opening: 23.3 Saturday, 1 pm – 6 pm
artist in conversation: 23.3 Saturday, 4 pm (in English)

The line graph, one of the basic data visualization tools, is used to track changes in values over time. It helps in observing trends, patterns, and fluctuations, in catching subtle differences or tiny flutters, in depicting the scale of significant changes and disruptions. I interpret Iza Tarasewicz’s work as a line on such a graph – a visualization that offers a helpful diagnosis to aid in making the right decisions. Today, we are interested in one particular point on this abstract graph. It is also the climax in a long story; the moment when the tension reveals itself most clearly. 

In 2014, the artist suspended 50 meters of thick rope made of hemp fiber and rubber from the ceiling of the gallery, creating a drawing that organized the space. The rope marked the territory of the exhibition; it was a boundary line, a place of presentation, a circle in which actions were taken. The title of the installation, Arena, alluded to ancient places where important events were organized. Amphitheaters, circuses, and stadiums, where the first performances and spectacles took place, were spaces where culture, politics, and the rules of public debate and communication were born. Tarasewicz’s rope began to function as a shape-shifting frame, a temporary tool to initiate social action and build relationships in subsequent venues, with subsequent audiences (Arena I, 2014, Arena II, 2016). 

Today, I also think of this drawing in space as a recording made with the stylus of a seismograph, of vibrations, displacements, and accelerations caused by natural or artificially induced tremors. Ten years ago, this seismogram – suspended in the gallery space – allowed questions to be asked about the role of institutions, their social responsibility, and about democratic procedures. At the time, the artist, more or less consciously, asked about the participation of the public that filled her abstract arena in the co-creation of culture. She invited viewers into the conversation.

Some time later, the rubber and hemp rope that comprised the small indoor arena was replaced by an 800-meter-long silicone rope that the artist used to wrap around the national art gallery building, shifting the focus from the exhibition hall to the entire institution and thus calling for a louder and more emphatic debate (Arena III, 2018). The rope resembled a snake writhing around the building – beautiful but also dangerous. The gesture of entwining the institution was alarmingly close to binding, squeezing, pressing, that is, gestures of force and power. 

I can’t stop thinking that it was also a graphic record of emotions – a chart of our, yet unnamed, tensions and fears. Perhaps we should have read the big picture from this data visualization? Maybe we could have predicted what happened next? 

Today, the artist has fit these 800 meters of rope into the small space of a grassroots gallery, of a completely different – nomen omen – scale. The rope has become convoluted, looped, chaotic, and impossible to untangle. Overwhelming, disturbing, and threatening. Black and dense, it obscures the light and brings darkness. It reflects our state of mind, but also, it seems, the state of our world – it is a black cloud that hangs over us; an obstacle that cannot be circumvented. If it is still an arena (could it be titled Arena IV?), it is an arena of struggle, of conflict, an arena of crisis. If, on the other hand, it is part of the same chart, it points to the turbulence, upheaval, and the climax of this long story whose resolution is before us.

Magdalena Komornicka
translation: Katarzyna Szuster-Tardi

Courtesy of Iza Tarasewicz and Gunia Nowik Gallery.

press
NN6T

Finissage: March 2nd, Saturday at 6 pm

One does not usually think of a view as a constantly constructed phenomenon. It is not regarded as an intertwining of people, things and the physical qualities of a place with reflections and feelings. We overlook that a view is not given to us and is not completely external; that it doesn’t play out only in the here and now; that our experiences determine how we perceive our surroundings equally to the images deposited on our retinas. Current perspectives overlap with landscapes of the past, it only takes a gust of wind or a reflection of light on a rippling lake for us to shift our thoughts to other places and moments, further away, and then return, only to drift off again in different directions.

In recent months, Gizela Mickiewicz’s sculptures have also been on the move: they’ve been venturing out, leaving the confines of storage. They’ve been forming constellations, entering into relationships with each other, with nature, and with us. They’ve been reflected in natural shapes, duplicated other forms, and have been caringly worn and touched. In their holes and lenses, they’ve focused fragments of views; with their positioning, they’ve framed space and allowed it to permeate them. Still, the intentions of their creation continued to resonate strongly – the original objectives entered into a silent dialogue with the places where, for a shorter or longer moment, the works embedded themselves in a way that was unusual for them.

The exhibition “Shifting Views” is monographic, but at the same time, polyphonic. It works in many directions and planes at once. It is an environment, or perhaps a habitat, in which different temporalities and spaces mix freely, but instead of chaos, there is a soft distraction that is not far from attentiveness. It demonstrates the potential for both fascinating discoveries and a sense of being securely at home.

Jagna Lewandowska

Press
http://Kuba Paris: Gizela Mickiewicz “Shifting views” at galeria SKALA
Gizela Mickiewicz at SKALA Gallery – Art Viewer

Notes on THE END OF SOMETHING

It is probably the best known building in the world. It is probably the best known tourist attraction. It is 130 years old now, and it is showing a lot of rust, even when seen from a distance. Like the rest of Paris, it looks like it is part of a museum of „better times“.

When it was built for the world fair, it was the center of a colonial exhibition in which also people from all the colonies were exhibited. The built model villages of these „half-civilized“ people to demonstrate to the French people that the investments into the colonies were justified. These people were so close to being „civilized“, it would only be a matter of years before they would be as human as the French. 

