Hanna Krzysztofiak
Ryszard – tamed and mourned 

Polana Institute

April 28–May 14, 2022

In her latest series of paintings, Hanna Krzysztofiak analyzes the historical models of thinking about the dead to deal with the acute sense of emptiness she experienced following the death of her dog, Ryszard. 

Inspired by Philippe Aries’ Images of Man and Death, the paintings contain the echoes of the Romantic approach to death, full of pathos and idealizing the image of the dead person; the medieval fear of the dead; and the modern taboo surrounding the decay of the body after death. In her intentionally risky ‘compensation through art’, at times playful and at times serious (which is so characteristic for this artist), Krzysztofiak tries to create a new place for mourning in the modern public space and include the community in bidding farewell.

Krzysztofiak focuses on the Slavic myth of a vampire – the image of the living dead repeated in thousands of variations in literature. The myth was associated with a plethora of rituals whose goal was to keep the dead in their tombs and prevent them from returning to the land of the living, attacking cattle, destroying crops, bringing diseases, or even demolishing churches. In Krzysztofiak’s paintings, we can see the opposite. On one, the vessel with Ryszard’s body is not directed toward the earth but towards us; somewhere else Ryszard resolutely digs the ground or returns home as a vampire with a full shopping bag.  All this out of the overwhelming desire of his owner to see him again.

Spiritualistic séances of the 19th century were a natural consequence of rapid technological developments, with the invention of the telegraph reviving the belief in the magic possibility of communicating with the dead. It seems that the artist is rather reluctant to accept this form of meeting with her dog. She underlines the oppressive nature of spiritistic séances, described for example in the Memoirs of Séances with the medium Frank Kluski by Norbert Okołowicz from 1926, by the morbidly twisted and tied fingers of the medium in one of her paintings.

Some of the paintings entitled Seance bring to mind not only the visual but also the tactile sensations that must have been experienced by the participants. In the darkened room, somebody licked someone else, someone was briefly touched, another was taken by then hand or hit in the head… Spiritual seances show how much we are willing to pay to be able to meet our loved ones. For some, this must have been a subconscious and self-inflicted punishment, an emanation of remorse for being insufficiently present in their lives or having an inadequate farewell.

Exhibition view

Selected works

Séance 2
Hanna Krzysztofiak Séance 2 acrylic on canvas 2022
In the ground
Hanna Krzysztofiak In the ground acrylic on canvas 2021
By the shrine
Hanna Krzysztofiak By the shrine 2021 2021
Hanna Krzysztofiak Fear acrylic on canvas 2021
Séance 1
Hanna Krzysztofiak Séance 1 acrylic on canvas 2021
The Great Rysień
Hanna Krzysztofiak The Great Rysień acrylic on canvas 2022