> Michał Bieniek, Anna Kołodziejczyk, Anna Stec
curators of the 16th edition of the SURVIVAL Art Review
Thanks to the courtesy of the University of Wrocław, the 16th edition of the SURVIVAL Art Review could be held in a venue that we, the organisers, have been closely observing for a long time – the old palace of the Wallenberg-Pachaly family. Before now, however, it has been out of our reach. Due to the former function of the edifice and its current value (as a cultural and financial asset), the motto and subject of this year’s edition of the Review was Capital.
From its construction in 1787 until the second world war, the palace had two primary functions – the ground floor housed a bank while the upper floors contained a luxury residence of the Wallenberg- Pachaly family of bankers. The splendid building must have attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Breslau before the war, but for the contemporary dwellers of the city it has been “invisible” for years – although located in the very centre of Wrocław, access to it was limited due to the fact that until 2013 it served as the seat of the University Library administration. This year’s edition was therefore even more interesting for our audience, who had an opportunity to explore this unusual and slightly forgotten venue. For the duration of the Review, the palace became a venue for presenting almost one hundred artworks made in different media (painting, sculpture, sound installations, videos, etc.) by artists from Poland and abroad. The main exhibition, which mostly featured works selected from among almost five hundred submissions that had been received in response to an open call, was supplemented with special projects. The opening of the Review was accompanied by the first public reading of a literary work prepared by Jacek Dehnel especially for SURVIVAL. The surprisingly playful and original text, which can be found in this catalogue (p. 81), provided an interesting introduction to the tour of the palace and of the works shown in it.
An important voice in this year’s exhibition was provided by the international milieu of artists, in particular by those invited to participate in the PL-DE Capital project. Prepared by Iwona Dorota Bigos, an art curator and critic, it consisted of a set of works by German artists. The exhibition also included a special presentation of works by students of the Art Academy in Szczecin, the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław, and the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel. Approaching the notion of capital in the context of finance and the economy enabled the artists and curators to analyse a number of issues connected with problems such as the valuation and evaluation of art or the laws governing the art world as well as stock exchanges. It was these issues that prompted us to include two more works in this year’s main exhibition, both borrowed from private collections and important from the art historical point of view. Thus the visitors to SURVIVAL could see Tadeusz Kantor’s iconic work from the Multipart series, borrowed from Sylwia and Piotr Krupa’s collection, and Jarosław Kozłowski’s installation from the OP ENHEIM collection. Meetings and lectures revolving around the abovementioned issues enabled us to analyse the notion of an artwork as a high-risk investment and object of market speculation.
Taking into account the fact that this year’s edition coincided with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’ Capital, the exhibition could not lack critical comments on events and phenomena from the fields of politics and economics. Works presented within the Sound Art Forum offered a variety of listening practices in the context of capital systems, which at a time of permanent digital control and surveillance reveal their political – hegemonic and violent – character to an even greater extent.
It turns out, however, that the notion of capital in the sphere of art was approached by the artists in an even broader sense, not only with reference to finances or political and economic systems. SURVIVAL has for years attempted to analyse architecture as a field in which the boundaries between orders (of the past, present and future) are very easily blurred. As a reflection of that which no longer exists, architecture reveals its impermanence and changeability while showing the volatile and short-lasting character of the capitals behind it. The original aesthetics of the palace as an architectural work and its interiors, touched by time and stripped bare of most decorations, served as a source of inspiration for many artists. Many of the works shown inside the classicist palace touched upon formal or aesthetic problems, providing the audience with an opportunity for deep intellectual reflection and commenting on the categories of beauty, collapse or deterioration through a variety of media.
This year’s exhibition prominently featured projects in which the subject of capital was approached in the spiritual sense, prompting the visitors to consider the symbolic meaning of the term (e.g. the work entitled The Professional by collective Dracena or the multi-aspect project titled The Reconstruction of the Library of Alexandria by Monika Konieczna and Mariusz Sybila) or encouraging them to weave utopian visions of the political, social or economic future (e.g. Magdalena Lazar’s atmospheric video under the title Venus).
In light of the fact that a significant majority of artists who sent a total of almost 500 submissions analysed the notion of capital in a symbolic or poetic manner, refraining from making critical comments about current affairs, would it be justifiable to conclude that we are currently witnessing a change in the field of art? Is it generally true that artists, tired of politics and economics, turn towards aesthetics, spirituality or dreamlike fantasies to provide the audience with a viewpoint that differs so much from what used to be dominant? Or perhaps, as it often happened in the case of SURVIVAL, it was the venue, its history and architecture (approached indirectly through the motto proposed by the organisers) that dictated unique interpretations and for five days made art open the door to an alternative reality, suspended somewhere between a romantic memory of the past and a utopian vision of the future?