> Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz
Even Faster, Even Higher, Even Stronger. Choosing the figure of Ludwig Guttmann as a starting point, Irmina Rusicka and Kasper Lecnim’s video recorded in the former Jewish Hospital paraphrases the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius by showing football practice in the abandoned venue as strenuous training of aggression and strength. Referring to the ethos of self-improvement and competitiveness, the artists travesty the motto of the Olympic Games to challenge the paradigm of unlimited growth and the logic of eternal acceleration. The sense of Guttmann’s pioneering actions aimed at activating and increasing the fitness of people with spinal palsy, which eventually led to the establishment of the Paralympics, is reinterpreted here in a perverse manner. Supporting the independence of people with mobility impairments was a crucial task in the 1940s, when veterans, often crippled, had returned home. Rusicka and Lecnim, however, refer to modern society, in which war functions as a phantasm and knowledge about facts seems to evolve and disappear; memory of victims is replaced by fantasies about heroes.
Ludwig Guttmann, a doctor of the Jewish Hospital in Breslau who, after forced emigration to Great Britain, became an iconic figure in the struggle for the rights and respect of disabled people, has been almost completely forgotten in the city where he spent a considerable part of his life. Likewise, the history of the facility known as the “railway hospital” has been wiped out from memory of Wrocław dwellers. By analysing the processes of erasing traces, rewriting memories, confabulating and constructing alternative narratives and identities, Concealed tries to describe that which still eludes perception and memory, but may soon present itself. Just like in Rusicka and Lecnim’s video, in which the former Jewish Hospital provides the context and setting for defining the conceptual and visual space of the work, the exhibition entitled Concealed approaches the architectural and historical fabric of the edifice as a canvas for its story.
W złuszczonej, olejnej farbie korytarzy szpitalnych piwnic odbija się wideo Na chwilę Konrada Peszki obrazujące rozbiórkę niszczejącego szpitala kolejowego przy ul. Lea w Krakowie. Odmienne losy obu budynków, które w pewnym momencie społeczno-politycznym połączyła forma państwowej własności, skutkując takim samym przydomkiem w języku lokalnej społeczności, stawiają pytania o społeczną funkcję architektury w zmieniających się realiach społecznych, ekonomicznych i politycznych. Wideo Peszki łączy elementy fotograficzne z animacją 3D, przekształcając rozbierany – czy rozwarstwiany – budynek w rzeźbiarski model, ukazujący stopniowo odsłaniane warstwy śladów własnej historii. Utajone splata intymne opowieści z geopolitycznymi i historycznymi narracjami; odmienne perspektywy spotykają się w nieoczywistych zbieżnościach.
The flaking oil paint in the basement of the hospital reflects Konrad Peszko’s video For a Moment, which depicts the demolition of the deteriorating railway hospital in ul. Lea in Cracow. The dissimilar fate of both buildings, which at one socio-political point were linked by the form of state ownership that resulted in the same nickname attached to them by the local community, raises questions about the social function of architecture in the changing social, economic and political realities. Peszko’s video combines photographic elements with 3D animation, transforming the demolished – or stratified – building into a sculptural model, gradually revealing layers of traces of its history. Concealed interweaves intimate stories with geopolitical and historical narratives; different perspectives come together in unexpected convergences.
W zrealizowanym w budynku byłego Szpitala Żydowskiego dokamerowym performansie Natalia Papaeva recytuje mantry – wokalne wibracje mające oczyścić umysł i ciało, których nauczyła ją babcia. Artystka sięgając do rodzinnych tradycji i przekazywanej międzypokoleniowo wiedzy, używa mantr, by poradzić sobie z niepokojem, stresem i lękiem. Jednocześnie te uspokajające rytuały wywołują w niej poczucie osamotnienia, wynikające z oczekiwania pomocy od wyobrażonego bytu raczej niż bliskiej osoby, na co wskazuje też tytuł Próżnia. Samotność, poczucie odosobnienia i alienacji to wątki przewijające się na wystawie w różnych kontekstach, jednak ich odmienne manifestacje prowadzą do trudnej diagnozy kondycji współczesnej jednostki i społeczeństwa ujawniającej wypierane lęki, uczucia i traumy.
