Wednesday, December 07, 2011

After Fishing

"Last will and Testament" by Mariusz Hermanowicz (with Zygmunt Hermanowicz) was an instant crush for me.

After his father's death, Mariusz Hermanowicz discovers, among the things the father left, boxes filled with fishing lures of his father's own design. Some of the lures are finished, many seem more like prototypes, projects. There are also drawings, parts, materials. A universe of lures.
The father, you see, loved fishing. But he was never satisfied with the lures he had. He kept saying how he would make some of his own, which would allow him to catch many more fish. And kept picking things up from the ground, saying they would be perfect for the lure. "But I had never heard that he ever started doing anything from the things he found".
So what are these objects? Have they ever been used? Were they supposed to be used?
"Did he ever try to catch fish with them? Would any fish get caught on them?"

I am in love with this project.
Need I say more?
Would you like me to rationalize love?
(Of course, if you are reading any of this, it is because, like readers of poetry, you believe words go far beyond any silly logos-stories.)

Here are my quasireasons, then:
I love that violence can turn into passion which can turn into art.

The ideal sublimation.
The utopic idea that someone can move from aggression to beauty.

The uncertain heritage. The ambiguity of what remains.

I guess, it is also the ambiguity of what is already there, of what we do, of our own motivations.

The bait transforms into the fish.

The challenge of seducing the fish becomes the fish's seduction.
The man identifies with the fish to the extent that these little pieces of metal, plastic and wood become a representation of fish, or more, like African masks, they are now a reality of their own, with their peculiar morphology and purposeful abstraction.

Yet there is nothing pragmatic about this purpose. There is madness in this reason.

It is a mad inner dialogue with a fish that will never be caught. The fish that blissfuly remains the being-to-correspond. Transforming these carefuly selected pieces of material into the lure that caught me.

(Be sure to see the entire gallery - the series develops at a great pace.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Looking at the robots, I think

David Lewandowski, going to the store

Robot maker Azusa Amino recently won the Robot Japan 2 Dance competition with his 23-centimeter-high Toko Toko Maru robot. 

- they are the un-ego, the dream of letting go of the source. They are a life whose source is the non-live, whose origin is not identical, so a different, non-human causality comes into place. The source, here, is the source-code. And that makes all the difference. Saying it is matter brought to life explains nothing. Think, rather, of metamorphosis, of alchemy, of things becoming not-themselves. (Of us becoming not-ourselves). The robot is not a robot if it remains the sum of its parts. It is a robot when it does something it is not supposed to do - when we see it as inhabiting itself. (It - who?, we ask, excitedly). They are our hope for the unexpected: if we can control everything, and the result is somethig more than what we were making, then there is no everything.
And we can dream on.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The House

This house which is almost gone. Which still has the lines and weight of a house, yet could very well be called landscape. This house which is a set of floors engraved with memories that no one you know could ever read. Things, as people, come and go, yet we believe them to be different, we invest what is left of our faith in this space or that. It's what you think as you move the objects around, pretty damn self-conscious, pretty certain that this armchair in this place is pure iconoclasm. 

You'd rather it were a farm. You would prefer it to be pragmatic, and you would strive for it to be pure function, eliminating any sentiment, oiling the squeaking doors so the sound doesn't leave traces, cleaning the floor so there are no signatures. No time travels. 

Then you picture this farm, and somehow it's not so proper, the weather is muddy, or maybe that's the way it always looks, there are traces everywhere, things have a rhythm they will never ever retain, things have a rhythm they will never ever give up. It is your wildest dream, and this land is full of you, it does not allow you to leave. You seem to have been here long before you've ever pictured this place.

You move back, trying not to stare, so as not to keep any of this. Then you see the roof, its perfectly symmetrical form (it is not symmetric, but that is how you see it), its blissful abstraction. The way this alien form remains here. Now, yes, you can leave. You exit the picture, you go back to the house where the armchair is elsewhere, you walk out through the garden, and you take your hard-earned sight to another nest.
Nicholas McLeod, The Farm (2010)

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Political Sight - Konrad Pustoła's 'Views of Power'

What do you see?

