Anna Baumgart

Veronika ,2006 / Natasha,2007, Poland

Sculpture, acrylic resin,
h. 110 cm

Courtesy of Lokal_30 Gallery, Warsaw

The sculpture Veronica, made by Anna Baumgart was inspired by photographs from the Associated Press news agency, representing an injured woman, one of the victims of 2005 terrorist attacks on the London Underground.  The woman's injured face is encased in bandages and eye patches, recalling a mask. This photograph has become a worldwide media icon, all rights reserved by the news agency: the woman's bandaged face has become the "face", or logo, of the series of explosions in London.

The title of Baumgart's work refers to the character of St. Veronica. A medieval legend relates that Veronica, a virtuous woman of Jerusalem who took pity on Jesus on his path of agony to the crucifixion site proffered him her handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face. Jesus accepted the offering, subsequently returning the handkerchief with his facial features imprinted upon it. Medieval art represented Veronica by her characteristic feature: the handkerchief she holds imprinted with Jesus' facial features.

But Baungart's work features additional levels; she points out the way the media reduces reality to a single iconic image – in this case, a victim of terrorism and fear. The front of the sculpture – describing the angle from which the photograph was taken – is painted. It shows the apparel, the swath of bandages and other details familiar from the news agency snapshot. But the rear of the sculpture is unpainted, granting us a glimpse of the material of which the work has been fashioned. In this manner, Baumgart deconstructs the illusion of reality fostered by the media message, reminding the observer that the newspaper photograph does not represent reality, rather a mask concealing it.

Natasha is the second sculpture made by Anna Baumgart presented in the exhibition. The sculpture is based upon a press photograph of Natasha Kampusch which shows two persons leading a figure whose head and most of the body is wrapped in a blanket, as they conceal her from the curious eyes of the paparazzi photographers – and from us consumers of sensationalist news stories. The frustrating photograph, whose subject remains beyond the view of our intrusive eyes, is as unfathomable as Kampusch's story: as a young child, the Austrian woman disappeared from sight; eight years later, she reappeared unexpectedly, whereupon it turned out that she had been abducted by a pedophile who had held her captive all this time in the cellar of his home. Late in 2006, she managed to escape. The kidnapper committed suicide before the police could lay their hands on him. Kampusch herself became the focus of enormous media attention; nevertheless, her declarations threw public opinion into confusion. In this instance, the so-called "Stockholm Syndrome" offers no more than a partial explanation. Within this context, Kampusch hiding her face behind a blanket becomes a kind of metaphor for what can neither be depicted nor comprehended.

Both works illustrate how media images tempt us with their promise to expose the world, whereas in fact they conceal it from our sight, rendering it even more impenetrable"