The first artistic language that I felt was mine was photography. It allowed me to portray the moment of change when suddenly nothing was as it had been before. I spoke through shadows and reflections, and usually, the story was not about the object as such, but about how it is perceived. When photographing, I am constantly on the search for the hidden surreal.
While photography allows me to catch the surreal that already exists, collages are a tool to tell my own story. And like every good story, I repeat it, embellish, rewrite. By reusing topics and elements I highlight the inevitability; the cycles and patterns in the history of humanity; the meshed hope and hopelessness; how often what we think we choose has been chosen for us beforehand. I like saying that collages are a bit like life; it is not always up to us what happens, what kind of people or events we encounter, but we do have relative liberty in what role do we allow them to play. Collages are a visual game of “what if”.
My goal is to allow viewers to read my works through their own biases and experience. I want them to decide who is the hero and who is the villain, is the outcome a blessing or a curse. I am fascinated with the concept of nature versus nurture, what makes us us, and how many different people we are depending on the eyes of the beholder.
The lockdown has brought a lot of darkness to my works. Fear, insecurity, unpredictability, have inevitably taken the main stage. However, the light keeps on popping up more and more often. Like in the silent movies that I am giving homage to, the deep shadows and brilliant highlights are what make them special.
Interview with Elzbieta Zdunek
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be an actress. Even though I never had the skills and courage to pursue that dream, I still consider movies the most magical and immersive of arts. The intangible feeling of entering a completely new reality is something I would like to emulate.
What artwork are you most proud of, and why?
Tomorrow belongs to me. It is one of the first pieces I made in my current style and that I felt was my artistic language. I love it for its simple yet powerful message. It is also the first piece of mine that has ever been exhibited; it has shaped me as an artist in many ways.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
To find my audience. Intellectually, it is clear that not everybody will appreciate what I do, same as I don’t like every piece of art that I encounter. Emotionally, though, it is hard to keep going when what you do doesn’t resonate. The question “am I good enough” is only natural, and so is an attempt to somehow fit in.
What is one thing they tried to teach you in school that you knew immediately was wrong?
That one day I will have to stop daydreaming and start living a serious life, and also, that I will outgrow the dark phase. Acceptance towards my own depressive thoughts and channeling them through art have brought more peace and joy than any positive psychology.
Who is the one person, dead or alive, that you would like to have dinner with and why?
Nick Cave. Few people can create such dark landscapes of the human mind where death seems a blessing and love, eternal torture.
Where is your favorite place?
I love the Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin. It feels suspended in time. I love the socrealistic architecture and its incredibly ugly beauty.
Who are your biggest influences?
I was inspired to try digital collages when I saw the works by Sergey Nehaev. I am also constantly in awe of the works of Zdzislaw Beksinski. I would like to embrace dystopian surrealism with the same mastery one day.
Can you tell me more about silent movies you art giving homage to?
I love the classics, like Metropolis, Sunrise, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They are surprisingly modern, be it in the message, be it in the cinematography. I love the artistry, the play of lights and shadows, and the message they bring. For me, that was cinema in its purest form.
Can you tell us more about the role you see pattern playing history vs the potential to break with our past pattern and actually do something new? Do you see a tension there and a potential to break from our pattern as a species?
I think the patterns repeat because often we forget we have not only virtues but also vices. We also forget biology and instincts. We might have awareness and conscience, but they don’t fully eliminate needs and wants. I believe we can break from our patterns as individuals, but not as species. If there are enough individuals they might create a cultural norm, but it doesn’t mean the erasure of what’s underneath.
Can you tell me more about the role of personality and humanity in your work?
I am fascinated with the human mind and the concept of nature versus nurture. I constantly ask myself the questions: what makes us, us; what is taught and what is the core; who are we, if things can be learned and unlearnt. Neuroscience is fascinating, but also terrifying. Often the characters in my works are stuck, but I never give a clear answer, is it because of the circumstances, or are the limitations self-imposed? I don’t believe that anything is possible, by the way.
What can’t you live without?
Questioning and doubting, myself and others. Not a particularly healthy attitude, but very inspiring.
What is your dream project?
I would like to collaborate on a visual album: my works illustrating music. I also dream of creating three-dimensional pieces with simplistic, geometrical scenery. The message is particularly powerful when nothing distracts from it.
What’s your favorite artwork?
