Diana Fiedler: „Missing”


Diana Fiedler: „Missing”

exhibition opening: 22.11.2019 (Friday), 6 p.m. / free admission

exhibition open until 29.12.2019

Galeria Sztuki Wozownia, 6 Ducha Świętego street



Marta Smolińska

Missing: on the trail of the stranger


One always has exaggerated ideas about what one doesn’t know.

“The Stranger” Albert Camus


Diana Fiedler’s works exhibited in the upper hall, the archival and the laboratory of art of the Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń oscillates around the process of probing and reconnoitre “the stranger”. They touch upon the issue of broadly conceived strangeness, otherness, and alienation, as well as any type of deep fears and ambiguous identities. In their non-obvious, metaphorical dimension, they open contexts that are not only individual, but also social and political, concerning all possible guises of “the stranger”.

The title – „Missing” – becomes very ambiguous in these contexts, as, on the one hand, it connotes somebody missing, and, on the other, it can connote missing somebody. Moreover, it has a “cinematic” overtone, triggering associations with narratives characteristic in particular of thrillers. Hence, Fiedler creates tension in the very title of the exhibition, suggesting an unsolvable mystery and giving the visitors only this one verbal hint – “Missing” – which is so stimulating for the imagination! It is about someone gone, lost, missing, absent… To everyone who sees the exhibition this elusive, mysterious persona will be somebody else.

Fiedler stages the gallery space, placing concrete objects in it. She plays with our exaggerated fantasies of the unfamiliar, constructing a microcosm where we can feel the unidentified stranger’s breath on our backs or smell them, inhaling the odour of gum at one moment, and a pleasant scent of lemon grass at another. Friedrich Nietzsche criticized other philosophers for neglecting the nose as the most sensitive tool at a man’s disposal – one that provides us with information on movement with much more detail than a spectroscope[1]. For scent is based on idealization and it generates a mental narrative for its recipient, as it includes a material trace of the past, directly linked to the body.

In the “Missing” exhibition, we experience this unidentified, also olfactory, presence of the stranger with our whole bodies, which become the centre of multisensory and somaesthetic perception. We walk through a dark and oppressive, rubber corridor, at the end of which we encounter black, empty window sockets; we move the yellow, transparent strip curtains in order to enter an unrecognized space and inhale the scent of lemon grass; we move between steel spiders that are used to separate and secure specific areas – Fiedler positions them in such a way as to make us confused about which side of the construction we are on: are we in the safe zone, or are we exposed to an encounter with “the stranger”? At some points, the sensation is “sticky” with unease, confined with anxiety that is activated through contact with the pitch-black, rubber walls of the corridor or the heavy stripes of the curtain, falling on anyone who wants to open them. This is an exhibition which is to be experienced through senses, through our skin – as if we were transported onto a movie set not knowing its script. We have to follow each of the paths made by the artist-scriptwriter-director-stage designer on our own, relying on our body’s intuition and suppressing the sense of danger, which should not paralyze us to the core – we know, after all, that we are in a gallery, where the only stranger there that can stalk us is unreal, and not in any real space.

The microcosm built by Fiedler alludes to the philosophy of the subject, in accordance with which the recipients of a work of art proceed from seeing to touching, from touching to finding their own selves through a sense of corporeality and their own affective engagement.[2] They are in the epicentre of a haptic experience, understood as a multisensory sensation. The artist’s works are also closely aligned with the concept of a haptic system[3], coined by James J. Gibson. The haptic system is an individuals’ means of collecting information about the world and about their own bodies. It works across the order of senses, engaging all of them, including the sense of balance and kinaesthesia.[4] Tactile sensations do not thus originate only in the skin, but also other organs; as a result, haptic perception has to be described as multisensory, which is becoming more and more clear also thanks to neuropsychological research.[5] Fiedler creates something of parkour which – by confronting the recipients with “obstacles” – challenges their frames of mind, their haptic imagination, and their corporeal and conscious memory. The haptic perception, which is an effect of the workings of the haptic system, involves a synthetic exchange between many senses and a close cooperation between all of them rather than solely between sight and touch.[6] The integration of impressions collected by different senses was stressed as early as by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: “My perception is therefore not a sum of visual, tactile, and audible givens: I perceive in a total way with my whole being; I grasp a unique structure of the thing, a unique way of being, which speaks to all my senses at once.”[7] Gaston Bachelard did, in turn, refer to this multisensory correlation as “a polyphony of senses.”[8] Fiedler orchestrates this polyphony, appealing especially to the senses of touch, sight, olfaction, and kinaesthesia. Hearing has to be active as well when we intensely listen to the sound of our own steps or the rustle of the stripe curtains, subconsciously anxious about hearing steps of the stranger. An important part in intensifying these effects rests on our exaggerated fantasies of what we do not know.

