Rafał Zajko's new body of work, ‘Filter’, is a voluptuous line-language that marries the grammar of design technology with agriculture, conspiracy and the human body. The presentation, shown as part of the 2020 Goldsmiths MFA exhibition, is framed by a wall-based triptych of steely blue vessels, foregrounded against a deep scarlet landscape. Three self-standing sculptures, Syfon (Green), (Blue) and (Red) respectively, occupy the lurid, oblique laboratory; and a number of smaller wall-based sculptures populate the margins of the presiding vermillion wall.
Each of the central three reliefs — named respectively, and appropriately, after the suis generis figure of unearthly renewal, Lazarus II, III and IV — harbours a ceramic circuit board, separated from yet formally annexed to measures wheat, flour and barley; sterilised in orbicular cocoons, they become charged emblems of life, entropy and regeneration. Pin pricks of electric light — in corresponding colourway of red, green and blue — provide each tabular form with nocturnal energy, as if quietly humming through the surrounding azure. The three ‘siphons’ that stand anatomised in their anterior, drip with a dyed synthetic urine; a mixture of water, urea, creatine, pH balance and/or uric acid. Their stature is that of the human body, replete with frozen urine-crown, glazed ceramic bladders and a copper base-plate that slowly oxidises in luminous, mineral free-form.
Reflective of Zajko's upbringing in Białystok, Poland, an area of the country composed equally of factory and field, these works coalesce the elegant forms and smooth surfaces of what Reyner Banham once designated, 'The First Machine Age', with a new biological focus on post-harvest processing and the effects of these technological systems on notions of the organic and the human. Their unapologetic, chromatic colourway suggests a simple but principal truth: that what we take as singular and whole — in this case, white light — is in fact composed at the intersection of a deeper, more fundamental and plural reality.
For me, these works do for crop grains what Richard Hamilton once did for the automobile, they sublimate, exploit, delight in and affirm technological process as a vehicles for desire — connected to, through and with the body. They draw parallels between microbial genetics and self-censorship, incidental form with deliberate design, and the evolution of agriculture with that of the human species writ large. They are a libidinal series of seductive displacements and investments that register how, in a single moment, it is both we who domesticate and engineer crops and crops who domesticate and engineer us — an erotic intermingling of reciprocal love, penetration and co-dependency.
It is with this blurring of borders between body, prosthetic and form that Walter Benjamin once wrote of "the sex appeal of the inorganic", a phrase embedded as much in fetishised consumer products as it is post-war modernist architecture, with probing, smooth and curvaceous forms that mimic a new world of soft technologies and plastic capsules. Seen here, in the confounding voluptua of mercury-like vessels, hosting within them a synthetic form of agrochemical jouissance. It is this erotic charge, the sublimation of desire and conflation of technology with fetish, that I see in Zajko's distilled, cryogenic forms. They are the phantom of an ever-increasingly mediated biological process and blending of anatomies, rendered in smooth, lurid and vital ambiguity.