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Sensitive Territories
2023Title of the document

The 'Sensitive Territories' series aims to shed light on the vulnerability of non-human entities such as trees, plants, and stones, which are constantly at risk of disappearing from the Portuguese landscape. Two elements of matter, fire and water, are a recurring threat to Portugal’s precious ecosystems. These elements evoke ancient mythologies, such as the one of Phoenix rising from the ashes, symbolising duality of a destructive force and a new beginning.

Shot in 2023 in the mountain regions that have been affected by recent wildfires, namely Serra da Estrela Natural Park and Serra da Freita, as well as in Pedrógão Grande, this research project focuses on the processes of disappearance, prevention, resistance and rebirth. This body of work is a continuation of the 'Fading Senses' project, which explores the emotions of climate grief and solastalgia, and delves into the impact of climate change on our senses.

Fading Senses
2019 - ongoing

What happens if we lose our senses? In times of multispecies extinction and devastating effects caused by climate change, environmental anxiety is a rising problem affecting societies, perceived by scientists to be one of the biggest mental health issues of the near future. Fading Senses is a research project and a photographic essay which explores the emotions of climate grief and solastalgia, and delves into the impact of climate change on our senses. The term solastalgia, coined twenty years ago by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, describes both the emotional shock and the feeling of distress that can be experienced when confronted with the sudden disappearance of a previously familiar landscape. Described as an earth-related state, it reflects the zeitgeist of our time, manifesting itself in a feeling of dislocation, a lived experience of the loss of the present. A perspective of a fading world and a state of fading-away is close to sensory deprivation. Absence of senses, one of the biggest human fears, can lead to intramental perception, echolocation and memory flashbacks. As I have temporarily lost one of the senses in the past, this deprivation became my intuitive leading guide, which I applied to the working method and to the visual language.

During the process, I was drawn to places connected to the notion of supposed stability and protection, like socialist architecture, space of a zoo, a home for visually impaired or an acrobatic center. Focusing on these places and on people who inhabit them, I searched for visual signs of disconnection, which reflect the feeling of insecurity. Fading Senses refers to the dread of ungraspable sensation but also underlines human disconnection from the natural habitat.

This series was inspired by a hundred-year-old Tuchola Forest. A rich biosphere reserve recognised by UNESCO and one of the biggest forests in Central Europe, used to look like something out of a fairytale. Over one summer night in 2017, an extraordinary windstorm turned this home to beavers, red deers, elks, and eagle owls, among other species, into an apocalyptic wasteland. After the storm, there was no more sound of the birds, no more smells, no view of the forest. Being strongly affected by this disappearance and by the experience of temporary loss of sense of smell, I recognised how deeply climate change can affect our senses and emotions. Turning my research into a speculative narration, with ‘Fading Senses’ I aim to create a mental image of an ungraspable sensation to underline the alarming effects of climate change on mental and emotional health.

Laura El Tantawy - Judge PhMuseum Days 2021 Award 

“Ligia Popławska’s “Fading Senses” explores the emotional and mental implications on individuals from the growing disparity with their natural habitat. Drawing on her own experience of temporarily losing one of her senses, she takes us on an intimate and compassionate journey through deserted landscapes and abandoned interiors. Popławska provides an original observation of the relationship between people and their natural habitat. Her photographs of people and landscapes are punctuated with a lingering tension — a sense of suspension and serene stillness. She photographs with a deliberate aesthetic that is blunt, uncompromising and doesn’t try to hide behind anything. The photographs are meditative and consistent, gesturing something is about to happen or has just happened, leaving the viewer wondering, dreaming, fearing — altogether making this work both tempting and appealing to engage with time and time again”

Geert Goiris for .tiff 2022 magazine - FOMU Fotomuseum Antwerpen

“Ligia Poplawska’s portrait of a blind man is striking. I’ve seen this type of photograph before - famous examples preceed it - but this image is distinctive and comes to life in her series “Fading Senses”. Looking at someone who cannot see himself, makes us acutely aware of our alterity. We can never contain the reality of someone else: part of the other is always out of reach. This portrait will never be seen by its model, photography’s ability to construct and maintain a self-image is obstructed here. Poplawska extends alterity and identity crisis to global problems: we humans have to look long and hard in the mirror. The rapid decline of biodiversity is a fact and there is little doubt that our way of life is to blame. We share a parallel presence but are blind to what surrounds us. We seem unable to empathise with other lifeforms, other ways of thinking. These are still treated as natural resources to be exploited, which hinders meaningful interactions and coexistence. The solastalgic realisation that we degrade nature and are co-responsible for its decline, permeates Poplawska’s photographs. An image of a finger touching a flame suggests numbness and paralysis. The interior of a stately hall with a forest of marble-clad columns shows what remains once everything is transformed into material and status. Yet “Fading Senses” is more than a pessimistic lamentation, Ligia Poplawska invites us to abandon our delusional anthropocentrism to cultivate a truly sensitive outlook instead.”

Fading Senses
Research, 2020

Interview with Geert Goiris
MA thesis, Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp 2020

Silent Signals