Julia Curyło: “Weightlessness”


Julia Curyło: “Weightlessness”

exhibition opening: 06.03.2020 (Friday), 6 p.m. / free admission

exhibition open until 26.03.2020

Galeria Sztuki Wozownia, 6 Ducha Świętego street


When one looks at Julia Curyło paintings drawn over the recent years, one can immediately conclude that the artist’s interests rotate around two areas – religion and science, and specifically astronomy. Even though, at first sight, it appears that the content layer of her compositions is inclined towards a scientific approach to reality, a brief immersion in the visuals allows to discover the richness of allusions to, among others, Christian iconography. Subjects such as the Holy Trinity, Madonna with the Child or Christ Pantokrator are interpreted here in surprising ways. The painter does not, however, content herself with merely defying the established canons of composition. Her talent to boldly juxtapose and synchronise various themes and aesthetic approaches has been noted for a long time – for example, Leszek Knaflewski once stated that her works are “a finely composed and mixed piece in which the number of samples does not matter, as they have been processed into a uniform formula that allows to mutate meanings and symbols.”[1] Julia’s newest paintings are no different from this mould. The Cathedral and the Large Hadron Collider, quotations from the works of old masters and mathematical equations; Baroque puttos and schematic drawings of human bodies resembling the Pioneer plaque;[2] the Biblical seraph and an entirely secular parachutist (or is he another version of the mythical Icarus?); Christian symbols such as fish and white dove and dog- or unicorn-shaped kitschy balloons; Marian iconography schemes and scientific instruments such as space probes or astronomical observatories – the seemingly endless motives in the artist’s work build up to a mosaic, eclectic and hybrid structure. Yet, “there is a method in the chaos,” and each composition is governed by its own internal logic based on an association game, ambiguity and multiple ambiguity, experience and imagination. This confirms Umberto Eco’s claim that “In fact, the form of the work of art gains its aesthetic validity precisely in proportion to the number of different  perspectives from which it can be viewed and understood. These give it a wealth of different resonances and echoes without impairing its original essence.”[3]

The painter usually places the “action” of her paintings in space, although on occasion she “descends” to the lower troposphere, locating the figures among clouds. However, everything always happens “above and beyond.” The visual motif that clasps her work together is the ubiquitous figure of an astronaut. It becomes an incarnation of the “guardian saint” who, as the artist herself notes, watches “the limes between the worlds – earthy reality and the unexplored cosmic abyss.” Always anonymous, he remains dressed in a typical white spacesuit covering him from head to toe. It is rare to see him surrounded by objects directly associated with images of saints – basically, only in Łajka w kosmosie he is girded with a sash of cloth fastened like a Roman toga. The equipment he appears with is limited to devices to record and photograph his surroundings. So why the juxtaposition of an astronaut and a saint? What made Julia Curyło combine these ethe in her paintings? The answer is deceptively simple: both of them, although in different ways, connect to the otherworldly, soaring to mysteries unavailable to the ordinary mortals. A space explorer studies and collects information on the universe with scientific precision, while a saint, Christians believe, remains with God in heaven, thus being privy to His plans.

The astronaut-saint figure can be considered a visual metaphor in which tensions between empiricism and faith accumulate. On the one hand, the spacemen painted by the artist are floating in space, just like the saints bestowed with mystic grace who are shown levitating on the canvases of Baroque masters. The sensation of floating in the air, mentioned by hagiographers, was a supernatural event that testified to the saint’s election by the Most High. On the other hand, while viewing Julia Curyło’s paintings one can hardly escape the feeling that the protagonists of their works are simply suspended in weightless surroundings, where “the external forces affecting a system do not exert mutual pressure between the system’s components, and internal gravitational influences are negligible.”[4]

The artist also creates a space that makes drift not only the actors appearing in the arrangements, but also us, the viewers, immersed in the reference-rich stories. They can be read in two dimensions distinguished by Andrzej Szahaj in the context of a post-modern visual work of art: “in the dimension of sophisticated, erudite play with tradition, which can only be deciphered fully if the recipient is equipped with wide-ranging aesthetic, philosophical, historical and sometimes even scientific competences” and “in the dimension of sensual aesthetic pleasure recalling the joys of interacting with a narrative, plot, tune or painting.”[5] Under the guise of ostensibly banal (or weightless) forms juggled by the painter one may discover fundamental questions about the limits of cognition, the place of man in the universe and basic principles. The artist, however, deprecates the seriousness which often accompanies reflection on such themes. She divests herself of this unnecessary burden and weaves her incredible stories in a light and distanced way, “abandoning the ambitions typical for modern art: looking for truth and (…) creating some new (progressive) worldviews.” In this sense, she no longer wants to compete with science or philosophy. Rather, she tries to flirt with them, just as she does with mass culture and kitsch.”[6]