At times, you may sway, lose the steadiness of your steps – especially when faced with the expansive, sharp “spiders” or the insides of the dark, rubber corridor. In the centre of the “Missing” exhibition, a feeling body does sometimes lose its balance, and proprioception is tested due to the haptic perception of the works exhibited in Wozownia. The sense of balance allows us to feel our bodies in space; kinaesthesia, or the so called deep feeling, allows us to identify the position of parts of our body without looking at them. As an artist, Fiedler knows that both these senses – alongside the basic five – are key to the condition of a feeling body, which is all affected by hapticity. This also allows to overcome the separation of body from soul, so deeply rooted in the Western-European tradition,[9] and to revise the metaphysical tradition and the idea of the subject that it entails: “… touch is a radical sense in the original meaning of the word. Just as a radix – a root – it allows to root the perceiving and the cognizing consciousness in that which is sensual; it unites the mind and the senses, the soul and the body.”[10] In Fiedler’s conception, this cognizing, sensualized consciousness is especially alert to the (non)presence of the stranger.

Paradoxically – even though the exhibition does not feature any concrete eyes that could glance at us – we can feel being constantly observed. It is the peculiar black windows, the deep, circular specula of periscopes, and the eyes of other visitors that cross in the exhibition space, resting on our bodies and bringing to mind this very common phenomenon these days – surveillance. The sense of being controlled and monitored – with no source of this sense to be found – brings about, in turn, the sense of being watched by the unidentified stranger, whose spirit is floating somewhere in the space. Fiedler stages an aesthetics of control. This is an atmosphere known also from the project of a panopticon by Jeremy Bentham. This prison, where the prisoners do not know if and when they are being watched by the guards, as described by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, has become a metaphor for permanent surveillance. [11]

The particular spots where the exhibits are placed also automatically become a part of the messages transmitted by the artist: the peculiar periscopes follow us in a laboratory, entering into spatial-semantic relations with their surroundings. The dark, upper hall of the Wozownia Gallery is a site of an environment “dense” with anxiety, where the room’s wooden pillars become a meaningful and inherent part of the narrative. The effect of such uncertainty – of threat, or even oppression – is created, to a big extent, with the scale of particular exhibits. They do not only match the interiors of the gallery; they are also proportionate to the size of the human body – the centre of perception – by means of which the visitors can experience the exhibits’ mysterious, material, and very palpable presence.

In the “Missing” exhibition, each visitor thus enters a dialogue with “their own stranger”, while at the same time being “the stranger” for other visitors, and, if Arthur Rimbaud was right when he said that “I am another one”, at the same time being “the strangers” to themselves.




[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo. Kritische Studienausgabe, Bd. 6, München, Berlin und New York 1988, p. 366.

[2] Wolf Spemann, Tastsinn und Plastik. Ein Beitrag zur Anthropologie der Sinne, in: “Kunst und Kirche” 3, 1981, p. 133.

[3] James J. Gibson, Die Sinne und der Prozeβ der Wahrnehmung, übersetzt von Ivo und Erika Kohler und Marina Groner, Bern 1973, p. 131.

[4] Stefan Neuner, Taktilität – Sinneserfahrung als Grenzerfahrung, in: “31. Das Magazin des Instituts für Theorie” Nr. 12/13, Dezember 2008, Zürich, p. 3.

[5] Charles Spence, The Multisensory Perception of Touch, in: Art and the Senses, ed. by Francesca Bacci and David Melcher, Oxford 2009, p. 100.

[6] Cf. Heiner Protzman, Die visuelle Ästhetik der Skulptur und das Problem der Wechselvertretung von Auge und Tastsinn, in: “Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden” 13, 1981, p. 21.

[7] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Film and the New Psychology, in: idem, Sense and Non-Sense, with a preface by Hubert L. Dreyfus & Patricia Allen Dreyfus, Evanston 1964, p. 50.

[8] Gaston  Bachelard, Poetics of Reverie, Boston 1960, p. 6.

[9] See: Dariusz Czaja, Anatomia duszy. Figury wyobraźni i gry językowe (The Anatomy of the Soul. Figures of Imagination and Language Games), Kraków 2006.

[10] Piotr Schollenberger, Strefy kontaktu – Merleau-Ponty i Duchamp o związkach widzenia i dotyku (Spheres of Contact – Marleau-Ponty and Duchamp on the Relation between Sight and Touch), in: Anna Łebkowska, Łukasz Wróblewski, Patrycja Badysiak, W kulturze dotyku? Dotyk i jego reprezentacje w tekstach kultury (In a Culture of Touch? Touch and Its Representation in Texts of Culture), Kraków 2016, pp. 51–52, trans. mine.

[11] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. New York 1977.