en passant

THE SENSES OF MEMORY
Text by Ming Lin

Cinema, the avant-garde French director Antonin Artaud effused, “is an amazing stimulant. It acts directly on the grey matter of the brain.”1 Condemning other forms of film as static and limited to pallid objective schemes, Artaud called forth a new method, a sensuous cinema, one that might venture to “pierce the skin of civilized reality.”2 If reality is just a superficial layer of the truth that lies beneath, then attempts at its accurate depiction may prove fruitless and out of date. In their abstraction, Ewa Monika Zebrowski’s photos are scintillating portraits of a more subjective landscape. One that is, as the artist herself has put it, less about place and more about channeling “an internal geography.”

Capturing the movements of light and colour, works in Zebrowski’s latest series en passant evade the documentary stance most often attributed to traditional photography. Blurry and at times seemingly moist, they present a meandering tour of the artist’s psyche as she makes her way through the rural Danish North. There is a bleakness to the red tractor that sits recoiled in a yard and a cheeriness suffused by the golden hue of rapeseed fields flanking a road of unknown destination. Here, unsteadiness or slight of hand are traces of a personal process: the evolution of the self. The artist’s palpable presence in every photograph serves to probe the confines of objectivity initiating a more intimate viewing experience.

In dreams, and in memory, smells, colours and tastes mingle to create notions that waking life has little chance of reconstituting. In her works, Zebrowski attempts to breach such processes, those buried deep within levels of the subconscious. In this strata, reality and the surreal make for odd and yet potent bedfellows. It is through the juxtaposition and exaggeration of phenomena in unexpected combinations that we are moved, viscerally, towards an “ecstatic truth”. As theorized in the imaginative narratives of filmmaker Werner Herzog, these are truths that are expressed not so much by facts as by reality’s augmentation.

In en passant, colours that meld into one another and dance across the frame are less notes for the logical brain than movements that speak to the body. Among other sensations is the passage of time. As Walter Benjamin noted, “memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre.” The stuff of memory is made meaningful only through the moods and motivations that it invokes: memory is performed.

1. Antonin Artaud, Collected Works: Volume Three, Paule Thévenin (Ed.), translated
by Alastair Hamilton (London: Calder and Boyars, 1972), p. 166-167.
2. Jamieson, Lee. “The Lost Prophet of Cinema: The Film Theory of Antonin Artaud,” Senses of Cinema, no. 44 (Aug. 2007), n. pag. Web 22 September 2012.