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Paulina Olowska – Pavilionesque

At the centre of the Pavilionesque exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel is a wooden pavilion, which has been installed in the Oberlichtsaal. The word ‘pavilion’, which comes from the French, is derived from the word ‘papillon’, butterfly. The ephemeral and delicate character of the butterfly finds an echo in the concept of the pavilion as a free-standing, temporary architecture, often made of light- weight materials and simple in its construction. A pavilion can also be described as a mobile, casual structure or even as a free-standing sculpture, intended for quiet reflection and other leisurely pursuits. Often only erected or opened up for seasonal use, pavilions have never fulfilled an existential need, but are places of culture and social interaction. Olowska’s installation is a homage to the vanishing forms of vernacular architecture such as the kiosk, the market stall, the fairground booth and even the ‘gypsy caravan’, in other words to architecture at its smallest and simplest, and to the equally fleeting appearance of the mobile, travelling theatre. 

In Pavilionesque, the artist focuses in particular upon the very specific aesthetic of the puppet and marionette theatre. The artist travelled to the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette in Palermo, Sicily, and to the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France, in order to study the subject in greater depth. She also consulted the archives of several Polish puppet theatres, including the Teatr Groteska in Kracow, the Teatr Baj in Warsaw and the Teatr Lalek Banialuka in Bielsko-Biala, and spent time, too, in probably the best-known archive of them all, the Cricoteka centre in Kracow, devoted to the documentation of the art of Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990). Kantor is considered one of the most important Polish representatives of experimental theatre, which was closely linked with the artistic avant-garde and which aimed to break down the barrier between public and stage. With his Theatre of Death, Kantor created a theatrical form of sculpture that simultaneously combined happening, performance and play, and in which real actors were joined by life-sized mannequins. Kantor thereby presented an emptied body in which it was nonetheless possible to see archetypal traits of human existence, albeit in an unsettling and menacing way.

In the new paintings and graphic works that Paulina Olowska has produced as part of Pavilionesque, the artist presents a selection of ‘stills’ in which the relationships between actor and puppet, and between puppet and abstraction, are held up to view. Although the puppet or marionette plays a prominent role, it also appears in direct connection with its puppeteer. A mysterious collaboration arises between the expressive hands of the puppeteer and the imaginary body of the puppet. The marionette can be seen as an allegory of human existence: voiceless, it only acquires a voice when moved by the puppeteer. At the same time, it is free from all human and physical limitations and can express the inexpressible. It acts as a representative of childish innocence and nevertheless harbours something disturbing and strange. In the thirteen works in gouache and oil on show in Pavilionesque, Olowska takes up this ‘disturbing’ quality and paints an overall portrait of the puppet theatre at several levels − some documentary, others emotional and personal. We see theatrical backdrops, stage sets and puppeteers.

en bij het verlaten van de Kunsthalle zien we een schilderij van een vermoeide muze, geheel in contrast met de prachtige levendige expositie

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