This, here, is an image of power.
Pure and simple, it is what a specific person with power sees. Out of the window. Every day.
Some of the Views of Power, a project by Konrad Pustoła, could be postcards. They are annoyingly nice. Others - most of them, actually -  seem violent in their chaotic setting.
And so, the game begins - can you match the picture to the person? Does it tell you something more about who the person is? Or is it vice versa - the person informs your view of what this view is?

After taking the pictures, Pustoła posted them on billboards in every possible corner of the city.
No, it's not about the contrasts. It's not about looking for contrast. Rather, it is about asking yourself, what is this power? What does this view have? Do I want something from it? What could I possibly want - and expect - from this? Each context is a confrontation of one view with another. It shows the complex web of relations that go beyond a simple decision-making process. For it is clear, here, that we are part of this world of power to a much greater extent than we might think. We co-define it. Which makes it less surprizing to discover the familiarity of some of these views.

One of the most exciting aspects of this project is perhaps the most obvious one - why this window? What is this person's power? It's like trying to discover what are the superpowers of some superhero - only here, there is no super. The power is quite real. It can be power over the soul, the body, the political body. But we can name it, one way or another. And through this simple choice, of deciding this is a person with power, Pustoła provokes us, saying, look, I've made my choices, those are the views I associate with power, here and now, where are yours?

The accent on our capacity to choose power comes across even in the formal approach: these pictures are not attempting to be particularly nice, or ugly. They aren't shot as panoramas, which could seem an obvious solution. But a wrong one. It would suggest that the picture sees it all - that there is, indeed, a panorama. The "standard" angle is a political choice. It tells us clearly, this is the view. The limits are part of this game. They provoke us, ask for alternatives, answers, consequences other than the ones we already have. The billboards set the record straight: if power is always symbolic, the symbol requires context more than scope. The choice, and hence the power, is sharp as a small and precise frame.

There is one more aspect of this simple and effective work.
It was made locally. I was told the plan is to have the scope broadened. I like it as it is. It was made in one Polish city - Krakow. It is the third largest Polish city. Not the capital. Not the center. Neither the periphery. It is one place in the world. And a few windows. Where's the power? In the view, of course.
The views, in order of appearance, belong (?) to: Wisława Szymborska (poet and Nobel Prize Laureate), Magdalena Sroka (v-ce President of Krakow), Jerzy Meysztowicz (businessman), Andrzej Wajda (film director), and, below two of the pictures on billboards, cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How It Works

You do things.
You try it, this way, that way. You stray, you flop and then you flip again, and something, some things come out of it.

You do them and please, please, you think, do not ask me what I'm doing, what my political take on this, for the moment now I just have a political in-take, the out is not political to my best knowledge. Fortunately, your knowledge is not best. You see, you do things.
And although most of them, you can honestly say, you know little about, the matter speaks for you. (Which, of course, does not mean you do not try to talk with it, for it, explain it, relate it and convey it, extrapolate it, and prove where it, the matter, stands).
Some of the works you work, frankly, are worthy of the highest criticism. They are, yes it has been said before, the flops. Or worse, they have the wrong ideas, wrong media, wrong impressions and plenty-wrong outcomes.

Yet within these plenty-wrong outcomes, things are born. And these things might just make connections, little roots holding on to little pieces of earth. Not that roots hold on to any particular piece, but this metaphor just decided to go its own way, and we at New Art listen to metaphors, so yes, there might be no palpable piece of anything that the roots hold to, yet the work (by now it is work) is starting to appear as if it were actually something, about something, into something, for something. It gains weight.

