“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money—and a woman—and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”(Double Indemnity, 1944. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler)
Surrealism was a movement that developed in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century at a time of cultural crisis. It flourished on the understanding that preexisting social hierarchies were no longer operational and metaphysical bonds with higher powers had been broken for good. Surrealists concurrently embraced an intellectual and sensuous way of being in the world and started to explore new symbolic meanings in their art, language, and social habits, while repurposing their lifestyles in response to what had changed around them.
A starting point for these intellectuals was the acknowledgment that contradictions would remain unresolved and that trying to disentangle them would either lead to ideological mystification or a “simply utilitarian” life. Some Surrealists reacted to this realization by retreating into a life of abstraction; others went to opposite extremes, insouciantly treating life as spectacle.
Maria Loboda’s work embodies a similar approach—on the one hand it is fascinated by the carelessness that tainted the Surrealist era, and on the other it also longs for an unrecoverable vision that seems to have perished together with the “old world.” Pursuing the recovery of this attitude in our times—as well as in the times of the Surrealists—only increases the sense of distance between the before and the after. It also induces the painful grasping for something not possible to reclaim, certainly not with the same aesthetic and moral codes.
“New Thoughts, Old Forms” is the telling title of Loboda’s 2010 show at the Bielefelder Kunstverein. Like a well-read antiquarian, the artist attempts to reanimate old-fashioned objects, beliefs, and scientific constructs with a new spark and pathos—against the background of the contemporary white cube.
The energy of Loboda’s work manifests in the friction of rival forces, like a secret spell that requires the pinch of an additional ingredient to react with its main component. Loboda seems to draw inspiration for her pieces from the various meanings the word “antagonist” can assume: an adversary or a contender, the character opposite to the protagonist in a dramatic narrative, the muscle that counteracts the action of the agonist in the human body, the chemical substance that interferes with the physiological action of another in biochemistry.
In the artist’s hands, materials are never left idle—they are constantly transformed into beautiful but dangerous, poisonous things with the potential to strike out or cause damage. The battle, the fight, and the opponent equally represent a force that, although dormant, is never docile or passive. On the contrary, it is very much alive and mischievous.
Loboda excels in creating enigmas. That’s how every empire falls (2011), Tasks abandoned before completion (2010), and About Impetuosity (2010) are the titles of some of her recent pieces. They are skilled works of fiction whose lyrical tone often masks dark and cynical propositions; mystery imbues the juxtaposition of semantic fields. The artist specializes in linguistic puns and idiomatic expressions, conscious of the ambiguity that wording can create. Mastering a language as a foreigner means recognizing tongue slippages, double meanings, and equivocations with ease. Loboda would feel at home with the insurance salesman’s incisive statement in Double Indemnity, where “pretty” takes on a teasingly self-aware irony. She deals with each word like a piece of a puzzle for the audience to complete.
The artist plays with fire and failure but avoids undermining the intelligence of the spectator; her titles are never gratuitous or predictable. We—the viewers—should look for clues, like in an Agatha Christie novel where the solution is right in front of us if we could only see it. Loboda whispers riddles into visitors’ ears, dangles clues before their misted eyes. The challenge to decipher is there—the goal to crack the code and reveal the message. It goes without saying that the path will always lead to new encryptions, with no possibility of completion or exhaustion. The thirst for knowledge will never be satisfied—new fragments, challenges, and adventures will keep it going.
Caterina Riva, 2012
The Capricious Consciousness from Maria Loboda, Oh, Wilderness, Stenberg Press, Germany