Friday, September 09, 2005

Death toy

Zbigniew Libera's series called Lego is a Lego version of a concentration camp. It raises many, many questions, some of which are presented here. The one that I have been discussing with some Polish friends recently is the Venice "scandal". As the article I've linked to mentions, Libera was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale (I think the 1998 edition). He wanted to present Lego. Some time before the Biennale, the curator asked him not to show that particular piece. The artist got offended and refused to participate altogether. It was said, at the time, that Poland is still not a free country after all, that artists should be free to present whatever they wish to, and if one invites them to a show, putting conditions like that is simply censoring art.
I know personally the person who suggested Libera's work shouldn't be shown at the Biennale. The argument was: people around the world have been brought up believing that Poles helped exterminate the Jews during WW2. Contrary to the "Western" countries, Poland never had the possibility of answering, of proving the claims were wrong, until 1989. And after that, there were many other much more important things to deal with than history. Which means that the stereotypes and falsities still prevail. Showing a work like that without a serious comment, analysis, accompanying event, would not only be dangerous, it would be devastating for the slowly-reconvering opinion about Poland.
At the time, most Poles found this to be ridiculous. We knew our history, and found the claims about WW2 so false, so crazy, that most Polish people thought the censorship was a sign of some sort of schizophrenia, of mad political correctness.
A few years later, the Poles woke up. They realized newspapers were being printed around the world that used the term "Polish concentration camps", and others insinuated or explicitly stated that the Poles, being Jew-haters, were delighted to see Germans come in and clean their country, and that the country helped Nazi Germany with the extermination. A huge political scandal erupted, and together with lots of international politics and activism actually managed to make a difference - to the point were the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1944, 200 000 victims), was transmitted around the world, and finally distinguished from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
All this happened long after the refusal of Zbigniew Libera's work. Not many people looked back to think about it. For many Poles, the accusations against them only appeared after 2000. They didn't. It truly is a nasty combination of art, history and politics. One could wish things like that didn't happen. Probably as an artist I would be just as furious and feel just as offended as Libera did. The question remains: what is the responsibility of the artist? And is any context acceptable for showing his work? When is a work a provocation, and when is it an argument in a flawed debate? And does the artist have to be conscious of this? Can't he just do his job, and let the viewers decide?


pedro manuel said...

your post is enlightning regarding that peolple inside their countries sometimes have errouneous ideas about what foregneirs think of them and how that implies a point of view over themselves
welcome back!

Monster said...

what matters: whatever is shown in the official pavilon of the country ( probably sponsored by the goverment?) sticks to the general image of the country and this relationship is important/ see: the US official presentations in Venice


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