It is hard to imagine the normality of open racism in Europe around 1900 in hindsight. It is impossible for me to imagine life in the colonies. But this is the place, the same place, Paris, the former capital of the world, and the Champ du Mars, the field of the ancient god of War and Spring, because smart armies start war in Spring. Ad this big metal phallus, 300 m high, made out of steel, poking out of the city into the sky. It still manages to impress, and it still has a lightness and elegance to it, considering that it is just tons and tons of metal.

Today the tower is the center of the tourist world. You have not been to Paris, if you have not seen the Eiffel tower. For Non-Europeans, you have not been to Europe if you have not seen the Eiffel Tower. The significance of this tower in China is beyond my comprehension. You see it everywhere in China, it seem to signify many things, but above all it means „Europe“ and „upper class“, as well as „romantic love“. A Chinese girl once told me in China after ten minutes of meeting that she would like to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower with me. What does it mean to her? I have no way of knowing.

The tower is surrounded from morning until evening, even at night, by tourists and their technical devices. They point their cameras, phones and tablets to the tower. They come from all over the world, as far as I can see. Certainly, they are all middle and upper class, it is not cheap to be in Paris, and it is not cheap to come here. Apart from the Romanian and Pakistani men who sell beer, wine, champagne and water in their daylong singsong repetition, and the Subsaharan African men who sell cheap Chinese-made replica of the tower and other plastic gadgets such as selfie-sticks and power adaptors, everyone you see is rather well-off.

The amazing thing is that everybody, no matter which cultural background, seems to be doing the same thing. Taking pictures, of the tower, of themselves, but mostly of themselves in front of the tower. I observed some people who spent easily 2 hours posing in front of the tower. It was certainly more women than men who posed, and certainly more young women than older women. There was a big number of girls modeling there, probably for their social media accounts. It was obvious, that most of these pictures were made to be shared immediately with the world. They were looked at, liked, shared, consumed, and then forgotten at the bottom of a social media feed. Few of these pictures will really be looked at again in the future, they will be sitting on hard drives and in the data clouds, collecting dust, so to speak. The digital Alzheimer of the future might wipe them out.

Photography turns people into data. This is why smartphones had photo cameras from the beginning, and this is the feature that made them such a success and such a versatile tool. They create image data to be sold and exploited by social media platforms and Google, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Apple etc. These pictures are interpreted by machines, by algorithms, rather than people. Photos to be looked at by machines. What do the machines make of people posing in front of the Eiffel Tower?

Are the internet giants the slave drivers of now? Are they extracting data out of the global population like the trade companies of the past that dragged natural and human resources out of the colonies? Are we all like the aborigines who traded their valuable resources for glass beads, because they did not see the financial worth and capitalist system behind this trade? Were glass beads so different from cat videos and free email and cloud services? Are our current leaders like the corrupt local leaders of the colonies who accept the bribes by the corporations and in turn keep the population down so the companies can extract the data? Why is there „nothing that can be done“ to tax data mining?

The masses are the masses. They always have been like this, and they probably always will be. I dont believe that humans in general change very much. Evolution is very very very slow. If you look at the oldest cultural artifacts from the Ice Age, you already see that there were hierarchies, and there were groups. People have to cooperate to survive firstly, and then they are forced to cooperate to get ahead of the neighbors. Cooperation is our greatest gift, but also our greatest problem. We like to belong, it feels good and safe to be part of something bigger, to be needed, to be appreciated by others, to be part of a group. We need rituals to keep groups together, we need repetition, we need to be told what to do. Most people want to do exactly what everybody else is doing. It is understandable, it seems to be safe, and it does not create friction. If you are stuck in a group of pedestrians trying to get through a narrow doorway, the best thing to do and the fastest way to get through it is to stay in the middle, just like with running water. The people on the sides will take longer, might get hurt, and will have a varying speed compared to the ones in the middle.

An American woman asked me, when she saw my big camera on a tripod, if I knew where to take the best picture of herself and the Eiffel Tower. I tried to help and asked what she would think is „the best“. It was obvious for her: „I want the one that everybody is doing.“ I sent here up to the stairs of the Palais de Trocadero, the spot where most of the posing action is happening. She was happy and left.

Why do all people want to see the Eiffel Tower? Because all the other people want to see the Eiffel Tower. Its that simple. You have to see the Eiffel Tower. What happens when people take the picture? They know that pictures of this tower exist already, and that they can google a better one that they will ever be able to take in seconds. It cannot be that they need a record of the tower itself. But there is something to capturing the moment. It is the urge to say „I was here“. If you look at Roman ruins or at Bronze Age buildings covered in Viking graffiti in Orkney, you will see that this is nothing new, people have always had the urge to say „I was here“, and to write it on the wall. Perhaps even the individual handprint in Stone Age caves had this purpose: an individual print of a hand, like a handwriting, that proves that an individual was there, at a certain time in a certain place and as part of a group. So it is safe to assume that a picture of „me in front of the Eiffel Tower“ says „I was here“ or better, „I am here“, because nowadays it is shared and posted with a time stamp immediately.

But I think there is also something bigger going on. People sense the millions of people who have done this before, and who will come in the future and do the same thing. By doing it right now, you connect to this endless chain of people, and it connects you with a large group. It is enough to make people feel good and safe that they are part of the „group of people who have seen the Eiffel Tower“.

