Catalogue essay for “Springwood” show by Carrie Miller, 2009
Working from photographs taken in late night urban settings, Halinka Orszulok’s paintings are the product of a labour intensive process of creating photorealistic interpretations of these images.
As a result, it’s easy to read the artist’s work as simply technically proficient, beautifully rendered representations of the scenes they depict. But beneath their surface, these paintings are much more than faithful representations of what she photographs.
The work is also a meditation on how our experiences of the spaces we inhabit are implicated in our sense of who are. As Orszulok explains:
“Fundamentally I am interested in the way that the individual subconscious gives meaning to the spaces we inhabit. Places can trigger certain sensations in the individual, from the homely to the disconcertingly uncanny. Their experience is based on individual expectations and a subjective reading of that environment. In this exchange between an individual and the external world any meaning attributed to the environment is considerably fluid. It reflects back to us something within ourselves. Despite this highly subjective process we hold many experiences and sensations of particular environments in common. As a very basic example, how many of us as children were scared of the dark? This primal, bodily response to the places I paint is what I aim to instil in the viewer, and a recognition of the ambiguous way their meaning shimmers, hovering over them like an unseen presence.”
To view Orszulok’s work then is to experience a sense of space and time where meaning oscillates and remains ambiguous and elusive. This is especially palpable in her latest series of paintings where the artist has revisited a childhood home and produced a series of images that are both highly personal but, as generic suburban scenes, able to resonate with the viewer’s own experiences of domesticity. According to the artist:
“In this series I have revisited my teenage home in Springwood. This was a tumultuous time and I wanted to convey a generalised expression of the darker undercurrents of life at that age, the ambiguous relationship one may have to their surroundings; immersed in a private, intensely emotional world which heightens a sense of openness to the outside and simultaneously makes one feel disconnected, isolated. There is a loose narrative behind the works. There’s a girl about 16, she leaves the house at night and goes out…”
In the process of viewing such works, our imaginations drift back and forward to a range of potential interpretations: an adolescent display of affection with a new lover or a potential crime scene; the site of domestic violence or the possibility of safe haven. They may be all these things at once, depending on the viewer’s shifting and private imaginings of their own experiences.
By provoking questions about the psychology of memory, place, and the nature of the self, Orszulok’s quietly compelling and deeply unsettling paintings makes the viewer want to discover the hidden meaning contained within them. What this might be is another question.
– Carrie Miller