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//The Liberty of Imagination// – Elżbieta Sala

The Liberty of Imagination – Elżbieta Sala

Elżbieta Sala – bio note p. 72.

The Liberty of Imagination

When opening up to the new and different, artists need to face their fear, a natural reaction to the violation of norms. Erich Fromm once wrote that an individual in society pushed away the awareness of the feelings and fantasies that were not in line with the adopted social patterns of thinking. The power that forces the repression lies in the fear of isolation and becoming a social outcast because of the thoughts and feelings that nobody else shares. In an extreme form, this fear of total isolation is no different than fear of madness.[1] At the same time, Fromm thought that society could not survive without people who, by exposing themselves, reformulate and question norms.

In her work, Alicja Rogalska refers to the freedom that artists can find in imagination, while also uncovering the tensions characteristic to the creative process. She was inspired by the memory of a dream. ‘I dreamt once that my body was dissolving, pouring down on the floor in large drops, forming a colourful, shapeshifting puddle. I looked into it and tried to decipher its meaning, but to no avail. It was a very weird dream – absolutely terrifying on one hand, and liberating on the other’.

The story of Rogalska’s dream illustrates the emotions that accompany the creative process. We succumb to it, not knowing where it will take us. We lose our shape in order to reclaim it in a changed form. We are afraid when lose familiar ground; we are happy when the limits of freedom become broader.

The artist also refers to a test created by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Hermann Rorschach in 1921. It was used to assess personality profile and detect mental disorders. The patient was presented with inkblots – their task was to say what they saw. The answers were classified according to a key. The test, although very controversial, is still in use today.

According to Rogalska, ‘The story of this test is interesting in that it encourages us to question our perception of the world (including works of art). How do others see the world, what should we see, what is normal, and what points to mental problems? What is just proof of a very fruitful imagination? To what extent are we really free in our imagination and associations, and to what extent are they conditioned by culture, society, etc.? Where is the boundary between health and mental disorder?’.

The artist asks us to face our own fear of losing stability and the resulting social insecurity: what will happen to me if I lose trust in my own self? What will happen if I lose control and reveal my feelings and thoughts to others?

Rogalska asks us not to try to limit our associations, interpretations, imagination and ideas. She thinks that ‘we now need this group exercise in individual imagination more than ever before’.

The artist has several suggestions as to how to respond to her work:

  • look, rotate, try to imagine what these shapes represent,
  • draw additional elements,
  • add ‘new levels’ of stains by using colour ink or paint,
  • cut out shapes and rearrange them in a completely new composition,
  • use a mirror to create a new image from its fragments.

The sheet of paper can also be turned into an envelope to send an official letter or construct a plane and leave it at a playground. It can also be used as wrapping paper for a book that we would like to give to someone. You can also try to find a portrait of a friend somewhere between the shapes, or maybe look for something unfriendly. You may turn it around and create your own art on the other side.

Alicja Rogalska (b. 1979) – visual artist. Graduate of fine arts of the Goldsmiths College (University of London) and cultural studies, University of Warsaw. Author of videos, objects and installations, as well as educational and public space projects. She works and lives in London. www.alicjarogalska.co.uk

Alicja Rogalska, untitled [Broniów Song], 2011, video, courtesy of the artist



[1] E. Fromm, Pasje Zygmunta Freuda. Analiza postaci oraz wpływu psychoanalizy na nasz światopogląd, Kraków 2010, p. 114.