Magda Hueckel “Menadas” (9-23.10)

“The face resists possession, resists my powers”. Emmanuel Levinas

Magda Hueckel sets a trap for the viewer. The face is sense. The face is where the

language, the meaning, and the meeting begin. The face is a starting point for

thinking, and it is the face of the Other where you experience closeness. The face is

also an experience of mystery. I see a face. But Hueckel is playing a game with me.

How many people are there in the picture? Two? Or three? Who is the third one? Is

the left profile the left side of the face? Or the right one? Who owned the polo golf

that now belongs to the ‘third woman’? The scarf? The string of beads? Who did they

belong to? Whose was the black eye? And who closed the eyes? The hair? The

lipstick? The droopy mouth corners? Which part of the face seems swollen and sick?

Even though it is neither sick nor swollen. This is just a trap of hasty associations.

And the names? The new name belongs to the person you see en face. Ata. Barfia.

Boga. Data. Doka. Elra. Which profile do the names Irena, Wanda, Zofia belong to?

Are the names alphabetised? Are there letters you cannot start any name with? You

cover the left half of the face with your hand and you see a new face that you couldn’t

see before, but it has always been there. You see a new, harmonious face, and a

very beautiful one. You start guessing, making up a new face in year head. And the

names. You try to sort out your experience. But it is the third face and the third name

that keep intriguing you.

Who am I looking at? If the profiles of the women are personae – their versions that

want to impress, meet expectations, satisfy the needs of society, reach a

compromise between their social role and personal dream of being perceived in a

specific way while hiding their true nature – then how to treat the moment when the

face masks of the personae are off and the true someone reveals themselves en

face? Who? The one who is looking? Or perhaps, paradoxically, the ‘new’ face turns

us back to ourselves, acts like a Rorschach test that you need to fill with your

unconsciousness? It is none other but the non-existent face (which exists though,

because you’re looking at it) that knocks the tools out of your hand and forces you to

engage in a new game. We are looking for symmetry, compatibility between the

components that we will put together, striving for perfection. We will look for

harmony, order, a mirror reflection. But we won’t find them. We check the definition:

“a figure is asymmetrical (chiral) if it is not superimposable on its mirror image without

transiting into a space with more dimensions.” DNA is asymmetrical. What a relief.

You need to find another, hidden dimension.

We experience the mystery of the Other’s face, asymmetrical and incomprehensible,

and it is through the Other, through the Other’s look that we re-read ourselves. We

enter another dimension.


“Nothing, except that the mad one is singing nonsense: A e i o u, what will I be

tomorrow? First I was earth, then a stone, then a tree and a flower… And then the

window opened, a huge, wonderful one. A e i o u, it seized me and there I was, like

rustling forest… But they closed my window, closed it with heavy black wings. A e i o

u, earth, stone and tree and no one will understand a word under the silent wings…

Except for that, nothing has happened.” The incident at the psychiatric hospital

described by Christine Lavant in her Memoirs from a Madhouse opens up new

possibilities for interpretation. Hueckel invites us to explore madness as a new

energy that can transform into a new form. One that becomes a promise, a

dangerous and unknown potency that has been suppressed for centuries. Is it

directing us towards the aspect of femininity that we fear to face? Towards the

bacchants who are tearing Pentheus apart? Towards Christine Lavant, Virginia

Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Camille Claudel and many, many other women? Hueckel wants

us to be ‘face-to-face,’ that is to meet humans as they are. There is drama in such an

encounter, and ‘drama makes a tragedy possible,’ as Józef Tischner wrote. We are

experiencing something incomprehensible and repressed that escapes language. We

are experiencing something dangerous that we have never seen so lucidly before.

But our experience is subjective and that is what Hueckel’s perverse game is all

about – while looking at her pictures, we are looking at ourselves.

Maja Kleczewska, “Face to Face”


Magda Hueckel

Visual artist, theater photographer, stage designer, traveler. A graduate of the

Faculty of Painting and Graphic Arts at the Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts.

Scholarship holder of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the City of

Sopot. Her works have been exhibited at several dozen exhibitions in Poland and

abroad (including Tate Britain in London). Author of photo books’ ‘Anima. Pictures

from Africa 2005–2013’ and ‘HUECKEL / THEATER’ (nominations for the

Photographic Publication of the Year 2014 and 2016). She collaborates with Tomasz

Śliwiński on filmmaking as scriptwriter and art director. Their documentary film “Our

Curse” received an Oscar nomination and dozens of awards at international festivals.

The premiere of their newest film “Ondine” took place in 2019. She constantly

cooperates with over a dozen theaters in Poland. She has created documentation of

several hundred theater performances. Many iconic photographs of contemporary

Polish plays are the works of Magda Hueckel. In the years 2002–2004 she created

the photographic duo hueckelserafin with Agata Serafin. President and founder of the

Polish CCHS Foundation Lift the Curse.

Magda Hueckel. Maenads

Maenads never existed. They were only ever an idea, a creation of the male

imagination – wild, untamed and foreign, brought to life by the fear of an

uncontrollable force. They accompanied Dionysus in parades and wild dances.

Supposedly, they killed animals, ate human flesh and participated in orgies.

Maenads were a way to tame the unknown and simultaneously inspired fear, ecstasy

and disgust. Treated both as goddesses and whores, Maenads were simultaneously

beloved and marginalized.

The women in the photographs presented by Magda Hueckel also never existed. By

chance, their faces were collected in the same medical archive. The artist introduces

her own image into these photographs. The faces, manipulated, have become

hybrids woven from many separate people, experiences and images – like the ideals

of beauty created by men and by women for men. Except that they are not classically

beautiful. They defy expectations. Formed from collective experience, they are

penetrating and strong. Peace and the intensity of existence emanate from them.

They are a symbol of female experience and female strength – displaced in culture

since the beginning of time – whose roots find their origin in antiquity.


The photographs are presented with a sound installation, which is a record of a meeting between

five women, moderated by Joanna Halszka Sokołowska.

Sound: Mateusz Adamczyk

Sound editing: Tomasz Śliwiński

Co-organizer: Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the

Republic of Poland

Partners: Jednostka Gallery, Pracownia Oprawy