Her figures are herself – or rather, her selves. They are casts from her body, but no two are the same. Each one occupies a different place, and each one bears within it a different charge. To bear means to carry or uphold; but in English it also means to go towards a certain goal or destination. A boat, carrying its cargo, is said to move on a 'bearing'; and we also talk of a man or woman having a certain 'bearing' in the way that he or she carries herself, as perhaps with determination or dignity in deportment. So, even though they each stand still, Kulikovska's figures display the bearings of her outward and inward experiences as she has moved through a changeable world, often marked by violent events. And yet they bear these serenely, despite all that they have gone through and all that has gone through them.
To those maidens who bore up their temples the Greeks gave the name 'caryatids'; Kulikovska's figures, too, may be so called; but as caryatids who bear witness and testimony to ruined space and ravaged times around them. And well might we call them so, for Maria Kulikovska is an architect; and if she turns from building to body it is only towards a more primal core to the world we extend around us. That core in architecture was the column, modelled on figures of men and women in Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders that were iterated and arranged to mark and watch over all our relations in space. Like coins, letters, seals and imprints, a column can both distribute general rule yet also affirm an original motive in its motif, admitting in each iteration some leeway for variation, leeway that shows the scope of freedom.
Casts, too, can display this scope. Casts are 3D prints, and like prints, casts are not always identical. Etchings vary within editions, and Andy Warhol's ways with silk-screens ensured that, though repeated like the media icons that they hijacked, no two Marilyns or Jackies from his 'Factory' were ever the same. Likewise, numbers, flags, hand and skull-prints recur through Jasper Johns' works, but vary continually. Cindy Sherman is a mistress of variation; she poses alter-egos of herself in guises that never quite disguise their posing. Kulikovska's figures share something with each of these, but differ from them in two important ways. Firstly, they are not at all 'cool'. They are far from the ironies of post-Pop Art. Their repetitions are not of media clichés, but primal iterations of "I am?", cast in varying materials and colours through a series of immediate responses to existential moments of experience. In this, they are kin to Giacometti's figures. They confront and challenge us not to identify our own selves with them; their call to bodily empathy can scarcely be declined.
A second distinction of Kulikovska's figures is that they stand not alone in her work, but mark - as columns do – definite poles around which all her other actions swirl, sometimes with demonic energy in political anger, sometimes with passionate self-searching, as in her performances with soap dolls of herself, but also often – in her ravishing watercolors – in dancing flares of ecstatic freedom. Her watercolours, like her boat-action 'Raft CrimeA', float loose, unbound from borders, all bearings open upon a future sea of freedom.
Art and Architecture historian, writer, critic.
Architecture Association, London