In Bay Ridge, an Artist Builds a Home Out of Collagen, Glycerin and Her Own Blood

“ in every dream home a heartache” (2020) Photo courtesy Elisa Gutierrez-Eriksen

By Nicole Fennimore

Stepping through Stand4’s doorway on a recent windy, winter evening, I was greeted by the subtle scent of coal and hearth—was there a fireplace?—permeating the corridor. Amid large, splintered pieces of coal, an illuminated model home—a doll house, you might say—invited viewers into Stand’s main room with a warm, muted glow. The LED strands that lined the interior of the walls shone through the punctured sheets of collagen, creating tiny shimmers of light as I moved around the work.

The model home is the centerpiece and title work of artist Magdalena Dukiewicz’s show In Every Dream Home a Heartache, on view at the Stand4 art gallery until March 20. While the glowing home and hearth welcome visitors who gather around, something wistful, like the wish that the coal’s scent were really from a fireplace or wood-burning stove, emanates from the work, as a child might wish for a doll house to be real. Its translucent walls suggest an invitation to, but also the exposure of, what lies inside. Its imperfect binding—each panel is held together to the next with large, zig-zag stitches—connote the patchwork quality of home, in its flaws and punctured attempts to hold itself together.

The thick collagen sheets, mixed together with glycerin and the blood of the artist, evoke the sweat and tears of those who build and maintain home. The house’s frame, made from white PVC pipes, suggests bone. The large, key-shaped pins suspended and hidden within the collagen panels remind the viewer of the piece’s patchwork quality but also of the artist’s blood—the pricking of her own flesh to create her dream home.

What better symbol than flesh to represent home? Societies have long covered frames of wood and bone with animal skins for shelter, to protect in turn the flesh of those inside. The suppleness and simultaneous strength of hide allows for it to be assembled and reassembled, an important quality for those who, like migrants, build and rebuild the elements of their lives each time they seek a new dwelling. In Every Dream Home a Heartache appears to be Dukiewicz’s attempt to create a home in her own voice. Her upbringing in Poland, objects and memories from her past, expectations and anxieties around life choices, and the reality of living in a new place all converge in her work. Two memories in particular—a playhouse from her childhood and the Roxy Music song “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”—hold particular significance for this show.

In “Framed,” sheets of collagen seem to adhere not through stitching but through the gelatinous property of the material itself. Large, clustered bubbles visible at a midpoint in the work’s surface reveal the process of hydrolyzation and evoke the tiny bubbles and apertures of “Home.” The drips that appear at the bottom of “Framed” suggest, like its title, that the artist has been caught in the act of what she has been creating.

That “Framed” resembles a bed resonates with In Every Dream Home a Heartache as furnishing for home. The collagen sheets, bunched and gathered at points, resemble prophylactics and suggest, like the artist’s blood, efforts to forestall or forego traditional vehicles for creating home.

“this is my body, this is my blood” (2020) Photo courtesy of Elisa Gutierrez Eriksen

“This Is My Body, This Is My Blood” speaks to the exhibit’s macabre and somber connections among furnishings, flesh and home. The lampshade appears to have received the heaviest dose of Dukiewicz’s blood—its hue is pink-red—echoing her theme of flesh and blood of inhabitants within and around home. The lampshade’s title evokes a strangely sacrificial aspect to home, particularly to those who, like women, worker, prisoner and others, often give up themselves in the creation of home.

Last among the pieces of the exhibit, “Singular Plural” is more amorphous than the rest, moving the viewer’s mind backward from the show’s conceptually larger to smaller works—house, bed, lamp and now something seemingly cellular. Positioned within the tiny, darkened alcove of Stand4, the halved gelatin capsules of “Singular Plural”—gelatin is derived from collagen—have been arranged in a form that seems elemental, an emergence of material as like gathers with like.

“singular plural” (2020) Photo courtesy of Jeannine Bardo

Past exhibits at Stand4 have used this narrow space to express the mysterious and curious: a large phallic tree branch, bejeweled stone weapons. Here, the space acts as canvas for a primordial aspect of Dukiewicz’s work. The shapes and organic material of “Singular Plural” suggest something that has perhaps preceded the other pieces, like building blocks upon which her larger works and ideas have emerged—and what those works, made primarily from organic materials, will become as they dissolve back into microscopic matter. 

In Every Dream Home a Heartache is on view at the Stand4 Gallery (414 78th Street) Saturdays, 12–6pm, and by appointment. It closes on March 20.

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