Subverting the Past to Alert on the Present

Awarded 2nd Prize at the PhMuseum 2022 Photography Grant, Polish visual artist Weronika Gęsicka reinterpret archival photographs, convoking anxiety and humour in the process to reflect on today’s situation.

Weronika Gęsicka’s images first look like coming straight out of a family album. A group of kids, in swimming suits and bathing caps dating back a few decades ago, running in the water, reading to dive, laughing and looking at the camera with a knowing gaze. The scene would be vibrant and filled with joy, a perfect holiday memory if it were for the sinkhole tiring the sea wide open, where the playful group is about to throw themselves into.

Such a sense of unease is the purpose behind Gęsicka’s latest project, "Cliffhanger". She conceptually wandered around the idea of Cliffhanger – a narrative trick consisting in suspending the plot at a time of mounting tension to stimulate the viewer’s interest – and concluded, « recently cliffhangers have permeated from the world of entertainment to the real world, and rather than being associated with excitement, the feeling of suspense and mystery arouses anxiety and frustration. »

In order to convey this repurposing of cliffhangers, Gęsicka introduces ambivalence into archival photographs she collected from an open-source database. As in her previous work, the distortion is so precise that the picture remains realistic. Disturbingly realistic. A photograph of a typical suburban house as found all around the US, a 1950s Chrysler parked in front and a neatly mowed lawn, appear like a memory photograph of a new home. Looking at it twice, one discovers that both upper windows are replaced with pristine white walls, that the first-floor facade features no opening and that the wooden fence surrounding the house is excessively high.

In a review on Art Territory, Jurriaan Benschop suggests: « In odd ways she (i.e. Gęsicka) makes the photos look more realistic – in the sense of adding a healthy portion of absurdity or ugliness to them. Cliffhanger is one of a few exhibitions in Warsaw that combines formal strength and beauty with a sense of unease. What could fit the current times better than that?»

With a sense of humour flirting with cynicism, Gęsicka depicts our immediate present. Aren’t we standing on the precipice? We might remain blind and look only superficially, soon things will get out of control and we are left to pull our eyes out of their orbits, just like one of Gęsicka’s characters.


All photos © Weronika Gęsicka, from the series Cliffhanger


Weronika Gesicka is a Polish photographer whose projects focus on memory and its mechanisms. An important part of her art is working with archive materials of various sources.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb and the international photo editor at Le Monde.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

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