Hubert Czerepok Ryszard Górecki Joanna Rajkowska Grzegorz Sztwiertnia






Four positions in modern art in Poland This year, the Essen Kunsthaus is building a bridge to Poland. We invite four young Polish artists: Hubert Czerepok from Warszawa, Ryszard Górecki from Slubice, Joanna Rajkowska from Warszawa, and Grzegorz Sztwiertnia from Krakow. Since the transformations in Eastern Europe, Poland has approached once again, as our Eastern neighbour with whom we share a long common and sometimes conflict-ridden history. At the same time, the country is a "terra incognita", especially for many young people over here. Poland has a very vivid art scene, that we have still to discover. Many Polish artists express themselves very distinctively and often in a provocative manner, even after the country's political and economic rupture. They frequently take strong socio-critical and politically engaged positions. Through our exhibition, we offer an interesting vision of this multifaceted young art scene. With the exposed work and discussions with the artists, our project allows multiple exchanges on present and historical subjects. We are curious to find out more about the understanding of art and the role of artists in Poland, and we are interested in their potential "different view". The invited artists represent four individual positions, and they work with very divergent materials: Hubert Czerepok is a concept artist and realises actions in the public space; Ryszard Górecki reflects sociological questions in object-cases, pictures and graphical works; Joanna Rajkowskas' multimedia installations question the extreme relations between anatomy, consumption and conscience; and Grzegorz Sztwiertnia "explores" body, soul and spirit just like a laboratory assistant.

The Virus of Anarchy and Hope

Polish art in conflict with Polish reality Over the last five years, Polish artists have worked very hard on changing the status of art and on finding a new form of contact with society. This question has become the main subject of many creations and of a lot of art work, just as the question on the status of the artist and on his or her role in society. This is surely linked to the political, economic and social changes that are taking place in Poland since 1989. However, several years had to pass before it became apparent that art needs completely new strategies to confront the newly created reality.
The first idea the artists had was to consider their own bodies and identities - in relation to existential and political experiences. This resulted as early as in the mid-1990s in a number of shocking creations, outraging the public. Among the first was Piramida zwierzat (Animal Pyramid) by Katarzyna Kozyra, built from stuffed animal bodies - a horse, a dog, a cat, and a cock. This new incarnation of "body art" (also called "critical art") was rich in vanitative body representations, and also treated different taboo subjects concerning Polish Catholicism: One of the main art scandals of the time was the video film by Alicja Zebrowska, that showed the birth of a Barbie doll from the artist's own body. This video was part of the happening Grzech pierworodny (The Original Sin). The shock therapy created by the artists belonging to this movement, lead to a deepening of the gap between so-called "contemporary art" and so-called "public opinion". This shock therapy expressed itself through a series of scandals extended by media, that lead to embarrassing statements from politicians and public servants who had previously acted as moralistic censorship of art. Thus, the energy of Polish contemporary "body art" died, following enlightening but sad discussions on the limits of freedom of art and social taboos.
However, in the meantime, another artistic way of handling reality was born. In 1996, Zbigniew Libera presented Lego. Oboz koncentracyjny (Lego. Concentration Camp) - seven sets of the well-known building blocks, representing scenes from concentration camps. And although this work resulted in a scandal as well as in controversial media discussions, even in a legal claim against the artist by the Danish company Lego, it had important consequences for art. In his work, Libera began to play with real products - technically produced requisites of consumer society. He proposed a "virus strategy". The objects he works on are mutants that can disturb peace and order by uncovering the nature of the system in which they are born and maybe they can also improve it. Libera's work for the first time addressed the question of the repression of our bodies under the new economic conditions. He was the first to use the "enemy's" weapon. At the same time, the artist spoke a language that was easier to understand for a broad public than the traditional artist's language, i.e. people know better how to use building blocks and what they are there for, than what happenings and performances are there for. And although this argument is slightly superficial, because besides recognizing the motives, the question of understanding the idea stays open, Libera's creations were actually the first sign for the fact that, even if art happens in the artistic surroundings of a new reality, it can speak the language of a modern shop and not that of a modern gallery.
On the other hand, the artists have begun to be bored in the galleries. This even lead to pretentious activities in galleries like barbecuing, putting up tanning stations or installing video rooms (Hubert Czerepok in the regional gallery in Slubice, 2000). Julita Wojcik peeled potatoes in the noble Warczaw gallery Zacheta (2001), Rafal Bujnowski created T-shirts saying " I don't care about art", and Joanna Rajkowska decided to sell herself, literally, by selling canned drinks containing her own organic substances. This was a good-bye to an artist messiah, the latest pop-style last supper (with the drinks frozen Kobieta w kulkach, Women-balls, were served to eat), a holy communion for the new Polish consumer society. All of these creations were born out of the feeling that everything going on outside the walls of a gallery is so exciting - the transformation of a political system brings new surprises every day - that the inside of the gallery has no chance anymore. Even if this realization has been painful for the artists (because cultural institutions are their most important refuges), it was also a challenge. Bujnowski opened a gallery on the Billboard (Galeria Otwarta in Kracow, 1998 - 2001), and was later preoccupied with the renovation of the outside walls of art galleries (among others, Galeria Bunkier Sztuki in Kracow, 2001). Rajkowska invited people into galleries to let them sleep and dream in the same place (Galeria XXI in Warsaw, 2001). Galeria Zewnetrzna AMS carries out a spectacular project of combining publicity and art. All over the country, several hundred art projects are realized - an interesting development of the "virus strategy" of Libera. Rajkowska made a symbolic gesture by putting up a large palm tree in the center of Warsaw - a very nice idea - that at the same time was an incarnation of an active position against the current reality, and also an expression of the will to change it. The idea is not to transform the system in a real and deep way, which is not the role of artists, but to make an important gesture: the emission of a light reflection that will change reality just for a moment. This is what Cezary Bodzianowski did a short while ago, by emitting a light signal to the spectators of the local evening news. Bodzianowski made use of the fact that in the news, images of a street were shown in the background behind the news presenter. The artist positioned himself in the angle of the camera with a flash light and was thus "unofficially" on the screen. The artists not only spread viruses and make a diagnosis - the phenomenon of diagnosis is a leitmotif of Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, but they also try to lead us through the world which they have contaminated. Last year, Pawel Althamer lead the spectators from the Warsaw center Sztuki Wspolczesnej (Center for Contemporary Art) through a park. During this "walk", he taught the spectators to look on reality, as if it was a movie. Even when we have a limited influence on reality, we can always change the viewpoint unlimitedly.
The virus spread by the artists is the virus of anarchy. It illuminates the weak points of the system in which we live, uses them and destroys the system (just like weeds grow first between the stones of sidewalks, and then in the long run destroy the whole sidewalk). But the virus also brings hope, it teaches us to look at our surroundings from a different angle. It discovers in its strongly mechanized and bureaucratic forms an absurd and unreachable beauty (or empty, abstract forms - like Ryszard Górecki), unveils the possibilities of action outside the large economic system, shows holes and niches in reality, that remain spaces of absolute liberty and chaos. And exactly these spaces, that escape plain logic and jurisdiction - like Rajkowska's palm tree that shall grow in the center of Warsaw - today take the role of security valves for our awareness, they guarantee its safe survival. We are thus facing a very special virus, because it ensures human health.

Lukasz Gorczyca
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