And then, at some ungiven points, not necessarily at the end or at any sort of finale, the Holy-Flip happens. It could be a form, it could be filled with air or helium, it could be pretty far away from you, but still yours, still stemming from this surprizing head. You might say "things came into place", but you have no clue what you are saying, you don't have the perspective, you just enjoy it, the fact that now it seems clear, there is a connection, things are being said which you knew you wanted to say or wanted someone to say, some other head maybe.
And you know what? When it works, it's so simple.

* * *

All the works above are by Marina Decaro. The first and last image are from a work called "4 ojos" ("4 Eyes"), 2007.

Disclaimer: Marina De Caro was not consulted before writing the above text, and it is not meant to portray the development of her career. The above text is fiction and any resemblance to real art life stories, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Sharing the Sensible (In a Rich Man's World)

The thing is: I'm very excited about performance moving forward. And I love how it invades all sorts of territories. I do it, watch it, write about it. It's my cup of tea. That is precisely why I don't want to leave it with an "interesting experiment" tag. Experiments have their consequences, results, and it seems crucial not to stop at the freshman enthusiasm for everything about everything that is anything new. What I like most about the experiment I will criticize below is that it dared to go far, to talk to people, to uncover hidden layers in unexpected places. And yet, it troubled me.

In Gerardo Naumann's "Factory" performance during the Warsaw edition of the inspiring Ciudades Paralelas festival - we are taken on a guided tour of a functioning factory (in Warsaw it was an enormous steel factory). However, this is not your average tour. Here, we get the possibility of witnessing private stories of workers, to hear who they are, both within the company context and outside of it. The tour is at times poetic, at times simply human and direct. Every presentation mixes the description of a person's job with more personal matters. Our first guide is the factory's technical director, then we go all the way down the (wage) hierarchy to the gardiner, who also has his stories, telling us of his love for 60's music (Deep Purple et al.) and even making us listen to some of it. A truly human experience in an unexpected context.
So what is it that makes me uncomfortable about it?
It is an unwilling, yet uncritical, PR event for a huge, powerful and hardly uncontroversial business.

The project seems to follow closely the teachings of French philosopher Jacques Rancière - for several years now he has been advocating a change of paradigm in the way we look at others. Teaching something, or learning, should mean, above all, realizing how the way other people see the world is just as valid as ours - it is a structure that is already a "complete" structure, they are also "teachers" and we - students. To put it in other words - everyone is competent. It might just be a question of acquiring the possibility to further develop this competence.

Rancière gives this example: workers in a factory can also be seen as art aficcionados, as they have their (art, or aesthetic) specialities, their passions, their expertise. Tapping into this is, according to Rancière, a crucial step towards going beyond the simplistic emancipatory claim of passing on the "correct" sensibility.
The "Factory" project follows Rancière's ideas closely. And yet, all the while achieving an arguably closer relation with the subjects/performers, and while making us feel a bond with many of them, while amazing us with the aesthetic aspects of a factory, its dynamics and dramaturgy, it fails in an important aspect: it underestimates the power of the structure it works in.

"Just" showing the lives of the workers is never just showing their lives. It necessarily functions within the context. And this context, here, wins. The tour/performance becomes a scarily effective way of implementing propaganda. We are still given stories about how magnificent it is to work here, how everyone is happy, safe, friendly, how everyone who worked in the factory during communist times participated in strikes, and how the only mentioned case of someone getting fired... got immediately offered another job. And because a skillful theater director does it, we hardly feel manipulated. On the contrary, the "genuine" feeling prevails. We leave happy that things are as they are. We love the stories, the people, the parallel city, the way it works, the world it works in. It is difficult to imagine a better publicity.
But wait - could all this be true? Maybe it is a good company? Maybe it is happy and safe and the best of possible industry worlds? Well, it's enough to make a quick news check - there was a fire in the factory just a few months ago, and just recently the company just layed off many of their executive personnel (apparently they were transferred to another company for "effectivity reasons" and were subsequently fired). I dig a little deeper. ArcelorMittal - that is the name of the company, is owned by the 6th richest person in the world (with a personal wealth of $38.1 billion - link). The company made 10 billion dollars profit last year alone. On the other hand, since the company started taking over Polish factories, it diminished its staff by some 3000 workers in Poland (ca. 25%).

