Essay by Teresa Heinzelmann
Puzzling, as a word, points in multiple directions: firstly, it describes the activity
of getting lost in the small pieces that are
part of a bigger picture, always with the goal of making sense of fragments. Onwochei-Garcia translates this meaning into her newest installation, as she’s creating the material conditions of her paintings out of multiple small squares. Whilst merging those single squares together, she’d leave some traces of this process visible, thus rendering the grid structure apparent as part of her texture.
The images featured in Onwochei-Garcia’s presented collages are sourced from a myriad of paintings, murals and frescos depicting tumult, violence and battle.
The artist investigated late medieval and early renaissance works during her residency in Florence, as part of the RSA John Kinross Scholarship. Her ongoing interest in allegory, comedy and theatre pulled her to moments
of stylistic exaggeration, when brutality turns into grotesquerie. Her process—to cut out single moments of these historic paintings, commingling and re-arranging them in her own collages—resembles creating and playing with puzzle pieces. Only, by upsetting the proportions and re-combining the puzzle pieces, there remains a certain incoherence— a humorous, surrealist resistance that builds through all of Onwochei-Garcia’s work.
Looking closely at Paolo Uccello’s work— whose work became a visual anchor for Puzzling—one discovers an overspill of geometrical decorative elements, whether that be rich fruits hanging between the sharp weapons cutting through gentle landscapes, the huge golden-red hat of the leader, or tremendously detailed ornamentation of the horses’ harnesses. Amidst the scenery of highest tumult, Uccello (*1397 near Arezzo, Italy) deploys fabulation to decorate the incident—making the viewer care less about the literal historic sequence, and instead
be astonished by his dramatic theatricality.
Onwochei-Garcia enhances Uccello’s narrative simultaneity—resisting a coherent and linear narration, whilst focusing on the dramatised, emotional expressions that she collected from various historic artworks.
Secondly, one also can be puzzled— to feel irritated, baffled, helpless. And it’s this latter meaning that gets distilled in these painting/collages: ripped away from their original context and story, emphasised through fragment’s outlines on the backs, we’re confronted with sheer expressions. Shown is not violence itself, but rather its effects, as humans clasp their faces, mouths frozenly screaming. The bare emotional responses remain ambiguous, as the stylistic exaggeration renders the horrors ridiculous.
This is not a depiction of violence, but rather its embodiment. Therefore, violence becomes intimate. An intimacy, that gets enhanced through Onwochei-Garcia’s spatial installation. She won’t allow us to distantly look at the open faces and turned bodies but forces us to stand amidst. We’re surrounded by them. Like for theatre plays, which were often the starting point for her previous work, the artist creates stage-like scenes for us to enter, to move between fragmented effects— creating, what Christina Sharpe describes
as “intimate spaces of trauma, violence, pleasure, shame and containment.”1 The absence of context won’t allow any release
of the expressed, emotional tension. Owing to Onwochei-Garcia’s technique, this tension gets carried in every fibre, as the imprint of the brushstrokes imbues the paper, presses through the presumed backside, leaving there an abstraction of affects.
1 Christina Sharpe (2010), Monstrous Intimacies. Making Post-Slavery Subjects.
New Glasgow Society November 18-19, 2023 11am-5pm