Accounting for Platonic Love
The collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw on Show at the BWA Gallery in Zielona Góra
The collection of Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, initiated in 2009, gathers art works of contemporary artists, primarily those executed after 1989. Its goal is to describe the history of Polish transformation in a wider, global perspective by works of art.
The title of Roman Stańczak’s "Accounting for Platonic Love" aptly describes the contemporary crisis that has hit the enlightenment values in the midst of a period of political and cultural pushback. Today this situation has led to a populist reckoning of accounts for the recent, rather idealistic dips into brazen visions of social equality and inclusivity. "Accounting for Platonic Love" is but another name for today’s feelings of resentment and the populist distaste for meritocracies. It’s also a form of reckoning and punishing acts of emancipation, an excess of universalism within the world in which paternalistic structures have ceased to be a given.
Daniel Knorr’s work consists of balaclava-style headgear designed especially for the Statue of Liberty, endowing this monumental allegory of America with another visual symbol – one with a tendentious association with terrorism. Titled "Freedom Radiating across the World", the work has gained another dimension of symbolism following Donald Trump’s win of the presidency. As an allegory of a Trump’s America, which isn’t as much radiating freedom but, rather, spreading an entirely different, disturbing set of values. Knorr’s statue is installed in the space outside BWA’s entrance, masking the gallery’s characteristic relief by Szpakowski in the modernist style that usually takes up the space. Knorr’s work enters into an intense dialogue not only with the nature of the space itself and its role as an art institution, but also with the immediate area outside the gallery, the urban promenade filled with other sculptures that have defined this city in terms of its cultural and historical identity. Within this context, Knorr’s ‘anti-monument’ appears to be in competition with these objects, placing a daunting, terrifying sense of anonymity at the centre, undermining all other narratives of identity.
Abu Hamdan’s "Earshot", presented in the BWA exhibition space that is separated from the street only by a broad sheet of glass, is a work vested in the post-truth era. It functions along the blurred line between art and fine aesthetics of technical imagery that exhibits evidence in a murder investigation. Here the analysis is based on what we consider the truth in today’s understanding of public life. Hamdan talks about an incidence of yet another tragic death that did not see justice in spite of the irrefutable scientific evidence that was available, used instead as a way of manipulating public opinion and mobilising one particular group of voters.
Stańczak’s work titled "Accounting for Platonic Love" is the fruit of a collection of women’s stockings, acquired by a fetishist, worn and then painfully ripped off. It’s based on the paradoxical attempt to enter into dialogue or experience empathy for someone very different from ourselves, an attempt to identify with someone locked within a sexual obsession. Stańczak isn’t capable of driving the process of empathy all the way home because impediments get in the way – the impossibility of identifying, understanding the subject, which leads to a painful impasse. The founding traditions of Oskar Hansen and Grzegorz Kowalski, which have informed Stańczak’s approach to art, represent the ideals of a systematic improvement of methods of interpersonal communication, which clash with the ever-present social aspects of conflict, suffering, illness, silence when the time comes to stand up for someone else, which pervade our reality. Stańczak, aside from the documentation of the performance, also presents the sculpture that came about over the course of the work’s creation – a monument of sorts to male fetishism and sexism in which a woman is akin to an object.
Vlassis Caniaris’ work "Child" is a sculpture made out of rags and trash, frozen in a playful gesture of greeting. It is rooted in contrasts which combines arte povera with politics as another narrative devised by Canarias about the precarious state of manhood today, of the degradation it’s undergone as a result of post-industrial capitalism. Caniaris’ sculpture primarily deals with the state of the Gastarbeiter over the course of their migration in search of work, their weak negotiating position, the inability to support a family, the loss of dignity and ableness. It speaks about poverty and how it is passed down from one generation to the next. This troubling vision of a playful rag doll boy can be referred to the imaginarium of pop culture and thrillers, which have internalised the rationale of socially-based resentment. Looking like a scarecrow, the boy might be the ghost of someone who was unjustly hurt, one whose humiliation has turned into untamed anger. The appearance of such a figure in film foretells scenes of bloody vengeance carried out against those representing the well-off middle class.