The act of taking the picture is a varied and complex ritual as well. It calms people somehow, it releases endorphins, and it freezes time. You step out of your everyday, you put on a mask or a face or an emotion or a pose, most people even seem to dress in the morning knowing that they will take this picture today.

This act of photography has a spiritual dimension. The act, the pose, the travel, the place & time connection, the group connection all make it very culturally complex. And of course there is also a connection to death, all photography is connected to death, as it captures the light of a moment that will only exist once, and will never come back in the same way. Photography is always looking at a moment that is gone, that is dead. When you see into the eyes of a person in a picture knowing that this person is now dead, the expression of the person changes in your perception, and it seems to look at you over the abyss of death, of time that has passed, of moments that have not been captured and remembered. Photography heightens the moment, and captures it from the endless flow of events. It is like picking up a shell on the beach, one in billions, and taking it home before the sea washes it away again.

Clemens Wilhelm

 

YOU CHILDREN WILL LEARN TO LIVE THERE

How to raise your children to inhabit a world that will look radically different from what you know? Should you embrace technology, and apply the logic of data mining to your own self? How much self-reflection and how much sharing is still healthy? How do the algorithms of big internet corporations steer your wants and needs, and how did we come to this new form of digital existence in the last decades? How do you argue with nature in the face of the climate catastrophe, or are we just doomed? At which point should you stop calling it a crisis and start calling it a collapse? 

This video program brings together four artists who think deeply about these issues and address these questions, and many more. A sense of uncanny premonitions and impending doom runs through these works. The grasp of technology on our lives and the effects of data extraction tools become tangible.
The concepts of the private and the public have severely shifted. Where does my “self” end and where does “the outside” start? Are we a part of “nature”, or are we opposed to it and want to exist removed from it? 

Is the extinction of humans inevitable if we keep destroying our habitable zone on this planet? Is data the new oil? Am I a mine? Is technology the “death of mankind” or is it our “only hope” for survival? 

We may not find out the answers but – as the uncanny narrator of John Butler’s “Children of the Null” reminds us – “you children will learn how to live there”. 

 

THE TOURIST AND THE LOSS OF THE REAL

“In ‘The Tourist and the Loss of the Real,’ artist Clemens Wilhelm takes us on a captivating cinematic journey through a world where reality blurs into hyperreality and authentic experiences become simulacra.

The journey begins in Iceland, where a white naked man finds himself immersed in the vast landscapes, blurring the lines between romanticism, tourism, fetishism, performance art, and elements of pornography. This evocative visual experience juxtaposes elements of the pornographic with the aesthetics of National Geographic and the contemplative allure of Caspar David Friedrich, creating an intriguing tension between absurdity and beauty.

We then find ourselves in the Czech Republic, where a man and a woman, who initially connect online, attempt to bridge the gap between their virtual personas and real-life encounters. However, their quest for genuine connection is hindered by substitutes and mediated technology, all under the watchful eye of a computer camera. Their dialogue, fixated on the beauty of Prague, raises questions about the nature of authenticity in our increasingly digital interactions, highlighting Baudrillard’s ideas about the proliferation of simulations and the dissolution of the real. 

Our journey continues to China’s ‘Window of the World’ Entertainment Park in Shenzhen, a place that houses 140 imitations of the world’s most iconic tourist attractions . In ‘Simulacra,’ Wilhelm takes us on a tour through this theme park, where replicas of the Gizeh Pyramids, Stonehenge, and even the Statue of Liberty, among others, stand as miniature facsimiles of the originals. Yet, the towering replica of the Eiffel Tower overshadows them all, prompting us to ponder the meaning of these iconic landmarks when removed from their original contexts and placed in an environment of hyperreality.

Lastly, we find ourselves in Berlin, where Clemens Wilhelm embarked on a unique social experiment. In an attempt to become a Berlin tourist attraction himself, he sat before the Berlin Wall for two months with a sign that declared him ‘The Most Photographed Man in Berlin.’ The performance went viral, with over 10,000 photos posted on Facebook and more than 250,000 people witnessing this extraordinary endeavor. ‘ This experiment challenges the boundary between reality and the simulated, echoing Baudrillard’s ideas about the blurring of these lines in a society dominated by media and technology. 

In this captivating exploration, ‘The Tourist and the Loss of the Real’ prompts us to reevaluate our perception of authenticity and to question the impact of hyperreality and simulacra on our contemporary experiences and interactions.”

Due to the great power attributed to it, the name of this species was shrouded in taboo. It was replaced by terms imitating the ferocious sound it made or words referring to its special status in beliefs. It was called “The Ancestor”, “The Eldest of the Forest”, and “The One Who Hears Everything.” It was referred to as “The Dark One” or using the sinister pronoun “He”.

The winter sleep it would fall into at the end of November and the moment it would awaken in the second half of March were associated with rituals designed to ensure that it safely ensconced itself in its lair and later comfortably awakened in the spring. Its mode of functioning was part of the ritualistic structure of the year, providing a life-giving rhythm to vegetation.

