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London: Kle Mens
June 14, 2019 - June 23, 2019
REJEKT Gallery presents Hybrid Prophecy, a solo show of one of Poland’s exceptional young artists, Kle Mens.
Kle Mens is a Warsaw-based visual artist working across painting, sculpture, performance and film. Following the death of her father, Kle Mens grew up in an extreme Catholic sect in Poland, under the care of her mother, schizophrenic, devotee nun. As such, a major tenet of her work is the exploration and exploitation of religious iconography, which calls forth a brave new world of the feminine in post-secular art practice.
The paintings at the heart of her practice involve a traditional technique, one which requires the painstaking application of a hundred translucent layers. Through this steady dedication we witness the transfiguration of Kle Mens as Saint, martyr and hybrid creature, which emphasises the transmutable nature of timeless mythical bodies.
Having exhibited in her native country multiple times, the controversial nature of Kle Men’s work means the artist has received a notable backlash from a more conservative Polish audience, including the staging of protests outside
In her first UK solo show, Kle Mens makes a brave incantation, summoning both religious martyrs and mythological hybrids to evoke the formidable force of female transformation, which underlies all her work. This exhibition sees Kle Mens revisiting the idolatry of female purity of her youth through the martyr’s series, with focus on those whose punishment was sex-related or sexuality-specific.
In a relational gesture of self- sacrifice, paint becomes embodied flesh in St. Agata, the venerated saint a prime example of the extraordinary sufferance endured by female devotees. A tense and disarming dedication, Kle Mens’ severing of her own breast is a profound moment of ekstasis propelling her into the temporality of long- standing religious order, a remark upon the continued urgency of feminist concerns. With similar spirit, she investigates the unusual, always-timeliness of the apocalypse — the recurring crisis of individual, collective and planetary future that haunts existence.
In Hybrid Prophecy, Kle Mens presents us with this provocation: a stunningly detailed film work, which animates and subverts Hans Memling’s The Last Judgement. The centrepiece around which the themes of the exhibition revolve, The Last Judgement sees her assuming new bodies and fictions, while persisting with the religious iconography that she is passionately indebted to. As such, two mythological hybrids that feature in the Apocalypse of St. John become proto-Renaissance self- portraits.
Kle Mens adopts the mystical poise of the famously ambiguous, riddling Sphinx. Her traditional painting technique begets a certain magic — one of majestic strength, and silent yet photorealistic liveness — which also courses through Harpy. While the eagle is emblematic of the Polish state, in the Apocalypse it behaves as a premonition, heralding a collapse between sky and earth. With this, Kle Mens continues her elegant foray into mythic territories,
their power and their promise.
REJEKT Gallery founder Sarah Sosnierz says:
‘Kle Mens collaboration of female religious Iconography and contemporary art is symbolic of a generation that is empowering woman in a culture that has stunted its growth for generations. REJEKT Gallery represents grassroots arts culture from a new generation of Eastern European artists, whom in their work are defining moments that will become key pillars of our contemporary history’.
Kle Mens (Klementyna Stepniewska, b. 1985) graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 2014 under the direction of Jarosław Modzelewski and Igor Przybylski. In 2016, she was winner of the The Geppert Competition XII, the most prestigious prize for young painters in Poland. To date, she has had three solo exhibitions, the most recent of which is Hail Mary (2019). Her works St. Rita and Kummernis are held by a key public collection, National Museum of Gdansk.