For her anti-war series titled "o.t.", Miriam Cahn reaches for the convention of childish drawings, boys‘ fantasies of weapons and aggression. Cahn’s work operates in vibrant, optimistic hues, becoming a medium that manifests hidden violence and brutality that pulsates beneath the social structure, which, in turn, suffuses the existence of a young boy. Moreover, o.t. is another work by this artist that reveals her interest in male and female roles in society and their attributes. Brutal violence is depicted not only through tanks and guns, but also through a man’s hairy arm. Its victim’s gender is not important – we only know that they are weaker than their perpetrator.
The work by the American duo Rob Pruit and Jack Early came about during one of their visits to Warsaw in 1993. It was rooted in an attempt to describe the optimistic beginnings of Polish capitalism from the perspective of visitors who took a critical approach to the system itself. "Unplugged in Warsaw" shows the birth of Polish capitalism in the early 1990s as yet another way of revamping cultural patriarchy. It demonstrates how the pop culture movement at the time addressed boys with a message that set masculinity up on the basis of sexist and hedonist schemas.
Much like Sarah Lucas, Kader Attia bases his work upon the problemitisation within the opposition between civilisation and barbarism, the coloniser and the colonised. In "Culture, another Nature Revised", the faces of wounded veterans of the First World War have been sculpted in the vernacular aesthetics of the ritualistic art of Africa. Their European faces, their role in the establishment of colonial empires, loom as totems, as gods of war. The scars on their faces, camouflaged through surgery in the European vein, stand out in these African sculptures of celebration. The knowledge about life blocks their denial and impossible attempts to make them disappear.
The painting of Piotr Janas is also focused on emphasising the material qualities of the body and the effluvia that it’s made up of. Physiology and its manifestations become an element that is strictly political, life in its starkest guise. We view a scene that is the result of the body’s degradation, the effect of violence, deformation, convulsions, death. This scene is also full of intensity and, paradoxically, a painterly beauty.
Teresa Margolles often bases her works on depicting ‘relics’ that have come about as a result of an act of violence, a remnant of its victim. In the work "127 Bodies", she creates a line of threads that were formerly used to sew wounds on the corpses of anonymous victims of street crime in Mexico City, most of whom have been killed by male perpetrators. The resulting, seemingly abstract, minimalist line stretches across the gallery, building on the strength of its material evidence as this specific object acts in response to history. This is the history of poverty and the powerlessness of victims and investigations that don’t lead to justice. As with the works of Kadera Attii, the ideal contemporary form is constructed through violence.
Zofia Rydet, much like Sarah Lucas, takes advantage of the poetics of surrealism. In both instances, parts of the body, ruins of an ancient world or human-shaped puppets serve to create an apocalyptic vision – referring both to tragedies of the past (for Rydet, this was the Second World War) and those which loom inevitably. In both series, entropy is depicted through a sense of vitality, the erotic energy of living, which is associated, rather, with a woman’s body.
In a similar way, Jonathan Horowitz’s work "Untitled (Arbeit macht frei)" creates a vision of the times in which we live that is stretched between two cataclysms. The artist has recreated – based on a photograph found online – the cut-up sign that hovers over the entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It had been cut into three pieces during a heist ordered by a Swedish neo-Nazi in 2009. The work considers how we remember the Holocaust today and how fascism is being reactivated today as yet another catastrophe to come. As in the work by Stańczak, the subject of fetishism rears its head. Where are fascist symbols set in a culture fueled by the Internet, one in which the sign of the title can be transformed into a dangerous symbol in the context of a fascination of the ideology that created it in the first place?
The exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw’s collection at the BWA Gallery in Zielona Góra runs alongside a show of works by the Sędzia Główny (Chief Judge) group drawn from the museum’s video collection (Filmoteka).