This type of criticism could be contested. Should this matter? Should the work of art take this into account?
Can it? How?
Can we play with the system, within the system? Can we work our works so as not to become victims of the same propaganda we would usually receive - or worse, not just victims, but advocates?
Or can we ignore this and consider that not all works of art need to be political, or not necessarily in that sense, that it can also be about the people who work there, that they too have the right to be important subjects, and not just the megarich owner of their company?
But if we just move in and focus on them, while remaining on the factory ground, if we call it a Parallel City (Ciudades Paralelas means Parallel Cities), aren't we playing the status quo game? Aren't we the perfect PR people, giving the company - and the world which it co-creates - our seal of approval, a "positivist" acceptance? (A disturbing trait of the performance is that the workers/performers come and go - without too much of an introduction, and with no goodbye whatsoever, so while we are kept entertained, they have nearly no chance of receiving our recognition, or of establishing a human contact beyond the script. The beginning and the end is clear - it is the Ciudade Parallela, the company, not the people). Doesn't the critical art, so cherished by Rancière, become uncritical because of the very same (human) aproach he proposes?

So how are we to make - and look at - art in all those parallel cities that are more and more often taken over, or at least manipulated by, the powers that be, be they economic, or more directly political?
The fight here is indeed a fight over the sharing of the sensible - how do we value what we see? How can we reevaluate it? What sort of sharing is this? What do we want out of this situation? How can we, as artists, but also as viewers (viewers are artists, but artists are viewers too, to many people's surprize), find a common ground without becoming the agent of some powerful megastructure? Should we worry about it?
Banning the word "Facebook" on TV might seem like a silly idea, but I know some theater companies who do not use any brands in their shows. And for them, it's not about having the power to change the world. It's about enjoying the possibility.


Curiously enough, I was told that when Naumann made an analogous performance in Buenos Aires, the factory was a small and badly run one, and some commentators thought he was too rough on it, making it look very bad. One possible answer is: this format simply gives you the possibility to take a peek inside - and whatever you find there has been there already. But another possible explanation is: it may not be enough to implement a "personal guided tour" formula if we want to move beyond the small industry into the big guys' terrain, where they know how to charm us, seduce us, and make it appear like it's all immaculate. Then, it seems, it would need to be a whole new ball game.


I have a vague recollection of reading about a performance by the great Brazilian visual artist and performer Hélio Oiticica (I couldn't find the reference now). I believe it took place in the 70's. Oiticica walked around the public space, pointing at different objects. The spectators which followed him understood (were told?) that through the gesture, the objects acquired the status of works of art.
Oiticica's enchantment with the world seems clear. This is what the world is like, he seems to be saying. Look at this piece of art! I couldn't have done this better. The only thing I can do is to point it to you.
What would happen if Oiticica did the same thing in the factory? Would the objects he pointed at stop becoming art? Certainly not. The factory would gain the status of an aesthetic object - it would become the same marvel as any of the trees, benches, stones, clouds. Look at this piece of art! I couldn't have done this better.
Could we not?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Allan Kaprow on installation and performance

Now, I think those two words, installation and performance, mark accurately the shift in attitude toward a rejection or sense of abandonment of an experimental, modernist, position which had prevailed up to about, lets be generous, up to about 1968-1969, and began gradually becoming less and less energized. So, I think what you’re getting there is the flavor of modernist exhaustion and incidently a return to earlier prototypes, or models, of what constitutes art. And it’s no accident that the majority of most performance nowadays, there’s not much installation anymore, by the way, the majority of those performances tend to be of an entertainment, show biz, song and dance, in which the focus is on the individual as skilled presenter of something that tends to have a kind of self-aggrandizing, or at least self-focusing, purpose. It is artist as performer, much like somebody is an entertainer in a nightclub. And they’re interesting. Some of them are very good. I think Laurie Anderson is very good. She’s got all the skills that are needed in theater, which is what this is. Many others who jump on the bandwagon, coming from the visual arts, have no theatrical skills, and know zilch about the timing, about the voic about positioning, about transitions, about juxtapositions, those moment by moment occurrences in theater that would make it work. But it’s another animal, whether good or bad, from what we were doing, and I think, in general, even the good ones are a conservatizing movement.

- Allan Kaprow, 1988 (full interview is here)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Black Square: Malevich and The World That Wouldn't Die

Here it is: the end of the world.
I am standing in front of it, and it looks like shit.
It is Kasimir Malevich's "Black Square", it hangs at the New Tretyakov national gallery in Moscow, and it is dirty, tired, bleak, so unimpressive it is embarrassing to see.
And yet, that is the end.
This can well be seen as the point where art enters the other world zone, leaving our poor miserable world of bodies behind. This art is spiritual, declares Malevich, and I am ready to believe him, not on faith, but because at this point faith is the only thing that can carry me as a viewer. To appreciate it - I think while standing in front of the painting - I need to believe that what my mind brings me when looking at this painting, it brings thanks to the painting. (And that it's worth the trip). Any thought, then, is a belief.
The painting is all cracked, it seems like it lived through terror, two wars and a revolution (it did).

For a while, I wonder what disturbs me in all this. I take Malevich's painting as an ever-returning challenge. We are challenged to accept this or go beyond this. We are challenged to deal with the out-of-this-worldliness of aesthetic creation. Supreme it is.

I thought all this quite disappointing, a concept I would have rather kept as a concept, a story, rather than seeing it translated into a poor somewhat-black square. But what about the painting? Doesn't it have anything to say? The cracks are most probably the result of the artist being in a hurry (it seems he put the black layer over the white one before the latter dried out). The strokes, we can clearly see, are uneven, quick, there is nothing uniform about this, and even the outside lines of the square are uneven (he is said to have painted it free hand, and very free it was). It is not a good square. Or, no: it is not the square we are told it is. It is a square that tells the history of its creation, the story of the tension, the energy, the impatience. It is a clear window into something that happened, into a performance of painting and a moment of life. In that sense, the painting appears better than we ever could have dreamed. It goes back to this world. The painting outdoes the painter - through unveiling something more than what he had planned.
Inside of the cracks, if we watch carefuly, we see another color, it is not black or white, and at moments it seems like it's not grey either. It varies from spot to spot, it is reddish, brownish, somewhere close to the color of flesh. It is the color of revenge. The revenge of the painting.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Four Propositions Concerning Art Blogging

My first proposition is: Blogging is about being stupid.
It is accepting that I do not know what I should know before starting to write. But wait! "Should know"? Let me rephrase that: blogging is accepting that there is no required knowledge to write. In part, it is accepting Beuys' affirmation that everyone is an artist. Everyone is an art-writer. Everyone is a potential member of the art milieu. And this everyone also means different aspects of me. Suddenly, the quickness of the form, it's simplicity, encourages me to move forward. To take risks. To dare write something I am not sure of. One could say this is the continuation of the beautiful tradition of Montaigne's Essays (which translates into Attempts). Yet here, the very way it is created and shared encourages the risk, encourages the attempting to see where the thoughts, the words, took me, take me, might take me. But that is just the first step. Because the consequences are quite far-going.