Both hibernation and the ability to move on two paws, which made the bear similar to a human, stirred the imagination. Therefore, it was included in the collection of transgressive beings whose activities were guided by the cold moonlight. As “The One Who Ate Three Hundred Devils” (a reference to Stanisław Witkiewicz’s book), it could not be easily outwitted, tamed or defeated. It was credited with extraordinary strength, which made it the hero of stories presenting it as the progenitor of illustrious families, kings, and warriors. It appeared as a semi-divine figure, a demon, and sometimes, as in St. Augustine, as a personification of the devil himself.

Powerful and awe-inspiring, revered and appeased, it shone brightly among other animals throughout the centuries. However, it had grave enemies – not only among hunters. The Church Fathers sought to eradicate pre-Christian customs that identified it with promiscuity (confirmed by recurring stories of bears allegedly kidnapping women to imprison and rape them in caves). Their participants, uniting with the power of the animal, underwent a kind of transformation, usually accompanied by a transgression of behavioural norms. This ecstatic potential inherent in bear cults was disturbing in its irrepressible energy. Around the 13th century, its position as the king of animals was replaced by the exotic lion, with which there were no problematic associations. Today, in the gradual process of stripping it of its supernatural powers, it has eventually been dethroned and infantilized.

When the ban on public performances involving bears was lifted, the animals became the object of intense training, the results of which were intended to mesmerize onlookers as part of street shows that foreshadowed later circuses. At the famous Smorgon Academy of Bears, during the reign of the Radziwiłł dynasty (on the territory of today’s Belarus), the most effective animal wranglers – recruited mainly from among the Roma – were trained and later dispersed across Europe, organizing performances at the courts. Other trainers travelled with tamed bears to weddings, fairs and markets in towns and cities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In engravings depicting shows that were popular until the 19th century, we see bears listening to their masters, stretching out their paws for handouts, and swaying to the rhythm of the music.

In reality, the animals were intensively trained from a young age and subjected to brutal taming procedures that included piercing their nostrils, inserting a steel ring and attaching a chain to it, knocking out their teeth, pulling out their claws, feeding minimal amounts of food, and teaching them to dance by putting them on a heated plate. The cruelty of the owners was the result of centuries of tradition and the commonly accepted practices for treating animals in those days. Animal suffering long remained unspoken – the dramatic biographies of non-human protagonists have been problematized more recently and still demand to be told. 

In the exhibition by Katarzyna Depta-Garapich and Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, the bear inspires respect and admiration again. Referring to its figure, they evoke stories and rituals – the fictional ones and those attested to in ethnographers’ archives, unfolding in both communal and private dimensions. Each of the artists, examining the phantasms associated to it that detach it from the real animal, attempts to describe it from a different perspective.

In Depta-Garapich’s works, the process of releasing what is hidden inside the body cumulates in the form of shiny, sharp claws growing from human hands and feet. Severed from the hybrid human-animal body, they resemble a trophy, a testimony of a successful hunt. The shudder-inducing monstrous claws, simultaneously visible and hidden, grow out crossing the boundary of the body. They emphasize its constantly changing form. 

In addition to the copy of the artist’s hands and feet, the exhibition features a set of hollow objects modelled on the shape of claws, inviting one to fantasize about inserting a finger into them and arming oneself. Perfectly polished, they bring to mind the ability to inflict wounds, chopping and ripping apart other bodies. 

Although in reality, bear claws arousing revulsion due to the traces of soil, bits of rotting plants and clotted blood are hardly aesthetically pleasing objects, here they have primarily a symbolic dimension as amulets, talismans, signs of strength and power. One is tempted to reach for them like a treasure left unattended, a personal item or a deadly weapon. They seem to have been left by accident, as if the former user inadvertently forgot to take them or was chased away. What we come across is only a trace of his or her activity, a blank space to be filled with conjecture. 

The main element of this series of works by Depta-Garapich is the motif of transformation. It takes place instantly and unexpectedly as in Ovid’s collection of hundreds of mythological examples containing the motif of depriving someone of their human form, often by turning them into an animal. 

In folklore, the archetypal tale of transformation into another species was associated with hunting and herding rituals aimed at ensuring the prosperity and security of the community. But each year, their purpose was becoming increasingly vague to those who engaged in them. Inscribed into the foundations of the culture, the practices were reflected in the morphology of fairy tales where gaining or confirming one’s power was often associated with facing a dangerous animal. In the rituals of many cultures, the gesture of donning the skin of a predator was supposed to ensure success during a hunt or on the battlefield, granting superhuman strength to the one who wore it. Siberian shamans, on the other hand, put themselves into a trance, during which they dreamed of being devoured, believing that being in the body of an animal would guarantee them its wisdom.

For Depta-Garapich, claws as performative objects, become tools for investigating family history, which includes the story of the bear. The artist seeks to rework the story of her great-grandmother who, fleeing with her family from Russia during the turmoil of the revolution, hid in a bear’s den. At the climax of the story, the fugitives emerge from the forests of Galicia: their clothes are covered with mud, and they, as the artist writes, “resemble bears moulting in the spring more than wealthy people who they were not that long ago. Their only baggage is a small suitcase containing the most important things – documents, wads of tsarist rubles and a few photographs, the only factual evidence of their lost lives. On the distant steppes, paradise was gone forever, and my great-grandmother repeated until her final days that they all turned into wild animals to survive in the forest”. To illustrate this tale, the artist uses a fur-filled dress that seems to burst from the inside with animal flesh.

