I See Things That Are Not There

I See Things That Are Not There

The exhibition "Vedo Cose Che Non Ci Sono (I See Things That Are Not There)" is a short story about museums and their compulsive and also capricious need of collecting objects - a feature that distinguishes these institutions as a building tool for writing and drawing on both history and art history.

The works in this show refer to the process of distortion of the most popular historical narratives of today and the methods of reporting individual biographies. The artists, who are aware of the strategies adopted in museums, make a manipulation of language and memory. In doing so, they anticipate what and how should be remembered, either in the case of the obligatory rhetoric of the "chosen people" (Uklański) or in private mythologies (Bąkowski, whose work - considered a monument dedicated to a conversation between the artist and a friend - gives the title to the entire show).

The exhibition mainly consists of works from the Museum’s collection. The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw is one of the youngest art institutions in Europe (established in 2005) which has already developed an intensive program of exhibitions, although it does not have its own permanent building yet. The Museum, among other activities, contributes actively to the production of new works referring to its local environment and political and social transformations taking part in rewriting the recent history of art, in which forgotten or misunderstood artists from Central and Eastern Europe find a place within the international art history canon. The opening of the exhibition "Vedo Cose Che Non Ci Sono" at the Polish Institute in Rome offers visitors a taste of high-level institutional strategies and, not surprisingly, it coincides with the Roman opening of MAXXI - National Museum of XXI Century Arts. At the same time this show is an "addendum" to the international debate on the future and mission of public museums.


Wojciech Bąkowski, Tania Bruguera, Oskar Dawicki, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Sanja Iveković , Deimantas Narkevičius, Agnieszka Polska, Katerina Šedá, Piotr Uklański

Wojciech Bąkowski „Widzę rzeczy, których nie ma” (I See Things That Are Not There), 2009

Sound installation by Wojciech Bąkowski – a musician, film maker, and poet; his works on the one hand follow the tradition of Polish animation, and on the other, esthetics of contemporary street art. Bąkowski’s modest, even somewhat formally “poor” works are often compared to the art of the Polish avant-garde poet, Miron Białoszewski. “I See Things Which Are Not There” is composed of an empty space with double walls emitting non-verbal sounds. The words in the title were once said by Piotr Bosacki, artist and musician, who wanted to make his friend understand that the problems he was usually grappling with were illusory. Bąkowski says, “And I replied – you have it worse. You don’t see things which are there”. The artist calls this work a monument to that conversation.

Tania Bruguera „Consummated Revolution”, 2008-2009
(photographic documentation: Jan Smaga)

In summer of 2008 Tania Bruguera participated in a conference organised in Warsaw about the consequences which the political events of 1968 and 1989 had on art scenes in Central and Eastern Europe. Instead of giving a lecture she offered a performance to the following instructions: a group of blind people dressed in military uniforms was asked to flirt and sexually approach passers-by in a location of historical and ideological significance. The event took place in front of the Palace of Culture and Science – an edifice built in 1955 which for many Varsovians remains a symbol of Soviet domination and an icon of the past regime. The work was an illustration of, among other things, a dream of the sexual revolution which, for reason of communist discipline and control, was never truly fulfilled in this country.

Oskar Dawicki „Bałwan cytatów” (Snowman of Quotes) , 2005

The Snowman is an ironic vanitative sculpture (and the artist’s self-portrait) made of unusual material, namely snow, which requires constant care, an institutional “life support” strategy, and participation of third persons in its production. Once the sculpture is presented at the exhibition (displayed in a refrigerator), the snow melts and the only thing remaining are the buttons. This only solid part of the work contains quotes from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. A fragment from Book 10 could perhaps be the motto for the ironically melancholic tactics of the artist, Either thou livest here and hast already accustomed thyself to it, or thou art going away, and this was thy own will; or thou art dying and hast discharged thy duty. But besides these things there is nothing. Be of good cheer, then.

Aneta Grzeszykowska „Album”, 2004

Aneta Grzeszykowska’s “Album” is composed of two hundred photographs, which the artist and her family have been collecting over the past thirty years. These are typical family photos, taken with no artistic intentions, but which in 2004 were subject to a peculiar transformation – Grzeszykowska has meticulously removed herself from all of them. In some of the photos the lack of the artist is obvious (an empty space in a class photo or an absent child in her mother’s arms); others the images are of a more abstract nature with pieces of landscape or unusually framed house interiors. Grzeszykowska enters a game with the mechanisms of remembering and forgetting by manipulating the viewer (what are we actually looking at?), at the same time letting the viewer into her own emotions and a somewhat “degraded” biography, presented without the main character.

