February 2017 Artist in Residence: Marzena Abrahamik

This month, we are welcoming Marzena Abrahamik as our Artist in Residence! Marzena will be printing for her show in April at Johalla Projects in Chicago.

Marzena Abrahamik (b. Poland, grew up in Greece) lives and works in Chicago, IL. She received a MFA in Photography from Yale University and a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Loyola University. Informed by photography’s ability to fundamentally change our visual sensibility, she questions the operations that have historically defined the feminine as a social category. The resulting photographs are a hybrid of portraits, self portraits, still lifes and landscapes.  She has exhibited nationally and internationally, with highlights including solo show at Johalla Projects 2015, the International Photography Festival, Tel-Aviv, Israel (2014); the Gallery of Classic Photography, Moscow, Russia (2013); Aperture, New York (2013); and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Boone, North Carolina (2012).

Read our Q & A with Marzena to get some insight into her practice.

Why do you find it valuable to create work and why specifically photography?

It’s an obsession with hitting the target. Attempting to make a picture that is close to an actual experience, something I cannot describe with words, an act that takes a lot of practice yet it is ephemeral and in constant flux.

How would you describe your work?

I’m interested in exploring the themes that run parallel to photography and marijuana without relying on sexist tropes. The mythology of a funny easygoing stoner sloth pothead has always been male. Though there is no doubt that the lady stoner image is on the rise, a good amount of the images we see still adhere to male fantasies. In this body of work nakedness represents sisterhood. I hope that by embracing marijuana, a plant that is still considered a vice by many, I am turning it into a source of strength. By accepting the ‘nasty’ woman, I hope to reject the stoner woman’s negative perception. Photography gave women the opportunity to start their own businesses, look at the world from a different perspective and gave us a voice on how we perceive and respond to the world. In a similar way women are quickly rising to power in the marijuana industry (one of the fastest growing industries in the US), many women are getting involved in reforming cannabis laws, and supporting marijuana rights. Marijuana also promotes divergent thinking, the hippie culture and it is a female plant. People are drawn to marijuana for many different reasons. Some are recreational, other medicinal purposes, yet all share the human lot.

Your work speaks as a narrative, but the individual photographs also express defined moments. How do these two ideas help create an overall series for you?

The work is partially autobiographical. Some of the photographs are taken during trips with Ben, the destinations, historical sites and landscapes were carefully selected for this body of work. My work compels the viewer to consider the relationship of the photograph to the visible world, and the representation of time as history in tension with sentimental memory. While producing this work I also contemplate the need to belong and to be wanted, the devouring need for destruction, past experiences of alienation and so the feeling of a misfit lingers in the air like stale smoke.

By blurring the lines of photographic time and experience, I question one’s awareness of being posed, how the sitter perceives themselves as beautiful or not, one’s familiarity of the self through images on social media/selfies, all pointing on how they want to be seen/represent themselves and how I want them to be seen are blurred into a photograph-a performative collaboration between the sitter and I. Feels as though I am more concerned with being in the moment than a cohesive narrative.

Your work does an incredible job of highlighting details of the diversity in the scenes you create. Are the scenes highlighting the environment or the subjects within the environments? What is the creative process for these works and does it change depending on the series?

Illusory substances are shared preliminarily, adding a haphazard tone, assuring that the memory of this time and place must be flawed-with a romanticized intoxication, as much as the photograph continues to fail in the representation of the actual experience between myself and my sitter. Each photograph serves as a catalyst for my own habits, philosophies and revelations.

Has teaching helped your work progress? What things have you learned from your students that could be applied to your work?

“The one who has the vision is not necessarily the one who knows how to actualize or embody this vision” -Anais Nin
“The work is in the work” -Richard Benson
Teaching continues to teach me what it means to lead a meaningful life. My students continue to remind me that opinions of aesthetics and beauty are innate freedoms. Teaching allows me to broaden my own sensibility and explore my own fears. It also, reminds me that there is no such thing as one conclusive answer and the closer one gets to their goal the easier it is to stop playing for the crowd.

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

Rethinking the answers to these questions! And printing for my show in April at Johalla Projects.

Are there any fun facts that you’d like to share with our community about yourself?

While at Yale I participated in 3 marijuana studies. Each study was approximately 4 weeks long. One of those test days fell on Friday April 20th.

Because you live in Chicago, IL, are there any places you would recommend for artists to go check out? 

Ed Paschke Art Center, Carrie Secrist Gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Roots and Culture, Soccer Club Club, Comfort Station, Rainbo Club, Johalla Projects, Ham Chicago, Filter Photo, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, MoCP, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Depaul Art Museum and Chicago Athletic Association.

Check out more of Marzena's work on her website


AIR 2017Colleen Keihm