The object is situated between the tamed human form encased in clothing as armour, and the hairy body of the animal. The soft and shiny hair, inviting to be felt, triggers anxiety as a sign of the passage of time. It becomes a harbinger of the inevitable decay swelling inside every body. The hair crossing the surface of the material mocks the sense of security guaranteed by clear boundaries and shatters the disciplined structure. The use of dense fur expanding inside the gown is linked to the fantasy of being wild and role-free, of anarchic defiance of culture as a source of repressive drives, of strength guaranteed by the sharpening of the senses lost in the evolutionary process, of consent to follow the most basic desires.

If Depta-Garapich is inspired by the figure of the bear to reconstruct her family history, and thus to examine her own identity, in Małgorzata Mirga-Tas’ work, it returns out of concern for the endangered species. Its fate is close to the artist because of the situation of the bears of the Tatra Mountains, at the foothills of which she lives and works. 

Although in the history of Roma culture, which Mirga-Tas researches, the tame bear following the caravan as a member of the family occupies an important place, while some Roma families, the Ryćiara or Urusarii, take the group’s name precisely from its figure, the artist’s works reveal another aspect of its role. 

In Mirga-Tas’ textiles and small objects, the bear recurs as a magical figure. The artist makes it out of wax and soot, referring to Roma’s custom of hiding small figures in the barn or farmyard, which were supposed to foretell good luck or misfortune to the house near which they were left. The gesture of placing them within the boundaries of the farm was part of the belief in the unity of matter circulating in plants, animals, weather phenomena, the movement of the planets, and in the four basic fluids of the human body. According to this concept, the world was made of one matter, manifesting itself in different forms – sometimes thicker, other times thinner. By possessing one of them, you gained access to many others, which made it possible to control the environment like a giant machinery based on affinities, connections, relationships and adhesions. The molded figures foretelling the fate of the residents of the house near which they were left concealed predictions of imminent change. They were created using soot – an effect of the combustion process and thus dematerialization – and wax, a byproduct of bees’ work, a material fascinating in its plasticity, evoking associations with touch.  By unifying the meaning of these substances, they conveyed the idea of a destiny that could not be avoided, an inevitable future that lurked beyond the threshold.

Referring to this forgotten custom of the Roma, the artist moulds miniature figures of bears, which for her are messengers of good or bad news. As such, they transcend the framework of rationality, making room for intuition, premonitions and dreams. 

The bears also recur in a series of fabrics stitched by Mirga-Tas from fragments of used clothing. This technique connects to the body’s memory inscribed in materials that still carry the scent, DNA code and traces of the form of past users. Understood in this way, the textiles’ structure resembles fibrous and sinewy matter, which is easily damaged, chafed, and punctured. At the same time, its defects can be quickly fixed  by mending, patching or crocheting, that is, creating on the surface of the fabric forms resembling seams, scars or scabs. 

For Mirga-Tas, storytelling with fabric is a kind of spiritualistic séance: not so much a way to examine the past, but to x-ray the stories that catch the artist’s attention. Thus, in the works depicting bears, we look at the burly figures of these animals, whose shapes seem to emerge from the work of the brain slowed down by the rhythm of an afternoon nap. The works consist of incomplete, fragmented materials, of scraps of heard stories, vague images, conjectures and imaginings recurring from the depths of memory. The bears thus depicted, in all their eeriness, still appear surprisingly familiar, as if they inhabited cosy rooms, forming themselves out of discarded clothes, lying around in closets, and rising from bundled bedding. 

The artist shows them as powerful animals, bringing solace as figures that refer to the vision of the untamed force of nature, which resists subjugation and destruction. At the same time, she emphasizes the utopian nature of the figure of the bear as a cultural construct, growing out of a collective subconscious filled with a longing for the untamable. 

Although each of the artists has her own way of working with the legendary animal, one of the pieces in the exhibition is based on collaboration. In a joint performance, the artists dress in bear costumes sewn from sheep skins. Moving on two legs, despite their disguises, they behave in an ostentatiously human way. Suspended halfway between cuddly bears, moulting polar bears and street comedians, as animal-human hybrids, they transcend outmoded divisions between the natural, the primal, the civilized, and the cultural. They sense that the fantasy of unrestrained wildness has long lost its power. Their attempt to resurrect a bear that is wily and cunning as if it had eaten three hundred devils, an animal impossible to catch and tame, fails. They take off their masks. According to the logic of the fairy tale, time spent in someone else’s skin comes to an end.

Marta Lisok

Translated by Katarzyna Szuster-Tardi

Love and Glory

Two shirts captured at the same moment. They were fixed in an unusual form – stretched upwards, with their yokes stuffed and their backs rumpled. It was as if someone had grabbed the collar and pulled one of them over his head. What is the source of this perception? Maybe there was a need to protect the head from the rain? Maybe the sudden need to shed one’s clothes was so strong that undoing all the buttons proved too laborious? The movement was stopped at this rather than a later moment, the shirt climbed up over the darkness exposing the loins. An impression or idea of an experienced or nearly experienced situation was transformed by the power of artistic transformation into something intersubjectively communicable. Something that can now be experienced by others, that allows one to exchange insights, interpret, be seduced by the line of folds, feel the empty interior and the dust- and crystal-covered surface. The clothing fulfills its task here to some extent with excess, and in another it does not fulfill it at all – as in the Guinness Book record, when, while measuring the height of an airplane flight over the shaft of one of Poland’s mines, “no one has ever been so high while being so low at the same time.”

