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A nugget in the midst of the expansive, heterogeneous unpacking of the Venice Biennale 2022 exhibition, “The Milk of Dreams,” the photographic series Mama, created in 2018 by the Polish artist Aneta Grzeszykowska, is as disturbing as it is upsetting. Reactivating the subversive themes dear to the Surrealists through the fetishized figure of the mannequin and the puppet, the photographer (born in 1974 in Warsaw) stages her daughter playing dolls with the silicone replica of her own truncated body (reduced to a bust). Broken down into tender and bucolic scenes, the macabre game, declined with a subtle duplicity in color and in black and white, takes a morbid and disturbing turn when the fetish body no longer gives the illusion (through the framing of the bust or the subterfuges of the mise en scène) and appears as it is: a piece of inanimate body – placed here, on a bed, right up against the body of the child lying down, there, in a cart pulled by the girl at the water’s edge, or abandoned in a deck chair. We understand then that it is with death that the little girl plays, after having floated the simulacrum, with its large, open eyes, at her side in the murky waters of the lake, and finally burying it in the earth. From doll to corpse, there is only one step…

Oscillating between dream and nightmare, sweetness and cruelty, on the edge of surrealist phantasmagoria and horror film, Aneta Grzeszykowska’s images-fictions play with ambivalence (animate/inanimate, presence/absence) and the inversion of roles (mother/child, subject/object) in an insidious way that creates uneasiness in the spectator, and thus provokes a reflection on identity, but also on cruelty and perversion, submission and disappearance. 

Truncated bodies, fetishes and puppets… that appear to be alive; bodies in pieces sculpted (from prostheses and animal skins) and photographed (Selfie, 2014); dismembered or dissolved bodies, “absorbed” by darkness, in choreographed fictions (Black, 2007; Headache, 2008)… For the artist, who has been developing work on fragmentation, erasure, and decomposition since her beginnings, the work must be cathartic: by showing death, it must help us to tame it… 

“The Milk of Dreams” – Venice Biennale 

Central pavilion – Giardini

Calle Dietro Il Paludo, 849, Venice, Italy

Until November 27

Films to watch on 

Stéphanie Dulout