Monika Tichacek: The threads that bind

Ruth Holdsworth in the dark world of The Shadowers

The Shadowers

The Shadowers

The Shadowers

Fragile, dark, devastatingly disturbing. Vegetation alternates with green sequins and red forest-berry jewels encroach upon skin; colours jump virus-like, bleeding from nature to the soft cream hues of a marionette, a controlled daughter or perhaps an entrapped heroine in the Grimm-est of fairytales.

Monika Tichacek’s The Shadowers, a video triptych, recalls childhood nightmares after reading a fable with a not so happy ending, or the skewed pleasure of watching a scary film late at night when your parents were in bed and you really were far too young. The pitch black of the gallery meant there was no turning the light on. And, if what played out across the screens was a reflection of your family history, you wouldn’t be calling out for the comforting embrace of your mother.

Three women, 2 beautiful and one grotesque, inhabit alternate environments—all complicit in a harrowing tale. A lush jade forest dappled with light and shadow offers a flip-side setting to a suffocating cavern-like space where it’s too dark to see the walls, and only antagonist and protagonists are lit. Neither is a safe place to be, the open one as much a psychological and physical prison as the one that’s closed.

Contrasting emotions are juxtaposed with only a sliver of distance between, vulnerability in a master-slave relationship with control. One of the strongest motifs repeated throughout involves webs: taut threads and elastic strands that shift, stretch, expand, that choreograph movement and control. The opening image of the loop presents us with a woman standing sternly over a beautiful girl in a dancer’s dress of green sequins—mother and daughter in a forest? The edges of the flesh-coloured material are barely disguised: it’s too easy to see through the beauty painted over this virgin. She has been made up, the dress is lifted to reveal threads which stitch her legs tightly together, enforcing a kind of chastity. The skin beneath the costume pulls until it ever so slightly bleeds…the blood on the sheets of a freshly broken hymen.

Insights into the violent tendencies of mind and body are invited in this kaleidoscopic work with its wordless narrative. Tension is heightened by sound and the pitches, chords and tones produced by slack and taut strings…again the metaphor of entrapment. The action escalates and becomes hyperbolic, allowing no space for the tension to be broken. The woman lets out occasional screams as if being raped in the most horrible of circumstances…until only a rasping breath is audible. The sound gets inside you and reverberates through your organs, like bats, not butterflies, rising to the throat, making you feel sick.

It is hard to tell whether anything is resolved; we are left with 2 women, the grotesque mother figure has gone. As tight threads conjoin the two mouth to mouth, saliva slides from the standing to the prone one—re-energising her? Now the loop recurs—an eternal nightmare. Like mother, like daughter, princess to wicked witch. The Shadowers is chilling, wedged in my throat, like heartburn.

Monika Tichacek has lived in Australia since 1994, studied sculpture at the College of Fine Arts, New South Wales, and creates works using endurance performance and video. In 2001 she was awarded the Helen Lempriere Travelling Arts Fellowship.

Monika Tichacek, The Shadowers; Arnolfini, Dark Studio, Feb 2

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© Ruth Holdsworth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

2 February 2006