A shirt is not an object like any other – anyone who knows how to iron it knows this: the neckline, collar, back, fronts, cuffs, sleeves. A shirt is a complex object; a precise construction that has the physical and symbolic power to improve a person. It protects and adorns. It also used to signify membership in a social class.

Didkowski recreated the shirts in resin, with the impression of gravity, the folds of falling matter and the emptiness inside. The relationship between the man and the shirt is mutual and strong, and it is well seen in this emptiness. The shirt is a place for a living organism: an abstract place, beyond topography, GPS coordinates and any fixed embedding in time and space. A place that changes place with its owner – something more than a molt, a shed second skin, a shell. This emptiness, the unnatural absence of a human being, somewhat resembles a ghost figure from family films. The spatially limited absence, the incompleteness of the shirt shows the desire of the object itself, which needs a human body. It is similar from the other side: for the person filling the shirt is the closest object, something that most of all can be had.

The shirt only makes sense as a mutual concern: it protects the body and takes care of one’s image, but it also requires a lot of care – washing, ironing, taking a certain amount of caution not to destroy it, get it dirty, or get it squashed. The relationship with the shirt is therefore intimate and social, formal and personal. Perhaps this is why two appear in the exhibition: one black, the other transparent; one covered with salt, the other with something resembling asphalt. The crystals and dust with which the artist covered the shirts serve to mark the extreme entanglements of the object: from high abstraction and crystalline forms to down-to-earth dirty matter.

Near the shirts is another work – a kind of puke, resembling something between the head of the Loch Ness Monster and a prosthetic arm stopped in the gesture of a bodybuilder doing the so-called kettlebell. This time we are dealing with a simple device for disposing of something, managing excess. The ambiguous form is further complicated by gagging the fictitious water drain with a rag soaked in gasoline.

Didkowski creates art in a post-conceptual spirit – meaning that its materiality, aesthetic and formal qualities have equal weight with its intellectual charge. Extremely saturated with meaning, the objects carry a critical speculation on the idea of art and artistic practice. The series is arranged as a free statement revealing the tension between creation, working with matter, aesthetic reflection and

functioning in institutional and collector circuits, as well as strategies for success that encroach on artists’ private lives.

Didkowski is unable to disguise their positions and escape his ironic nature. Like a jester’s bell innate in his ribs, his art can be neither serious nor just for the sake of a joke – it must have all these qualities at once. As in Benjamin and Kosuth, “…One can also consider that a work with the right political overtones should necessarily possess all other qualities.” Ideology, political and moral should go hand in hand with aesthetic qualities. The modern playful “tactical gauntlet” turns into a knight’s gauntlet, a fight for glory and honor. Defense of the weak and dedication to a higher cause is leveled to the level of the game. And in reverse: the imitation of the voice of the excluded, the appropriation of the class struggle, the phony emancipation discourse gives the game the appearance of a noble struggle.

Once a Tumblr and now an Instagram are churning out the next generation of art dancers who are afraid of even one false step. Ideological commitment or lofty cluelessness allow them to sail confidently across the dance floors of institutions that should be shattered by a fearless desire to make mistakes. Value, right or wrong, is nowadays determined by a split-second, instantaneous fit into a set constantly updated by influential profiles. It’s difficult with every artwork you see to ask yourself a whole list of questions once posed by Dave Hickey, which let me remind you of: “How long will I remember this work, and how long will other people remember it after this exhibition closes? Does this work give more than other works? Is it better than other works in this style? Is it more interesting than the wall in front of which it stands or on which it hangs? Do I adore it, and if so, how long will I adore it? How much will I think about her? Will I miss her? How much does she surprise me? How many words could I write about her? How much could I pay for her? How much would I get rid of her for? What would I give up to have her? How many people agree with me about her? Who are these people? How complex is the constellation of other objects in which this work functions? How strong will it become in the history of art, if at all, and if so, how wide a circle of influence will it find? And finally: does this work have any significance? And does this significance have any weight?”.

The shirts are growing out of the walls, only part of them is visible. Where is the missing rest? Certainly not in the gallery. They have been removed from the art space, like Lawrence Weiner’s painted-on maxim “Far too many things to be contained in such a small box.” Perhaps the problem is not the number of things and the size of the box. Maybe the problem is the practice of fitting in itself. Wojtek Didkowski is strongly skeptical, perhaps even reluctant, about the art world, about the practices and attitudes that this world enforces. But he is also full of faith that this is not the only environment in which to deal with art. It is precisely somewhere out there that the other half of his work is to be found.

Jakub Bąk

otwarcie wystawy: 31 marca (piątek), g. 19 

Wystawa „Pięć nieczystych zadań” składa się z pięciu niezależnych realizacji artystycznych, które odnoszą się do różnorodnych kontekstów towarzyszącej nam nieustannie obrazowej komunikacji. Autorka i autorzy eksperymentują z mediami, które na co dzień stanowią podstawę naszych kontaktów ze światem (fotografią, filmem, obrazem sieciowym, obrazem generowanym cyfrowo, virtual reality).

