as such unrepresented. Anna is particularly interested in how perception comes about and how we read images. She embeds her practice in the semiotics of the language of drawing, and depicts the means of communication in an almost structural manner to then realise that this undermines the inherent power of the image that is created.
Her drawings don’t aim at representing and repeating the reality that she has in front of her, but set out to reveal, interpret and represent her relation to this reality. The people portrayed in Anna’s images, can be friends, colleagues but also people she hardly knows. She doesn’t want to know them through conventional language, but looks at them as visual entities; she looks at their movements, their composition and how the body translates the interior, but most importantly how their appearance relates to her. As such the costumes in which her figures are dressed don’t coincide with what the portrayed person would normally wear. Instead they are set within a historicised fictional setting, or better within a figment of her imagination.
Anna is very aware of how the techniques and processes she employs structure her relation to the subject of her engagement. Just as language structures the way we see and the way we engage with our surrounding, the medium in which the artist works does so too. The process of creating a work – in itself – becomes a collaboration between the artist, her method, and the environment in which she works and the people she depicts. This becomes apparent where she incorporates elements from her environment into the image, such as the coffee marks she employs to create the fictional historical look of her work.
Besides these direct references to the interrelations mentioned above, we can further observe a more complex process of testing all aspects involved in the way she employs specific techniques in the construction of a work. On the one hand it happens through her translations and interpretations of a piece through the use of various media, or by playing games such as ‘the Cat Cradle’ in front of her work. In the latter she applies the abstract results as a new image, which allows her to reposition herself towards what she previously created and test their capacity of disclosure. In the former, the translated images are sometimes shown in combination with the more straightforward drawing; and sometimes the rope of the game literally connects the drawings. All variations in the composition of one work reveal slight differences: A shift in time, context, development of the artist, physical exhibition space, can create a new relation to the work, a new reality and thus generate new possibilities of reading it. Through these variations we come closer to detect the invisible, to explore and visualise the complexity of perception and communication.