BELONGING: somewhere/nowhere - Pamela Grombacher

Lesia Maruschak’s Untitled ! is a strikingly minimalist photograph – an expanse of white peppered with muted specks and scratches, a trace of the horizon, and two delicate vertical lines. After a moment, these forms suggest dirt and shrubs, distant trees, and man-made pillars, without fully revealing themselves as a ridge, perhaps, or as forest, telephone poles or fence posts. Buried in winter snow, this landscape is not fully navigable by my gaze.

The image comes into sharper focus when viewed alongside the other winter landscapes featured in Maruschak’s solo exhibition, BELONGINGsomewhere/nowhere, now on display at ART Space AKT in Kyev. Snowy fields and overcast skies are delineated by single trees, larger woodlands and rural churches. Together, the images create a distinct sense of place; frozen, quiet, beautiful yet treacherous. But Maruschak’s minimalist aesthetic also obscures this specificity, blanketing it in white. We cannot know what lies beneath the snow.

In a more radical gesture, Maruschak abstracts Untitled 2 and Untitled 3 almost beyond recognition, blurring bush and field, doubling poplars, and smearing grasses together into a wooden mass. The effect is disorienting. It is impossible to situate oneself within these abstract landscapes, for even though they are labelled with precise geographic coordinates, such abstractions distance image from reality, viewer from the depicted land. Maruschak’s other winter landscapes are also strangely rootless; her snowy fields and forests are demonstrably somewhere, yet they could be anywhere.

This oscillation between specificity and universality – between the somewhere and the nowhere – creates, for me, a dynamic viewing experience. As a fellow native of the Canadian prairies, I cannot help but feel the tug of nostalgia when looking at these images. They evoke feelings of familiarity, of home. But at the same time, these images actively resist recognition and understanding. Whitewashed and abstracted, they isolate me.

Maruschak thus creates a push and pull of belonging, as tensions between clarity and blurriness, minimalism and abstraction parallel those between inclusion and exclusion, openness and inaccessibility. By challenging viewers to situate themselves in relation to her photographs, Maruschak raises questions such as, How do we connect to the land? To a sense of place? How do we locate and relocate ourselves within the world? How does the precariousness of belonging shift our sense of identity, of reality? What, really, does it mean to belong?

- Pamela Grombacher