Reverting to the tension between faith and empirical experience we signalled earlier – how does Julia Curyło perceive the relation between them? As Albert Einstein famously wondered: “Is there really an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be supplanted by science?”[7]. One of the greatest minds of the 20th century firmly acknowledged the possibility of a symbiotic coexistence of these two domains. Julia Curyło seems to subscribe to this view, as she admits that combining religious and scientific themes in her work is a certain kind of dialogue between the scientific and the religious. She says that “the meeting of the real and the miraculous” is of particular interest to her. Thus, there can be no antagonism, competition or discord. How is this peaceful coexistence possible, since religion and science are perceived as domains that cannot be reconciled? This dissonance was also recognised by Einstein, who aptly indicated the grounds of potential conflicts: “(…) while most people readily agree on what is meant by ‘science,’ they are likely to differ on the meaning of ‘religion.’”[8] The issue, it appears, is largely caused by poor theological education, which renders religiosity, as Professor Maria Poprzecka says, “infantile and constantly infantilized.” A few years ago, Julia Curyło herself was the victim of ignorance, as her paintings, wrongly understood, had been vandalized.[9] The artist was unfairly charged with unfamiliarity with and lack of understanding of tradition and dogma. This appears a bitter irony, because as a Catholic school graduate, she can boast a level of knowledge about Christian culture that is much higher than the average Pole can, as religious education in Poland usually ends with receiving the Eucharist for the first time and consists in repeating commonplaces about God, guardian angels and baby Jesus.[10] But it is not only Poles who have a hard time distinguishing the Ascension from the Assumption – many Americans, a religious nation if there ever was one, believe that Jeanne d’Arc was… Noah’s wife.

But this might take us to an entirely different story…


Julia Curyło, born in Warsaw, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw; in 2009, she graduated from the studios of Professors Leon Tarasewicz (painting) and Mirosław Duchowski (art in public space). Author of paintings and installations presented in urban space, in January 2010 she won a competition organized by the A19 Gallery, which is located at the Marymont underground station in Warsaw. The large-format mural “Lamb of God” that was presented there won her numerous accolades. In November of the same year, Curyło received the Grand Prix of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage and the BWA City Gallery award in Bydgoszcz during the 2010 PROMOTION at the Art Gallery in Legnica. In May 2011, she was an award nominee at the tenth edition of the prestigious Geppert Competition. In 2012 and 2016, she received scholarships from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. Since 2015, she has been ranked among the top fifteen artists by the “Kompas Młodej Sztuki”. She has taken part in over sixty individual and collective exhibitions in Poland, Europe and the US.

[1] Quoted in: Julia Curyło: Odpusty i cudowne widzenia, catalogue of an exhibition at the Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń, Toruń 2011, p. 5.

[2] Pioneer plaques – a pair of gold-anodized aluminium plates featuring engraved information for alien civilizations, placed on board of the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes. See: https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C5%82ytka_Pioneera [access on 27.01.2020].

[3] Umberto Eco, Dzieło otwarte. Forma i nieokreśloność w poetykach współczesnych, trans. Alina Kreisberg, Krzysztof Żaboklicki et al., Warsaw 2008, p. 70.

[4] Nieważkość, [according to:] https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niewa%C5%BCko%C5%9B%C4%87 [accessed on 27.01.2020].

[5] Andrzej Szahaj, Co to jest postmodernizm?, “Ethos” 1996, no. 33–34, pp. 71–72.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Albert Einstein, Czy można pogodzić religię i naukę?, [in:] idem, Jak wyobrazić sobie świat, trans. Tomasz Lanczewski, Kraków 2017, p. 72.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Julia Curyło: Odpusty i cudowne widzenia, op. cit., pp. 20–21.

[10] Maria Poprzęcka, Na oko: Chrystusik, [according to:] https://www.dwutygodnik.com/artykul/4395-na-oko-chrystusik.html [accessed on 27.01.2020].