In her performance for the camera lens recorded in the former Jewish Hospital, Natalia Papaeva recites mantras – vocal vibrations intended to cleanse the mind and body, which she learned from her grandmother. Drawing on family tradition and intergenerational knowledge, the artist uses mantras to deal with anxiety, stress and fear. At the same time, as suggested by the title Vacuum, these soothing rituals evoke a sense of loneliness, since she expects help from an imagined deity rather than a real person. Solitude, a sense of seclusion and alienation are threads that appear in various contexts at the exhibition, but all of them hint at a worrying diagnosis concerning the condition of the modern individual and society, struggling with repressed fears, pent-up feelings and traumas.
Relację pomiędzy świadczeniem i pamięcią a traumą bada Agnieszka Mastalerz w wideo zrealizowanym w byłym Szpitalu Dziecięcym Bersohnów i Baumanów w Warszawie, w latach 40. pozostającego na terenie małego getta. W tej pracy, performowana przez 11-letnią dziewczynkę choreografia bazuje na archiwalnych fotografiach z 1945 roku z Miejsca Pamięci w Neuengamme w Hamburgu. Kilkadziesiąt zdjęć ukazuje klatki piersiowe dzieci przewiezionych z KZ Auschwitz w celu prowadzenia na nich badań nad gruźlicą, ich uniesione ramiona sterowane dłonią dorosłego mężczyzny. Mastalerz wprawiając w ruch tę tragiczną dokumentację, wskazuje na związki pomiędzy medycyną i przemocą wiodącą do dehumanizacji, stawiając pytanie o rolę pamięci i tożsamości we współczesnym definiowaniu rozwoju i postępu.
The relationship between evidence, memory and trauma is investigated by Agnieszka Mastalerz in a video shot in the former Bersohn and Bauman Children’s Hospital in Warsaw, which in the 1940s was situated inside a small ghetto. In this work, the choreography performed by an 11-year-old girl is based on archival photographs from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial in Hamburg, taken in 1945. Dozens of black-andwhite images show the chests and hands, sometimes raised by an adult, of children transported to Hamburg from KZ Auschwitz in order to carry out research on tuberculosis. By setting this tragic documentation in motion, Mastalerz points to the relationship between medicine and violence that leads to dehumanisation, simultaneously posing questions about the role of memory and identity in the contemporary definition of development and progress.
Beniamin Głuszek w pracy opartej na analogowym encefalografie odtwarza zapis aktywności falowej swojego mózgu (EEG) podczas snu i przekształca go za pomocą instalacji dźwiękowej w drgania – elementów encefalografu, podłączonych do niego strun, wreszcie fal cząsteczek powietrza w pustym basenie z potężnym pogłosem. Głuszek nawiązując do historii szpitala, przypomina tu postać Adolfa Becka (1863–1942) – krakowskiego neurofizjologa, odkrywcy prądów czynnościowych mózgu i pioniera encefalografii, który swoje pierwsze badania prowadził za pomocą galwanometru strunowego. Praca Struny snu – muzyka na EEG solo jest także hołdem złożonym Alvinowi Lucierowi – ojcu chrzestnemu wykorzystania EEG w muzyce eksperymentalnej (Music for Solo Performer, 1965) i sztuki dźwięku (Music on a Long String Wire, 1977). Próba zapisu własnego snu – podświadomego i niezapamiętanego – i przetłumaczenia tego, co niewyrażalne, na odmienny język dźwięku okazuje się tu bezsłownym zabiegiem translacji umożliwiającym subiektywny odbiór tego, co najbardziej osobiste i ukryte.
The group of works addressing the relationship between history and the hospital interiors outlines a seemingly contradictory semantic area in which treatment and therapy are inextricably linked with violence and transience, unexpectedly making concealed traces of the past and repressed memory topical and current. This invisible lining, the hidden reversal of meanings, emerges not only on extensive historical and social planes, but also determines the everyday life of each individual. Often, that which remains unconscious and unknown shapes the essence of our identity, making itself felt at the most unexpected moments.
Beniamin Głuszek in his work based on an analogue encephalograph recreates the recording of his brain wave activity (EEG) during sleep and transforms it into vibrations by means of a sound installation. The encephalograph with attached strings triggers waves of air particles that powerfully resonate in the empty swimming pool. Drawing on the history of the hospital, Głuszek makes a reference to Adolf Beck (1863–1942) – a neurophysiologist from Cracow, discoverer of brain action current and pioneer of encephalography, who conducted his first experiments using a string galvanometer. The work titled Sleep Strings – Music for Solo EEG is also a tribute to Alvin Lucier – the godfather of using EEG in experimental music (Music for Solo Performer, 1965) and in sound art (Music on a Long String Wire, 1977). Głuszek’s attempt to record his own dream – subconscious and not remembered – and express the inexpressible through the language of sound becomes a wordless translation procedure, offering a subjective insight into that which is most personal and hidden.
