This week we will be talking to artist and digital collagist Elzbieta Zdunek, discussing what it means to address dark and uncomfortable topics within the surreal world of mannequins.
Image description: a black and white digital collage depicting glossy white mannequins on a grey gridded floor. They stare across at a house made up of large marble square blocks. Repeated bold orange text reads Elzbieta Zdunek, while underneath in smaller green font reads @surrellart.
How would you describe yourself and the artwork you make?
My works are dark and playful at the same time, and so am I. There needs to be a light to make the shadows pop, and so, even when addressing serious topics, I try to add a ray of hope, a silver lining. This light makes many things manageable. It is like a wink, “why so serious”.
Can you tell us why you enjoy depicting mannequins within your work?
Mannequins represent us. Me, Ela, and us, the society. With them being so eerily alive and dead at the same time, I am able to address dark, uncomfortable and sad topics, like fear, romanticisation of death and suicide, mental health, impossible standards. Mannequins allow me to portray the issues with a human in mind, and at the same time, how dehumanizing many concepts are.
Another reason why I like mannequins is that they allow us to show how alike and yet how different people are. All the elements we have in common, and yet, the combination each time is unique.
Elzbieta Zdunek, Skeletons, digital collage, 2021.
Image description: black and white digital collage depicting a house with mannequin heads in the windows. Beneath lies an empty room with a mannequin placed on a chai with a ball and chain cuffed to its neck.
What drew you to working in photography and digital collage?
My love for photography is about capturing the moment. I love portraying the moment of change, when suddenly nothing is as it was before. This is why my photography language is usually shadow and reflection. Often, it is not about the object as such but about how it is perceived. I am looking for the hidden surreal.
While photography allows me to catch the surrealism that already exists if we only look, collages are a tool to tell my own story. And even more than once, I may reuse repeating elements many times and always come with a new outcome, solution or turn of events. 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 we allow them to play. Collages are a visual game of “what if”.
Do you think there are any benefits in working in a digital way rather than more traditional methods of collage?
The biggest benefit is quite paradoxical: digital collaging allows for manipulations that may trick us in that what we see is real. Blending, shadows, scaling, it all allows an illusion as if the artwork was a photograph. This way, the surreal world I portray is more immersive.
Elzbieta Zdunek, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, digital collage, 2021.
Image description: a black and white digital collage displaying parts of a broken mannequin lying in front of large geometric blocks. Above the mannequin is a hand holding a broken puppeteering control bar.
What is your process for creating your artwork?
It all starts with daydreaming. I let my imagination guide me to the topics to explore. I love silent films, and often look for connections and ways I may pay homage. Usually there is no plan, I just allow a vision to develop for a while and then I go with the flow on the digital canvas.
With the sudden impact of COVID-19 has your practice had to adapt or change to the new circumstances?
Art has been my coping strategy. It helps me become and stay grounded. By creating, I channel my feelings, fear, anxiety, and even anger. Focus, work, and a tangible result, it all has been a tool of self-discovery.
Elzbieta Zdunek, In Your Room, digital collage, 2021.
Image description: a black and white digital collage displaying a room made up of mannequin heads. On the wooden floor a hand bursts from the ground holding a mannequin head.
Why do you make this type of art?
Portraying the dark side allows me to tame it.
Are there any artists or research that underpins your practice?
I am a great fan of Russian collagists Julia Malkova and Serg Nehaev, and I hope to achieve their level of mastery and storytelling one day.
Elzbieta Zdunek, The Mirror of the Erised digital collage, 2021.
Image description: a black and white collage depicting a room with wooden floor and brick wall. Geometric shapes lie on the floor with mannequin parts placed on top. A complete mannequin stands in front of a mirror. The reflection depicts a noose.
You have stated that you enjoy presenting humanity within your collages. Why is this an important concept to you?
I am fascinated with the topic of nature versus nurture and how we and our environment influence and impact each other. I find it incredible all the layers we have inside and how interconnected they are. I look at repeating patterns in the history of humanity, how often what we are free to choose has been chosen for us beforehand, at all our biases. I am really interested in education. It is an extremely powerful tool, done well, it can change the world; done badly, it can stifle and destroy. The making and breaking, these are the juxtapositions I want to show.
If you would like to see more of Elzbieta's artwork you can view them on Instagram @surrellart.
If you are interested in being featured as an Artist of the Week you can fill out a short application form here.