Sanja Iveković „Solidarność bez kobiet” (Solidarity Without Women), 2009

The main theme of Iveković’s latest work is the position of woman in a post-transformation society. The project realized upon the invitation of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw focuses on the marginalization of women who had participated in the establishment and activities of the breakthrough liberation movement of “Solidarity”. Aiming at constructing a “monument to the invisible women”, the artist concentrates on the private narratives which have not been included in either the leftist or the rightist discourses of contemporary political life in Poland. One of the elements of Iveković’s project was a publication in the “cartoon” edition of Krytyka Polityczna (issue edited by Artur Żmiejwski and Maurycy Gomulicki) of a series of portraits of women who had been engaged in the political opposition, and who, as Iveković writes, have been deleted from collective memory.

Deimantas Narkevičius „Into the Unknown”, 2009 duration time: 19’45”

The film by Narkevičius was produced from archive propaganda footage from 1970’ and 1980’s kept at the British Film Institute, made for the famous GDR film studio – DEFA. The materials make up a report from a peculiar world which has actually never existed, presenting an idealized, noble, but also extremely disciplined image of life in the Eastern Block. Characters in the film are loyally performing the roles they have been given in this communist scenario. The audio interruptions appearing in the film – comments in English about human relations with nature, as well as pieces from the Czech feature film, “Vyzva do Ticha” (1965) – come from “alien” sources and disturb the idyllic image of stable life in the paradise for workers and intellectuals, introducing a schizophrenic instability which was part of the everyday experience of those subject to propaganda indoctrination.

Agnieszka Polska „Objects”, 2007-2008 "My Favourite Things”, 2010,duration time: 6'2

The series entitled ”Objects” is composed of photographs – hypothetical quotes from the history of contemporary art. The works presented could have been produced in the 1950’s or 60’s as indicated by their formal properties. The fictitious sculptures, performances, or entire exhibitions created by Polska are in line with the museum tradition of an “archive of possibilities”. The source materials which the artist used come from non-artistic publications: from travel books to professional publications on the chemical industry. „My Favourite Things” is the final part in a film trilogy under the title of „Three Video Films With Narration”, which the artist devoted to the methods of institutional remembrance and preservation of art history and ways of its presentation by means of handbook reproductions, as well as the legends about the heroic artistic positions. The artist claims that misunderstandings, erroneous interpretations – are all factors which move art forward by creating new qualities and posing new questions. The main characters in the two films from the series: "The Forgetting of Proper Names", and the most recent one, "My Favorite Things", are such artists as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, and Walter de Maria, as well as their fictitious objects. In both projects, somebody else’s, incorrectly remembered, or even non-existent works fill the peculiar warehouse of objects, bringing to mind the warning once offered by Ad Reinhardt about the hell of a museum presenting “tombs of art”.

Katerina Šedá „Nic tam neni” (There is nothing), 2003

Šeda’s work is a record of a social game/action which the artist “directed” in Ponětovice, a small town in the Czech Moravia region. Local inhabitants are known to always complain that there is nothing happening in their lives: the world has come to a stop, everything is predictable. With a scientific precision the artist has researched the life of the local community (applying an extremely detailed survey, for example), learning the daily agendas of the town’s dwellers. At the end she proposed the introduction of new rules. Throughout the entire day the people of Ponětovice were synchronizing their activities, performing them all at the same time. This day became a praise of “nothing”, a celebration of the simplest of gestures, an intoxicating routine of life in a small community. Julian Kutyła in his text to “Muzeum” quarterly has also observed that the project has also revealed a disconcerting aspect of proneness to manipulation, and the susceptibility of a community to being disciplined by an outsider.

Piotr Uklański „Untitled (John Paul II)”, 2004

The photograph was created during an event Piotr Uklański organised at the Art Biennale in Sao Paulo in 2004. A portrait of John Paul II was “composed” from the bodies of three and a half thousand Brazilian soldiers. The image is a play with the cult of national icons (the black-skinned face of the Polish Pope), patriotic rises and insurgences, at the same time fitting well into the continuum of papal representations in Polish art. The work was also turned into a billboard displayed at the intersection of two biggest street in Warsaw, and, unintended by the artist, instantly became a place of religious reflection and tribute to the dead Pope. Flowers were laid and candles were lit there. The situation where the artist’s work has been “appropriated” has happened on several occasions – as in the case of a gigantic installation of the banner with the same portrait in Katowice, where holy mass was held.

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