W odmienny sposób temat prezentowania siebie we własnej sztuce podejmuje Marta Borgosz, która w tryptyku Patrząc–Widzieć z cyklu Zawody tworzy swój zmultiplikowany autoportret. Szereg monumentalnych pływaczek – każda w socrealistycznym stylu przedstawiająca artystkę – umieszczony w szatni naprzeciw basenu w nawiązaniu do postaci Guttmanna stanowi o zmaganiach o fizyczną sprawność i doskonałość. Odczytana przez pryzmat oporu wobec wywieranej na kobiety presji piękna i seksualnej atrakcyjności praca kwestionuje stereotypowe relacje pomiędzy płcią a sprawnością i sprawczością. Ten powrót do problematyki analizowanej w pierwszej na wystawie pracy wyznacza podwaliny budowanej tu opowieści, w której splatają się intymne wyznania z geopolitycznymi i historycznymi narracjami.
Marta Borgosz adopted a different approach to revealing herself through her art. The triptych Looking to See from the Competition cycle consists of the artist’s monumental self-portrait multiplied in the socialist realist style. Placed in the changing room facing a swimming pool as a reference to Guttmann, the series illustrates the struggle for physical fitness and perfection. When viewed from the perspective of resistance to the pressure of beauty and sexual attractiveness exerted on women, the work questions the stereotypical relationship between gender, fitness and agency. This return to the issues analysed in the first work at the exhibition sets the foundations for a story in which intimate confessions are intertwined with geopolitical and historical narratives.
The ground floor of the building presented works addressing various features and aspects of the venue revealed through interventions in its architectural fabric. The installation I See You, resulting from cooperation between Aleksandra Trojanowska and Beniovska, focuses on our incomplete perception of the surrounding world. Rubbish collected on different continents provided the background for microscopic recordings of microbes living on it, creating visually fascinating but inaccessible worlds. Similarly, audio recording of the sound of rubbish became the basis for Beniovska’s multi-channel and multiroom installation. The artist refers to Maryanne Amacher’ concept of perceptual geography, which is a sound sculpture based not on the source of sound, but on its reflections from the existing architectural elements and interaction with the listener’s ear. By emphasising that which usually goes unnoticed, the artists stress the influence of the audience on the reception of a work, both at the level of biology and mechanics as well as choice and commitment.
The installation It Will Shift Again (Molting Stage) by the Inside Job duo shows a post-apocalyptic landscape in which an abandoned building becomes an independent ecosystem full of mysterious objects that seem to parasitise on the architectural fabric or create a symbiotic relationship with it. The interpretation of the unrecognisable shapes, which trigger associations with organic forms, outlines of human bodies or traces of their existence, depends on a subjective, often anthropocentric reading of this world devoid of people. The installation contains elements alluding to ancient civilisations, creating a peculiar, timeless environment which seems to be capable of annexing the entire space by acting in accordance with its own autonomous rules.
A perverse strategy of annexation of the existing space was used by Zofia Pałucha, who incorporated her drawings into the architectural and colour divisions in the room, allowing the visual chaos of the interior to dominate the display and, indirectly, determine the reception of her works. Her somewhat surreal drawings, combining girlishness and darkness, sexuality, playfulness and anxiety, are based on a hybrid structure and surprising contrasts. Pałucha brings out hidden fears; the “concealed” refers to the shameful, deeply hidden, repressed, unsaid and unobvious, which the artist perversely merges with the fabric of the venue.
The different tactics explored by the artists to reveal the hidden and visualise the unnoticeable often concentrate on the building itself, treated as a conceptual, historical or architectural frame divulging various aspects of the subject’s identity. Sil Krol’s minimalist intervention in the form on extending the pillars supporting the porch so that they would protrude above the roof remained almost imperceptible, although it endowed the facade with an absurd character. The visual coherence of the intervention coupled with the absolute uselessness of the added elements quickly led to rationalisation and confabulation – many visitors “remembered” neon signs or signboards that supposedly once stretched on the ephemeral structure. Architecture as a source of error – not only as monuments falsifying the past, but also as an incorrect structure based on erroneous assumptions, conflicted with the body that occupies it – becomes an important area for the negotiation of meanings.
Isabel Marcos focused on the concept of softness as an antithesis of architecture, proposing gentleness and fragility as resistance strategies and spaces of critical thinking. The recording accompanying the work says: “A drop in a full bucket is a member. A droplet on a dry surface is a dome.” Concentrating on the notion of water, which in the operating theatre can be perceived from an organic or environmental perspective, the artist confronts the softness and fluidity of the human body with the rigid structures it occupies.
The paradoxical antagonism between modern medicine and the human body is also manifested in the work Aroma by Pracownia Sezonowa, whose aromatic installation uses natural essential oils to not only exceed the architectural divisions of the building, but also to erase its olfactory past. By referring to aromatherapy and herbal medicine – in which health and illness are understood differently than in “Western”, hospital-based medicine – as well as aetiology and therapy, the artists confront the audience with a mysterious inhalation, a phenomenon at the intersection of medicine, art and nature. Emphasising the holistic and personal dimension of ecology, Aroma can be viewed as an invitation to experiment with an alternative lifestyle, one in which anthropocentrism is replaced by an awareness of being a part of a huge and complicated organism.
An alternative vision, in which architecture bears the hallmarks of a living being, is proposed by Karolina Balcer in her work Rapunzel. Created from blinds discovered in a hospital room, the installation triggers associations with the long hair of the eponymous heroine, conjuring up a fantasy vision of the building as a living organism. The artist makes use of the phenomenon of pareidolia. i.e. perceiving familiar, mostly anthropomorphic shapes in random details, which indicates not only the conventionality of perception, but also the difficulty of adopting a non-anthropocentric point of view. At the same time, Balcer’s installation can be treated as an example of working through modernism and art history by making a reference to the traditions of post-minimalism and the readymade. Such diverse interpretations resulting from the adoption of different methodologies and cognitive perspectives indicate the non-homogeneous character of the contemporary humanities, full of mutually exclusive narratives and often incompatible cultural theories.
In the installation Ship of Fools, Agata Jarosławiec and Grzegorz Kumorek revisit Plato’s allegory about a ship with a dysfunctional crew, which has been subject to numerous redefinitions, e.g. by Sebastian Brant in the 15th century or Michel Foucault in the 20th century. Using materials that can be typically found in a hospital, the artist’s work symbolically addresses the subject of social exclusion of sick, dependent people, maladjusted to the requirements of society and deviating from what is considered acceptable and desirable. However, Jarosławiec and Kumorek’s vision of the ship offers no hope – all that is left is elements of the wreck, prompting the viewer to think about who would board the ship today. This reference to a classical topos of the Mediterranean culture and its reinterpretation seems to suggest a vision of civilisation as a looped history of exclusion.
The symbiotic relationship of man and nature, which has been discussed for centuries, is the subject of the video Symbiosis (group of artists: Felix Müller, Johanna Eichenberg, Nikoletta Angelidou, Fathi Gasimli, Nicolas Imbert and Dylan Kerr). Preceded by an anonymous quote from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan – “You tell your nightmare so that the water would clear your bad dream and take it away from you,” the film is an abstract and laconic story told in the visual language of camp. The ambiguity and understatement of Symbiosis deliberately tasks the viewer with the need to interpret the narrative and finale of the short film, in which we watch the hero looking at the screen, allegedly torn in the fight between life and death. Since the work is situated at the end of a corridor, the projection creates a para-mirror situation in which the viewer is looking at the viewer; at the same time, it serves as an introduction to works presented on the next floor, which are based on intimate confessions, stories, anecdotes and futuristic visions.
The exhibition section focusing on personal and social narratives opens with Karina Marusińska’s painful and intimate work entitled Callousness. It consists of two elements: the audio installation Open Conscience Surgery and the interactive installation Getting Into the Skin, in which the artist returns to her violent childhood. The words coming from the loudspeaker constitute fragments of interviews with the artist’s relatives and friends answering her question (which she was unable to ask directly) about why they never reacted, knowing that her father was using violence against the family. The title of the work describes the artist’s diagnosis of social insensitivity to the suffering of others and the rejection of a sense of personal and social responsibility to help people around us. To remedy this situation, the artist created a library of bruises imprinted on laboratory dishes, which, when applied to the skin, symbolically help to “get into the skin” of victims of domestic violence. Marusińska uses her personal experience of coming out with a painful and intimate story that she hid for years and confronting her loved ones to better understand our contemporary social condition, characterised by a lack of empathy, egocentrism and a sense of alienation.
A different diagnosis of the contemporary social condition is given by the Zapora Group. The artists suggest the existence of a new socio-behavioural disease called “porquemia” (from Spanish porque), whose symptoms include “inconvenient and unanswerable questions spontaneously arising in the patient’s head and the compulsive need to ask them. The afflicted also complain about impulsivity, causing frequent misunderstandings and controversial situations, exhibit opportunism (which often leads to deportation) and a tendency to give early advice.” To treat porquemia, the Zapora Group suggests using Porazol – Panaceum to All Evil (100% cut leek), which was offered to the audience by sales representatives in the hospital pharmacy and laboratory. The action and installation humorously comment on modern addiction to dietary supplements and the search for panacea to contemporary ills, following the neoliberal logic of advertising, competitiveness and attempts to capitalise on social anxieties.
Patryk Różycki, whose focus on himself determines the sense of his installation, urges us to ask questions and search for our true selves through introspection. By creating the extensive and intricate site-specific installation titled Room for Finding Yourself, whose centre is occupied by an almost empty tent illuminated by video projections and surrounded by photos, drawings, graffiti, inscriptions and elements of sculpture, Różycki clearly reasserts his right to egocentrism, negating the obligation to be involved or interested in anyone or anything other than himself. In the artist’s opinion, this attitude – quite radical and morally ambiguous from the perspective of both current and historical discussions about the social responsibility of art – can also benefit others. Różycki expressed the hope that his room would inspire the audience to engage in similar self-analysis, look at themselves and “understand their own strangeness.” This practice requires a certain duality – being at the same time the object and subject of one’s scrutiny – and, by annihilating the distance between the observer and the object, theoretically eliminates the influence of the background or context of the action.
A radically different modus operandi was employed by the anonymous artists who secretly and unexpectedly placed their installation in one of the rooms. It was only when the festival was already in progress that they revealed their names: Paweł Kreis and Michał Michałczak. A dodecahedron-shaped object with 12 speakers randomly selected one of them to generate white noise, which permeated the entire room. The emitted sound – a type of acoustic signal with a completely flat spectrum, i.e. equal intensity of sound components – was perceived differently depending on the exact position in the room, which was due to the change in the location and directivity of the sound source (individual speakers in the dodecahedron). Kreis and Michałczak proposed a situation in which space and listeners became composers by being able to shape the received sound, whereas the object itself was only an incitator. The experience was intensified by a flashing lamp whose stroboscopic rhythm drew the visitors to this guerrilla intervention.
The relationship between sound and architecture was also investigated by Bouke Groen, an artist interested in invisible undercurrents, overtones and hidden sentiments. These basic mechanisms determine our relationships with other people and the world around through cognitive filters, social consensus, private motivations or unspoken fundamental beliefs. From this perspective, Groen views overtones amplified by reverberations in the architectural space as a metaphor of subtle entanglement, connotations that persist just below the surface. Since each space resonates with different frequencies due to its size, shape and type of walls, Groen in cooperation with composer Renske de Boer mapped the entire hospital and created a composition for the choir, with each part dedicated to a specific area in the building. It was only when the choristers performed the composition that the true properties of the hospital interiors were revealed, reverberating with music written specifically for them. Thus architecture was translated into the wordless sound of human voice, which described concrete spaces in a subtle and sensual manner.
In Dylan Kerr’s performance Árcze n-Athasz, the analysis and deconstruction of the word provides the starting point for the artist’s examination of the parallels between Ireland, where he was born, and Poland, where he lives. Kerr focuses on the similarities arising from religion – its impact on the cultural and national identity and social traumas caused by the Catholic Church. The ritual process of deconstructing the language of religion and constructing a new linguistic hybrid opens up a therapeutic space, in which there is room for whatever has been denied or rejected. Kerr intertwines his private story and personal experiences with social and ideological changes sweeping through both countries, exploring whether a new type of spiritual community could possibly emerge.