There are many. But one that I can’t stop thinking about is the painting by Beksinski with the hooded creature staring at a cradle. It allows for so many interpretations and creates a feeling of an almost addictive discomfort. I find something similar in the works of Rafal Masiulaniec, he is obviously inspired by Zdzislaw Beksinski too. My latest discovery is Justyna Koziczak and her album cover artwork for “Wit’s End”. The loops are simply mesmerizing, even though following them would be self-destructive.
What is currently on your playlist?
Can’t stop listening to Placebo. Loved them as a teen and recently rediscovered them. Besides, Depeche Mode, always and everywhere.
What are your last three Google searches?
Abandoned metro stations. Spelling of chiaroscuro. Honkaku novels.
What gives you life?
Having a goal. Even the tiniest one allows us to build structure.
What is your superpower?
Noticing connections where there are hardly any, and abstract thinking.
What is your Kryptonite?
Unstoppable persistence and stubbornness. It’s not that I don’t give up, it’s that I become obsessed and lose other opportunities from the sight.
If you could visit any artist’s studio, whose would you visit and why?
I would like to visit a music studio. Music is an art that I can only consume; I would like to observe the process of writing music, how the inspiration works, how different instruments impact the style and the meaning. Music is a foreign, but utterly fascinating land for me.
What was the last thing you bought?
Yet another black dress. I have too many, but in my defense, they’re all different.
What ideas are you currently pondering or questioning?
How does brainwashing and the process of listening to and believing in a cult exactly happen in the brain? I feel incredible discomfort but also an unhealthy fascination when people do not question leaders, idols, anybody, in fact.
What do most people believe that you do not?
That things happen for a reason and that mindset is everything. It’s a very one-size-fits-all attitude.
What is one thing you believe that most people do not?
That work from home – especially the creative tasks – is harmful and detrimental to development. Individual tasks might be done faster, but they become repetitive. It is the discomfort and the interactions with others – positive and negative – that have always been the source of progress and innovation, and the impulse to change the status quo.
What imaginary place would you love to visit?
Gotham. A big city, dystopia, feeling of despair The vibes that make me think and create.
What is your favorite thing in the world, and why?
The feeling just after I post the latest artwork online. From now on, it has a life of its own. It can travel wherever appear to anyone, I have no control anymore. It’s the closest to letting go I ever get.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and why?
I’d like to work with Editors. Their music is like a black-and-white photograph of an abandoned urban space. I’d like to illustrate it.
I’ve been thinking about a visual story, a collection that reads like a book. So far, all the scenes that I visualize are very allegorical, like the works of Hieronymus Bosch. I wanted to introduce more light to my art after a period of darkness, but it seems it will not happen yet.
Elzbieta “Ela” Zdunek is a Polish collagist based in Berlin. While art has always been present in her life, it was the pandemic and the lockdown when collaging became her creative outlet and a way to tell her own story.
Zdunek’s unique style captures human and dehumanizing concepts at the same time. She focuses on repeating patterns in history, how often what we are free to choose has been chosen for us beforehand. She portrays the moment of change when we don’t know yet if the result is a blessing or a curse.
She has exhibited in New York and California, her works have also been published in several art magazines.
December 2021: The Uncanny Exhibition, The Chateau Gallery (US)
November 2021: NEMESIS Exhibition, The Holy Art (UK)
November 2021: So Real – Surreal Exhibition, O’Hanlon Center for the Arts (US)
November 2021: Digital, Collage or Assemblage Exhibition, Las Laguna Art Gallery (US)
September 2021: EMPTINESS Exhibition, Exhibizone (CA)
August 2021: CONNECTION Exhibition, Art Fluent (US)
April 2021: Award of Merit, “Anything” Exhibition, Gallery Ring (US)
April 2021: Participating Artist at NYC ArtWalk, Art Fair, Brooklyn (US)
March 2021: Artist of the Week, Oddball Space (UK)
March 2021: Women in Art Exhibition, Las Laguna Art Gallery (US)
February 2021: The Working Artist Magazine (UK)
February 2021: Art Hole Magazine (UK)
January-February 2021: Body-Mind-Spirit Exhibition, JMane Gallery (US)
January-February 2021: RE:INVENT Exhibition, GalleryA118 (US)
October 2020: First Prize Photography Competition “Monochrome”, Photographers in Finland
September 2020: Feature, Gallery Dreaming in Collages (online)
November 2019: Our Amazing Planet Photography Exhibition (IL)
October 2019: Amazing Architecture Photography Exhibition, Art Market Budapest (HU)
August 2019: Borders Photography Exhibition, Hinterland Gallery (AT)