Exploring the logic of space with Joanna Tochman
By Kate Mothes
Something feels not quite right. Lines intersect to create uncanny perspectives; unearthly plants emerge from cracks in the soil; the light looks strangled. In Kraków-based artist Joanna Tochman’s paintings, condensed landscapes and illogically replicating pools challenge one’s sense of space and the fuzzy realm between reality and fiction.
“I focus on depicting places and structures which are hard to define, spaces of ambiguous identity,” Tochman explains, viewing landscapes through the lens of what she describes as “game structures,” labyrinthine spaces that have their own inner logic. Like mirrors on the natural world, they are familiar yet slightly “off” as sight lines bend, eerie shadows contrast against radiating gradients, and architectural elements arrange into complex repetitions.
Most of the artist’s paintings are large, filling our field of vision like the backlit screen of a computer animation. Recently, her Computer Game Landscapes series introduces the viewer to vivid, otherworldly vistas reminiscent of early digital games. In using a traditional medium like oil paint, she confronts the “technical” way that landscape is presented in early computer games, especially the blocky, pixelated artwork made as a result of the low-resolution television and computer screens at the time.
Translating a digital space into an analog medium, she instills each work with the presence of the artist’s hand despite the absence of human presence amongst the scenery. Some compositions appear unsettlingly glitchy where elements have duplicated or gotten stuck, as if time has been paused—until the play button is pressed again. The indefinitely multiplying landscape alludes to the way a player proceeds through a level, each scene regenerating indefinitely until some predetermined goal has been reached. In Tochman’s paintings, the goal has been removed altogether, so one feels uncomfortably at loose ends, stranded.
Slightly earlier paintings from the series Swimming Pools and Multiplication focus on architectural details, pulling the viewer into mysterious indoor worlds where the boundaries of the rooms seem to fall off the edges. Often seemingly void of life, like holding tanks or empty baths, stepped pools and reservoirs appear both enormous yet isolated, highlighted by an unknown light source and reaching to unnerving depths. When we do encounter living beings, like in the series Fights, it is in the form of trout, the collective term for which is a “hover,” when their congregations take a violent turn. What are they doing there? Are they going mad within the confines of their basins?
As if viewed in mirrors that face each other or in the rippling reflection of water, Tochman’s disorienting compositions explore movement and time through spaces that exist between the natural and artificial. Sometimes referencing specific places, like a swimming pool in Szeged, Hungary, the specifics of place are blurred at the periphery. The longer we spend in them, the more dreamlike they become.
Header image: Jacuzzi Error, 2020. Oil on canvas, 120 x 115. All images © Joanna Tochman.
“First there are utopias. Utopias are sites with no real place. […] There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places—places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society—which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality.”
—Michel Foucault, from “Of Other Spaces (Des Espace Autres)” published in Architecture/ Mouvement/ Continuité, October 1984, from the basis of a lecture given by Foucault in March 1967 and translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec.