Jerzy Kucia’s work occurs in a world held at arm’s length from reality; the familiar forms of humanity -- our bodies, accessories, instruments -- all remain in the foreground, but floating in a vague disconnect from each other, lending each other a weight not always possible in the linear approach of traditional animation approaches. Even time and movement find themselves removed in a way that’s startlingly refreshing, and, perhaps more notably, remarkably vocal.
With the exception of a few scraps of music, flares of radio static and churning machines, these films operate almost exclusively on their own silent language, a stark economy of symbols and settings woven into dense abstractions of the Polish identity.
To begin with, there lies the most audible of elements, Kucia’s use of sound. Sparse, almost always pared down to bare essentials (the motorcycle on Strovenov Instrumentej is almost laughable in its putt-putting), the sounds bleed into each other, create murky segments of dissociative noise, flicker or fade out as if they're played through a busted stereo, clearing out at moments of nearly blissful memory or strongly evocative visions.
Kucia’s minimalism also extends to the visuals presented, carefully choosing a few isolated images with which to work. In Krag (The Ring), it’s the familiar human and bestial form, limited to a few choice physical positions/states, and repeated in variation for the length of the piece, with alternately comic, tragic, and fearful implications. In Reflesky, he goes one step further, focusing strictly on the insect and its struggle of emergence; there are long shots of trying futility until the bug finally drops out of its cocoon and is almost instantly doomed. With the subject on such a pinhead, the fates he affords them scream with poetic significance, with each change and zoom out of focus, thereby leaving the door open for broader existential contexts.
And then there’s his approach to the human instrument, these small facets of our existence that we imbue with so much symbolism, particularly, in his case, our tools of work and leisure: sickles and violins, threshers and drums. In the case of Instrumentej Strovenov , the two are wedded. As the film winds its way back to elemental forms of the Polish agrarian, the two most prominent facets to emerge are memories of fieldwork and the violin, the images and sounds flowing between each other with a palpable grace. Similarly, in Parada the blurring of pleasure and hard work in the wheat fields is particularly emphasized.
This sort of flow is integral to Kucia’s work. Forms continually blend and shift, collide with each other and reconstitute themselves, creating spaces for flurries of color and sound. Even when his focus remains singularly locked (Reflesky, for instance), Kucia takes pains to illustrate the passage of time, or perhaps the movement of some facet of the shot, so as to illuminate the view with a more tangible reality. In more fast-paced scenes, the images flow along their own rhythm, bleeding into each other, and transforming from harsh factory landscapes, to abstract treelines, to far greater abstractions of memory and vision.
This aforementioned transition from Instrumentej Stroveno, perhaps best illustrates the skill that Kucia shows in his ability to transfer energy from space to space. As the viewer moves towards the countryside from the dense urban environment of both the city and the house itself, the detail afforded each scene diminishes. The forms begin to blur and become confused with each other (my personal favorite being the obscuring of wheat field and electric line into a potential piano score, punctuated with performing fingers and domestic symbolism). Our vision leaves the realm of the real, a place where we had recently been so firmly anchored, and from which we can watch these forms begin to take on new life, to dance against each other in free association. As this abstraction begins to finally clear itself, the last scene hits with full force, the final culmination of images, a moving still life. Comprised of several blurred memories interacting with each other, the movement of the film is sated in infancy.
Kucia’s work, self-avowedly, extrapolates the autobiographical into the broader awareness (1). In an attempt to externalize the disjointed processes of memory and perception, he effectively creates maps of the self, tracing his history alongside that of his Polish people. Digging deep into his own language of symbols and movements, he creates shorts that speak to the greater Polish soul as he tries to communicate his own triumphs and struggles, histories and mythologies. But working in conjunction with this head are hands, deft hands that can spin a complex analysis of art, identity and memory into a fluid, stunning piece of art. The combination of these two doesn’t just make Kucia an artist. They make him a master.