A bloodcurdling look at globalisation and multiculturalism is presented by Horacy Muszyński in his “most pickled film of the year.” In Kishonia, a European city suffers a plague brought on by the invasion of murderous pickled cucumbers. A group of scientists, including a Japanese expert on Polish food, try to unravel the mystery of the cucumber plague and save humanity from this pickle. Playing with the convention of Bhorror films, Muszyński creates a comic story that quickly turns out to be an exaggerated reflection of contemporary problems. Combining threads such as the refugee crisis, a rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe, and a conservative identity policy aimed at preserving the mythical national characteristics or values, Muszyński questions “Polishness” as a contemporary category and provides it with a new founding myth, read by the iconic voice actor Tomasz Knapik. Considering Polish history from a queer and matriarchal perspective appears here as an alternative identity, as alluring and fascinating as it is unlikely.
In the adjacent room there was an object which, according to some, came into being due to excessive consumption of pickles. Jerzy Kosałka mockingly referred to the curator’s motto of the Review with his work The Seventh Anniversary of the Removal of Latent Stones, commemorating the extraction of a number of kidney stones by means of the endoscopic-laparoscopic technique at the urological department of the Railway Hospital in 2012.
According to the artist, the presented object, consisting of the kidney stones and a magnifying glass placed in the former operating room, also reveals the alchemical potential of his body, capable of transforming nutrients into valuable works of art. During the festival, a ceremonial unveiling of a plaque commemorating this momentous event and signed by the Association of Polish Visual Artists took place. The simultaneously mocking and self-mythologising gesture performed by Kosałka perversely combined his own artistic myth with the recognition of the absurdity of creating art commissioned to suit the curatorial concept. Thus the artist’s medical history was treated not only as a pretext for celebration, but also, due to the absurdity of the situation, as a means of revealing the often frustrating mechanisms behind the functioning of the modern art world.
A number of featured works by artists of the younger generation focus on redefinitions and reinterpretations of history and culture, taking into account previously marginalised points of view. Agata Lankamer in her work @promisedland_75 #comingout uses selected shots from Wajda’s film The Promised Land to focus on sexual tension and homosocial desires of the main characters. As the title indicates, the artist also presents this work on Instagram, referring to the logic of gifs and the incessant publication of several-second-long videos that are often devoid of context, but enable infinite looping. By abstracting selected frames from the chronology of film narration and replaying them, Lankamer opens up the possibility of viewing the screen adaptation of Reymont’s novel from a queer perspective.
Exceeding historical narratives was also the intention of Great Love Collective (Kamila Czosnyk and Jerzy Norkowski), whose performance titled Ruts confronted the stories of the artists’ families on both sides of the war barricade. By inhaling laughing gas and simultaneously insisting on posing questions about the contemporary significance of nationality in general and Polishness in particular, the artists ultimately reduce the entire debate to the limits of comprehensibility and absurdity.
Maciej Cholewa in the work Father Talks about the Supermarket draws attention to the retrospective negotiation of historical narratives and interpretation of specific events. The starting point for the installation is a video combining found footage and recorded memories of the artist’s father, who grew up in Silesia in the mid-1970s. With hindsight, some of the games described by the artist’s father, such as throwing human bones unearthed during preparatory works for the construction of a supermarket in the site of a former Jewish cemetery under lorry wheels, can be easily dismissed as barbaric and antiSemitic. However, when told from the point of view of a child, without a forced sense of shame or insincere guilt, they point to the social ignorance of Jewish history at the time and the systemic omission of subjects connected with PolishJewish relations in education. What comes to the fore in the father’s stories is boyhood combining mischief with innocence, childishness evolving into masculinity through pranks testing the limits of acceptability and security. A comparison of mischievous acts from the 1970s and practical jokes played by boys today triggers indirect questions about the mechanisms of exclusion and intentionality or thoughtlessness of certain actions which, from today’s perspective, could easily be condemned as expressions of a radical ideology. In a way, Cholewa’s work summarises the part of the exhibition devoted to personal narratives, alternative interpretations of history and attempts at its redefinition through values that are considered important by artists.
The remaining works on the first floor focus on dreams, fantasies and visions of the future. Agata Wieczorek devoted the work called Beauty Makers to the phenomenon of female masking – a relatively new practice in which mostly heterosexual men put on silicone masks or full bodysuits to transform into their female alter egos. Female maskers very rarely wear their disguise in public, preferring instead to function in private spaces or dedicated internet groups. The key idea behind this subculture is the duality of human nature and the belief that man contains two sexes. The mask becomes a medium that makes it possible to express and experience the “second,” female nature without giving up the native male identity. In cooperation with members of this subculture, Wieczorek shows an alternative world in which identification and pleasure are based on dichotomous logic, leaving room for non-binary and fluid identities. Beauty Makers emphasises the emancipating and revolutionary potential of hidden desires and fetishes, viewing non-normativity as a viable alternative and a chance for a better future.