 Uczestniczkę i uczestników wystawy łączy coś jeszcze – to osoby zaangażowane w struktury życia akademickiego1, pracujące w świecie niespójnych kryteriów odnoszących się do własnej pracy artystycznej, roli nauczyciela oraz uczelnianego funkcjonariusza. Taka pozycja, zazwyczaj przyjmowana za oczywistą, rodzi szereg pytań i wątpliwości. Jak wpływa na charakter twórczych poszukiwań?

 Tytuł wystawy nawiązuje do filmu Larsa von Triera „Pięć nieczystych zagrań” (2003), w którym bohater, słynny dokumentalista Jurgen Leth mówi: „jestem obserwatorem, nie uczestnikiem”. Doświadczenie wspomnianych niespójnych kryteriów, w ramach których funkcjonujemy w dzisiejszym społecznym kontekście, czyni rozróżnienie zawarte w deklaracji Letha wartym namysłu. Wydaje się ono dziś niemożliwe do realizacji. Ale czy jest tak na pewno? Jaka jest zatem rola artysty w nasyconej sprzecznościami i nieprzejrzystymi zasadami rzeczywistości? Prezentowane na wystawie realizacje odnoszą się do powyższego pytania, choć żadna z nich nie czyni tego w sposób programowy, a każda proponuje odmienną, niespójną(!) odpowiedź. 

Piotr Wołyński

 

Olaf Brzeski, Klaudia Figura, Jakub Kosecki, Tomasz Kręcicki, Monika Kwiecień, Jan Możdżyński, Iza Opiełka, Mateusz Piestrak, Cyryl Polaczek, Karol Radziszewski, Anna Rutkowska, Filip Rybkowski, Maks Rzontkowski i Marcin Zonenberg

The Backyard exhibition opens up a story of a seemingly calm, grey, tenement backyard. It presents the works of fourteen artists working in various media, including painting, sculpture, photography and video art. At the exhibition we can recall the memories of playing on a carpet frame / climbing frame, find a lost bicycle, feed pigeons with bread or finish smoking a cigarette. The collected objects resemble various  abandoned, and often forgotten elements, which are randomly located in our backyards. Exhibited like museum artifacts, they take on new meanings and begin to tell their individual stories about the life of small communities.

In addition to echoes of the backyards of childhood, the selection of each work for the exhibition was determined through a tug-of-war between the everyday (of things, phenomena, materials and images) and the unusual and visual character of the work of art.

Tenement backyards are spaces suspended between the private and public spheres. Their visual character, the way they look, results from the eclecticism and randomness of the objects gathered there and the phenomena occurring in those spaces.  They manage to escape the common aestheticisation of the world. The presented works differ from each other aesthetically, but also in terms of the medium used. The empty, white space of the gallery emphasises the aesthetic dimension of each object, and at the same time, complicates the relationship between reality and art, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the backyard and the gallery.

The works presented in the exhibition were created by Polish artists of different generations, who share an interest in everyday life that surrounds us.

 

Opening: 2 Dec 2022, 4pm
Tour: 2 Dec 2022, 6pm
Finissage: 23 Feb, 5pm

Matthew C. Wilson’s works include films, photographs and installations. Wilson’s 2017 experimental film Geological Evidences sits at the center of his solo exhibition at galeria SKALA in Poznań, PL. Geological Evidences was filmed in near-infrared in and around an archeological excavation site, where the tools of human ancestors were found, within a lignite coal mine. The landscape, dominated by a vast pit, invites reflection about the past and future, and the place of industrial civilisation within entangled, long-term processes, ranging from environmental to social. How will the activities of industrial societies be understood by humans of the future or – for that matter – some other intelligent beings, born perhaps from the marriage of technology and organic lifeforms? Such a question, seeded by the film, is expanded upon in the other works in the exhibition in a spiraling of speculations – as if an outgrowth of contemporary science, some future form of knowing – on processes cascading across scales and between the domains of geology, biology, and technology.

Matthew C. Wilson holds a master’s degree in visual arts from Columbia University in New York and is based in the Netherlands. His films, sculptures and installations bring together a variety of entities – humans linked by natural and historical processes, mercurial materials, plants, animals and micro-organisms, hybrid figures and supra-individual entities. He has shown his work at IFFR International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin and the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, among others. The project at SKALA gallery – curated by Arkadiusz Półtorak, researcher at Jagiellonian University’s Department of Performance Studies – is generously supported by the Mondriaan Fonds.

Matthew C. Wilson, still from Geological Evidences, 4K/UHD near-infrared video with sound, 2017.

“Cezary Poniatowski and Radek Szlaga use entirely different artistic languages, their works are based on disperate syntaxes, their grammar is ruled by unrelated laws. Hence the title of the exhibition, referring to two different artistic dialects, but also to the ambiguity of the word “speaker”, meaning in English not only a person who uses its native language but also a source of sounds.

Poniatowski’s monochrome, sometimes oppressive aesthetics echoes the works of Polish sculptor Henryk Morel (1937-1968). It is filled with post-apocalyptic tension, radiating from the once useful objects covered in artificial leather, knocked out of their original functions, gathered again in mysterious dispositions.

Radek Szlaga is on the other hand exploring the joy of playing with a perfectly mastered medium of peinting, breaking its codes, turning it sometimes towards abstraction, sometimes in the direction of mischievous realism. He teases the illustrative, sweeping tendencies known from post-Tuymans artists, generously scattering motifs, setting traps in viewers, and weaving personal stories.

