Theodor Adorno once said that ‘without the notion of an unfettered life, freed from death, the idea of utopia, of the utopia, cannot even be thought at all.’ If this is correct it lends a terrible irony to the fact that Man’s attempts to create ideal conditions for himself are so often mapped out through trails of carnage and destruction.
The work of Andrea Stanislav displays an acute awareness of this tension and offers a series of elegant yet challenging reflections on the limits and failures of the utopic imagination. Reflection is a key word in Stanislav’s lexicon, as it serves to indicate both the means and the ends of her artistic endeavor. In her work, the viewer is not simply invited but compelled, by use of reflective surfaces, to interrogate their own position vis-a-vis the artwork, and, by extension, vis-a-vis history and culture.
These surfaces, revealing the face of the viewer at every turn, and often to infinity, point to the futility of our attempts to escape our unsatisfactory current conditions. Obelisks and flags, potent symbols of colonialism, implicate both American history and its insatiable appetite for global influence, its faith in a ‘manifest destiny’, in the destructive paradoxes of utopian visions. Astrological symbols and labyrinthine structures point to our desire to find meaning and impose structure on the underlying chaos of the Real. And yet at all times, the viewer is haunted by her own face.
By considering the breakdown of the utopian imaginary in this manner Stanislav’s work precisely locates and interrogates the limits of human rationality. In (Garden of Iron Mirrors) our attempts to penetrate and master nature are revealed to be nothing but our own conceptual impositions, our bemused faces in a dissected rock. Space, plotted and mapped, structured and fenced (Lost) does not so much submit to our will as much as imprison us with ourselves.
In all this Stanislav constantly reminds us that what we fear and seek to control is precisely what we desire most and never truly find: pure wild, unadulterated nature. This was the American dream of the first settlers, the notion mythically embodied by the native horsemen, articulated in the blues and howled by punk rock. Stanislav’s work, in its disrupting, disorientating use of sound, and its references to Robert Johnson, the Sex Pistols and Gang of Four thus not only points to this mythic nature but reveals the presence of the artist’s own personal cultural history.Desire is future oriented but what we want is always irretrievable. With this in mind the work of Andrea Stanislav revels, almost in a mood of resistance, in that most traditional of artistic dimensions: beauty. Limited as we are, fragile as bodies may be, her careful practice adorns the mundane with decoration, positioning it in works of considerable scale, letting them spin and glitter, millions of pristine points, fragments of faces and hopeful eyes.