My second proposition is: Thanks to the internet, writing about art can become closer to making art.
The problem with writing is what is usually considered it's greatest advantage: it stays. Letters form words which form sentences which are a pest - they do not let go. So anything you write can and will be used against you, be it literally or metaphorically, by someone, or by yourself, reading what you wrote many years ago.
Writing, then, must become serious. You have to weigh your words. You become responsible. Meaning, what you write needs to pass the test of an imaginary future reading.
The internet may not seem different, because here things also stay (you can find all the internet publications from the past at However, there is so much happening, and what you publish has so little apparent weight (you don't feel it, hold it in your hand, share it physically), that even the concept of a "virtual" world seems logical. And yet the beauty is that "virtual", here, is quite real. The letters still turn into meaning - and practically instantly, they turn into social meaning.
But maybe because of the lack of weight, as opposed to other circumstances, when writing the blog, I don't feel obliged to anything. My distance to what I write about can change. I can be a distant observer, and then suddenly move close, challenge the work, ask it questions, see where it takes my thinking. This limit of private/public allows me to think to myself, but in a way that creates a new type of space, a new type of relation. Am I still writing about the work, or am I writing myself into the work? After all, I have no obligation to be a critic. Because I define what the blog is, I do not need to correspond to any criteria - and so the writing can become more personal, more experiential - sharing the experience I am living. And, as my experience is often related to creating new works, the limit becomes blurred - the work I write "about" (or "from" or "out of") is working its way into the one I am (sometimes unconsciously) thinking about or preparing.

My third proposition is: The models of participation in art change because of the internet.
This new type of sharing has other consequences. As opposed to most art writing, it becomes difficult to define what exactly is my position in the (traditional) world of art. Am I reviewing, creating, alluding? It is up to the reader to define what role my text plays in his experience of the art/world.
But also on the scale of the art milieu, the situation becomes more fun.
Am I a big, important fish, or an insignificant lost fish? Reading the blog it is hard to say. And that is, because it really is hard to say. The art market tries to establish market rules - artists have values that either go up or down, and if the art businesspeople had it their way, art would really be an extension of the art market. But this model is greatly inadequate for art, and I am the proof. After a few years writing the blog, I had more and more people contact me. One of them was a curator at the Warsaw Centre for Contemporary Art. He wanted to link to me on the Centre's online (and sometimes offline) review called Obieg. Suddenly, people from the milieu now considered me as an insider. Several people asked me "How did you manage to convince them?". Apparently, they were not used to a model which goes beyond traditional, linear processes. Of course, these new models are far more complex, which can be quite exciting: I can participate in a review and be written about, my work can be the subject of my own analysis picked up by someone from another site, the blog could potentially be published in a paper edition, it becomes a sort of a one-man-show that keeps evolving. Galleries start considering the blog as a serious partner, they become interested in the person, other artists contact me, first as a publisher, then as a person, new unexpected projects come up... All this has been happening. And every time it does, it seems the definition of what I do shifts.

My fourth and last proposition is: Blogging about art can be an exercise in moving.
The great and crazy composer Cornelius Cardew once wrote: "Notation is a way of making people move. If you lack others, like aggression or persuasion. The notation should do it. This is the most rewarding aspect of work in a notation. Trouble is: just as you find your sounds are too alien, intended for a 'different culture', you make the same discovery about your beautiful notation: no one is willing to understand it. No one moves."
A similar thing happens with writing my art blog. This is one way of changing the conditions of living, or appreciating, art. When it works, you feel how it takes you elsewhere. "You" meaning me, but also you, the potential reader. And yet, every once in a while, you, no, I discover that the reading remains on a level I am not satisfied with. It becomes a reading of another text, and so, once again, I have written a different text to the one I was writing. This happens, of course, with every creation. However, the blog, the internet, has this wonderful capacity of allowing for the exercise to be constantly exercised. I go back, I rewrite, I answer myself. I enter dialogues. Exercise. Yes, that is what blogging is for me - an exercise in moving.

The above text first appeared (in a Russian translation) in the Korydor online magazine, as part of the Kyiv Offline project.
The picture is Seeing Got Us Here (A Bunch of Leaves), 2010, by Wojtek Ziemilski.


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