Working across sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking, Andrzej Zieliński’s practice challenges the myth of contemporary technological innovation. His work depicts electronic devices – phones, computers, shredders, fax machines – and addresses the many contradictions embedded in our relationships to them, which are cutting-edge one moment and obsolete the next, at once personalised and mass-produced, precious and disposable. He further imagines a baroque materiality for their theoretically seamless processes – buffering, connecting, syncing – which create unwelcome moments of pause in our lives, encouraging a more nuanced appreciation of the human impact of technology.
Trained at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University with a focus in painting, Zieliński will show a new series of sculptures at Gallery 9, Sydney made while in residence at Australian National University (ANU) School of Art, Canberra. This exhibition, ‘Primary Data’, comprises a group of phones and laptops in a riot of textures and colours, and embodies Zieliński’s approach to “think like a painter”. His experimental handling of materials emphasises their formal properties, creating beguiling transitions between stone, metals and plastics, often bridged with bright enamel paints. Zieliński’s alterations, leaving some surfaces raw while others are polished to a high sheen, further bring out the personality of each object. While deeply evocative of the interfaces with which we are familiar, the viewer is drawn in to look closely at the surfaces of these objects to discern their function. Weighty, richly textured and luridly coloured, they are in stark contrast to the sleek and slim proportions of the laptop or smartphone.
One work in the exhibition, titled Cluster Analysing (2016), incorporates a set of core drill samples donated to ANU. The samples now form the keyboard of a laptop, synthesising the shared purpose of these seemingly disparate objects – to record and store information about the world around them. Other local stones have been incorporated into the exhibition, including opals from the Canberra region and Western Australian zebra stone, which is notable for its distinctive banded patterning. These are set into a series of flip phones made from bronze and cast iron with slices of onyx for screens. Flip phones suddenly seem more desirable.
Zieliński’s practice reminds us that the slick and impenetrable surfaces of our devices belie the raw materials with which they are made – and the massive environmental impact created by their production. From mining and manufacture to operation and obsolescence, technology remains one of the leading causes of pollution, with no end in sight. His work makes the case for a pause in progress, in favour of a version of the world more idiosyncratic than innovative, more fantastical than functional.
20 October to 12 November, 2016
Andrzej Zieliński, Frequency Hopping, 2016, bronze, agate, paint and primordial stone (from the East Kimberly region), 23.5 x 22 x 19cm
Photograph: David Paterson, Dorian Photographics
Courtesy the artist