A different vision of the future, revolving around artificial intelligence, is proposed by the artists behind the complex and multi-layered installation Immanuel. Farnoud Fathi, Seyedbabak Modarresirohani, Amir Basij, Foroud Bayat, Babak Modarresi Rohani, Ashkan Rezvanian, Behrost Basij, Behnam Khorsandian, Armin Tajikin, Amirali Monjar and Mohammad Hossein Rahmani designed a multi-stage experience consisting of reading a graphic novel, visiting an arranged laboratory, conducting experiments and looking for clues in it, watching a video, and finally meeting the eponymous Immanuel via VR. By creating an immersive environment, they enable the viewer to gradually enter a future vision in which research objects try to live a separate – but inevitably short – life, whereas humanity is entangled in existing conflicts and problems, carrying fears and resentments from generation to generation.
Yet another possible future is designed by the Oleg&Kaśka duo, whose extensive installation takes the viewer on a peculiar journey through individual “ecosystems.” Starting from the traces and reminiscences of past civilisations, which raise the question of what will remain after our civilisation, to a moment of transition hinting at Kafka’s Metamorphosis, to possible escape scenarios, Oleg&Kaśka construct an original visual essay on surviving and coming to terms with reality. Oscillating between a vision of the future as a depopulated world inhabited by happy crisp- -eating cockroaches and compulsory affirmation of and participation in technocratic capitalism, from which the only escape is madness and abandonment of reality, their work Is the New World Even Possible? seems to suggest a negative answer to the eponymous question. Finishing the story told by the works on this floor in this way corresponds with a sense of a crisis of values that permeates the exhibition, at both individual and social level.
The last of the exhibition floors is devoted to works focusing on medical issues and treating the past function of the hospital building as a key thread in reflection on the relationship between the body, art and creativity. In Sanfilippo, Agnieszka Jaworek addresses an incurable, genetic illness that has affected people in her family. The disease mainly afflicts children, who develop normally during the first years of their lives, but as the condition progresses, they gradually lose all the acquired skills. The abstract form of the work refers to a photograph of entwined jellyfish found by the artist in a book on terminal diseases; here, it becomes a metaphor of the inseparability of the patient and the genetic condition whose burden they carry. The soothing swoosh of the sea accompanying the installation, so different from the subject of the work, acts as a reminder that the life of patients suffering from sanfilippo can be full of joy despite its premature end.
The everyday life and routine of hospital life is the subject of the action Now Came the Hour of Death of the Winkle Gloomily Loitering in the Pyjamas by the Młode Suki collective (Iga Świeściak, Grażyna Monika Olszewska and Jan Baszak), whose work was performed at the times of serving meals in hospital, which marks the patients’ rhythm of the day. The artists intertwine various elements of hospital reality – boredom and inaction interrupted by walks through the corridors and sounds of popular entertainment shows coming out of TV sets, waiting for the next series of carnal ministrations, the smell of burnt milk soup and the nurse fetish. Młode Suki liken the experience of a Polish hospital to a carnival, recognising the annulment of social hierarchy and class privileges as their shared features.
An opposite vision of the hospital is proposed by Pierre Jodlowski in his work and spectacle San Clemente, titled after a Venetian island where a psychiatric hospital functioned for 130 years. Its colloquial name – “island of madmen” – emphasised social exclusion and separation of mentally ill people. In 1977, Franco Basaglia, director of a shelter for people devastated by psychiatric treatment, asked photographer Raymond Depardon to document the misery of patients interned in asylums before their liquidation under the law of 1978. Jodlowski’s video presents a series of shots and choreographies inspired by Depardon’s photographs, but the patients’ gestures and poses are repeated in the interiors of a luxury – thus equally inaccessible – hotel, into which the San Clemente hospital has been converted. The quadraphonic soundtrack is based on a piece composed for a performance under the same title, which conjures up the ghosts of the former inhabitants whose existence the new owners would like to hide.