At the “Native Speakers” exhibition in the Skala gallery, the main theme is sound, its importance in culture, but also the vision of its jamming, cutting off and annihilation. On the one hand, music is an element of the emerging identity – in the 1980s or 1990s, recording rock songs on blank cassettes took the form of an almost mystical ritual and a clear declaration of worldview. Radek Szlaga, brought up on the ideals of the Cold War dream about America, reaches for the soundtracks of his childhood. There is no idealization here, but rather a settlement, intertwined with light nostalgia and humor. Hence “Painting” inscribed in the shape of the famous Metallica logo.

Cezary Poniatowski constructs his works from elements reminiscent of rooms that isolate from sound, often their building material are loudspeakers – deaf, hollow, deprived of their principled function. It is a universe of disinherited objects, sometimes sewn together with a thick seam made of cable ties, glaring at the viewer with the empty eye sockets of binoculars. These artworks evoke anxiety, evidence of lack, persistent absence.

Both these archipelagos are linked by references to music – traces of its presence, but also of its persistent lack. And although it is in vain to look for the sound literally emanating from any of the works, the visual rhythm seems to be quite enough. Another element that connects the artists is their immersion in the world of American culture. Radek Szlaga is inclined to the United States at the time of the end of the Cold War, a land full of resolute hope, imprinted in the entire arsenal of popular entertainment. Cezary Poniatowski also draws from American iconography, but the one focused on social anxieties, exploring the post-apocalyptic themes notoriously repeated in the cinema. It all adds up to an intriguing duet that expresses various phantasms, a kind of nostalgia and a passion.”

Alicja Rekść

Cezary Poniatowski (b. 1987) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw where he received his MFA. He mainly works in the fields of installation, sculpture, site-specific interventions.

His recent solo shows include: Heavy Silence, Fonderia Battaglia, Milan, Italy (2021); Relief, Basilica di San Celso, Milan, Italy (2021); Vaults and Swellings, Contemporary Art Centre FUTURA, Prague, Czech Republic (2021); Welcome to Itchy Truths, Gallery Stereo, Warsaw, Poland (2020); Hearth, Jan Kaps, Cologne, Germany (2020); Hereafter (with Sami Schlichting), Mélange, Cologne, Germany (2019); Sick-box, Gallery Stereo, Warsaw, Poland (2018); Compost, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2017). 

His recent group shows include: Material Fatigue, Museum of Textiles, Łódź, Poland (2022); Native Speakers, galeria SKALA, Poznań, Poland (2022); Man’s Traces in Nature, Wschód, Warsaw, Poland (2022); Phantasmata, Public Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2022); A Glimpse of the Setting Remains, Clima, Milan, Italy (2022); Metabolic Rift, Kraftwerk Berlin, Berlin, Germany (2021); All Worlds Are Flat, Blindside, Melbourne, Australia (2021); The Spirit of Nature and Other Fairy Tales. 20 years of The ING Polish Art Foundation, Silesian Museum, Katowice, Poland (2019); Nosztrómo, Ashes/Ashes, New York, United States (2019); Waiting for Another Coming, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2018); Doors of Paradise, Union Pacific, London, United Kingdom (2018); Friend of a Friend in Berlin, ChertLüdde, Berlin, Germany (2018).

Lives and works in Warsaw.

Radek Szlaga (born 1979) – graduate of the University of Arts in Poznań. The artist’s primary field of work is painting, drawing, sculpture and installation. In his practice, Szlaga undertakes exploratory and experimental activities encompassing the visual culture of Eastern Europe and America, combining these themes with his own experience as a migrant. The key to understanding Szlaga’s work is the exploration of identity and the boundary between reality and simulation. His practice is based on both historical research and the introspective mining of his own memories and dreams. Szlaga describes his painterly approach as a ‘way of thinking’ that implies the constant revision and ‘peeling back’ of successive layers of tradition and history through the selective recycling of found and archival images. This often involves a literal ‘copy/paste’ and transferring fragments from one canvas to another.

Selected solo exhibitions: Kill Your Idols, San Celso, Milan, Italy (2022); Diaspo⟨r⟩a, Postmasters Gallery, Rome, Italy (2021); Mercator, LETO, Warsaw (2021); Places I Had No Intentions, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2019); Places I Had No Intentions of Seeing, Museum Jerke, Recklinghausen, Germany (2018); Various Bozies, Mathare Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya (2017); Puritan, Pioneer Works, New York, USA (2015).

Selected group exhibitions: The Worlds Within, Spazio Field , Palazzo Brancaccio, Rome, Italy, (2021); Wild at Heart, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland (2018); The Travellers, KUMU, Tallinn, Estonia (2017); Post-Peace, Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, Germany (2017); this one is smaller than this one, Postmasters Gallery, New York, USA (2016); State of Life. Polish Contemporary Art Within a Global Circumstance, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China (2015); Tribute to Errors and Leftovers, Performa 13, New York, USA (2013). 

He lives and works in Brussels.

Alicja Rekść (born 1986) – PhD in Art Studies, critic, sometimes curator; originally from Łódź. Lives and works in Paris.

 

Art Viewer: Cezary Poniatowski, Radek Szlaga “Native Speakers” at galeria SKALA