The horse you see is the horse you get


Irena Kalicka

F.A.I.T. Gallery
Al. Słowackiego 58/5
30-103 Kraków, Poland
opening: 29.05.2015 (Friday) at 8.00 p.m.
opened till: 30.06.2015


This trivial, funny and well-known definition of the most common farm animal embody an undeniable truth about the mechanisms of how a colloquial representation is created. The need for describing the reality by human’s intellect and organizing the possessed knowledge, determines the spontaneously triggered process of simplifying the image. This is the way in which all human ideas about the world around us, both nature and society, are created. Generalization, apart from its cognitive functions – that facilitate memorizing and classifying phenomena – is the basic mechanism of creating stereotypes. They are based on the assumption of homogeneity of all elements assigned to a given category. The nature of stereotypes is simplification, incomplete knowledge, and thus false beliefs about the world. Established by tradition, they are difficult subject to change. They have even the force of integrating the people who finds them as common.

The sentence “The horse you see, is the horse you get” is a quotation from the book “Nowe Ateny” (New Athens) – the first Polish encyclopedia. Soon after the publication of this eighteenth-century compendium, it was regarded as controversial because of ignorance and parochialism of content accompanied by insistent quasi-scientific form. However, every lie repeated many times becomes the truth. Entries from the “New Athens” still exist in our culture.

The encyclopedia corresponds with the mentality of the times when faith and imagination allowed for joint and undisputed existence of the Tower of Babel, sphinxes and the king August II the Strong. The image of the world, which is a product of this book, is a mixture of various historical conventions and paradigm reviews: radical Catholic doctrine, antique traditions, local legends and folk stories. This laboriously constructed composition, written by an ecclesiastic Benedykt Chmielowski, is a representation of the world built upon information gathered from the second-hand sources. The accumulation of falsehood and absurdity raises not only laughter but also the horror, all the more so that similarly subcutaneously shaped opinions and ideas shape our view of reality, even today.

Photographs by Irena Kalicka, inspired by the slogans from the “New Athens”, are ironic game with popular associations and schematic images of the contemporary reality. Just like in the eighteenth-century encyclopedia, picture of the world is created on the basis of mediated and as a consequence distorted images and ideas. It is shaped equally by the conventions of photographs from the 90s and Renaissance painting, kitschy wallpapers and museum exhibitions design, advertising cliches and folklore. The effigy of Legolas of movie “The Lord of the Rings” is as important in this compilation as the inspiration from ecclesiastical fashion show scene in “Rome” by Fellini. Lifelike convention is mixed with staging. Costume dominate individual characteristics. At a glance appeared feelings displace senses. What natural gains signs of artificiality, and the farce fakes the true.

Each image within the exhibition is a closed world in which authenticity and masquerade exist equally. Coexistance of all those contradictory elements enact moving away from literal reading and forces the viewer to track network of associations, sources and quotations. By examining contemporary imaginarium and cultural clichés Irena Kalicka puts a spoke in the wheels of our cognitive habits. She does not allow categories and easy generalization to occur. The scheme is not let to be created. Getting into the end, let’s cite again the “New Athens” – “it is hard to defeat dragon but it’s worth trying”.