The usually unnoticeable acoustic properties of the venue have been carefully examined by Agata Kneć, who referred to Raymond M. Schafer’s concept of soundscape. It can be applied not only to vast, open spaces, but also to smaller ones, in which the bodies, internal organs and components of people, animals and machines emit rich and varied sounds that make up the final composition. In her sound installation titled Tremor, hospital rooms are turned into an instrument-organism that undergoes surgery, reacting to the movement of air, presence of living beings, changes in the electroacoustic field, vibrations of the building and electronic equipment, and sounds from the past. The interpenetration of geo-, bio-, anthropo- and cosmophonic systems adds up to form a metaphony – the full spectrum of wave phenomena that ultimately affect the sense of hearing. By recognising the components of the sound environment, Kneć’s interactive installation reproduces the full map of the soundscape, bringing out those aspects that are usually sensed rather than consciously experienced.
The impact of socialisation and internalised norms and conventions on perceiving and expressing the world is the subject of a project based on the cooperation of two people, an adult man and a six-year-old boy. Focusing on issues such as the unrestricted expression of a child in the face of cultural codes and institutional conventions, Piotr Blajerski and PUC created the PUC UNLATENT installation, which consists of a mural based on the boy’s drawings inspired by the venue and a video documenting the entire process. For PUC, drawing is an important form of expressing his individual and unique perception of the world. When confronted with the space of the hospital, the boy sketched a world of sick lynxes, full of surprising and disturbing illustrations of pain. By inviting a child to co-create the project, Blajerski referred to our projections about the boundless and unfettered imagination of a small child, which turn out to be a fantasy about transcending culture. The artist perceives acculturation as a painful process based on violence; creating order, or ordering narratives, is viewed by him as being inextricably correlated with violence. PUC’s work can be naively interpreted through the prism of fantasies of culturally mature adults concerning a manner of expression that has not been formatted by social norms. On the other hand, the very format of the festival imposes the obligation to create a “work,” which calls into question the independence and agency of the young artist. PUC UNLATENT casts doubt on the very possibility of such cooperation, which is stretched between the duty of care, mentorship and respect for the individuality and subjectivity of the child while being supposed to “reveal” the latter.
The notion of non-professional artistic expression and its significance also appears in Monika Konieczna’s work The Rooster of my Childhood, in which the artist, grappling with the difficult experience associated with the venue, returns to a work by her mother. A few months before her death, when she was a patient at the Railway Hospital, Jadwiga Konieczna began to paint, mainly floral motifs and still lifes as well as landscapes and genre scenes. Monika Konieczna decided to show her mother’s paintings exactly in the same room in which she passed away, hanging them around the now non-existent hospital bed occupied by a loved one. The mother’s works are accompanied by her daughter’s canvas, which is a response to her works and a personal reinterpretation of her composition – and another goodbye.
Insofar as the oncological disease in Konieczna’s work is shown from an individual, personal perspective, the interactive installation by N.C. Honghoon Chung, Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar and Alperen Şahin is based on cancer metadata. By showing the subsequent steps in the search for patterns in growing datasets, the artists point to a paradoxical situation: an increase in the amount of incomplete information makes it more complicated to discover significant relationships. datastasis is an interactive audiovisual environment based on The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), which contains genetic data for thousands of patients broken down into 32 different types of cancer. Over 600 million data points are used to compute higher and lower level feature sets specifically designed to provide a multi-modal immersive experience. In their raw form, numeric values in TCGA data are largely indistinguishable from noise. When machine learning is employed to cluster this data, aesthetically and dynamically diverse patterns emerge. These patterns or their lack are linked to algorithmic visualisation and generative soundscape. By entering the installation space, viewers influence the sorting algorithm by randomly transforming the audiovisual environment. datastasis, which highlights the depersonalised perspective of research that transforms a sick individual into a chaotic set of data describing the disease entity, crowns the part of the exhibition devoted to the medical aspects of the concealed. In medicine, “concealment” is a term that can be used to describe the failure to provide information or evidence, for example concerning a disease. However, at this exhibition, searching for what is developing but not yet revealed goes beyond individual therapy. Concealed concerns space, history, identity, desires, fears, past and future. It is an attempt to see the hidden truths and lies in interwoven stories and pinpoint premonitions and fears while trying to see that which remains to be seen.
Małgorzata Miśniakiewicz: Concealed. In: Art Reviev SURVIVAL 17. Catalogue, Wrocław 2019, p. 34-100.
Irmina Rusicka, Kasper Lecnim, “Jeszcze szybciej, jeszcze wyżej, jeszcze mocniej / Even Faster, Even Higher, Even Stronger”
2019, video, performance
photo: Małgorzata Kujda