Is a conservator needed for contemporary art, if it is new? The availability of increasingly refined artistic materials should potentially translate into the greater durability of works of art, resulting in a gradually smaller need for maintenance treatment. It would then be sufficient to cover them with so-called preventive maintenance, which consists in providing appropriate storage conditions and in preventing damage and undesirable changes. Such reasoning, however, does not fully fit modern works of art, which only in a few cases rely on the use of innovative technologies and professional materials that have stability certificates.
Porcelain is a kind of white, translucent, high-quality ceramic, invented in China in the 7th century. Porcelain is made from a mixture of kaolin clay and feldspar with quartz, through firing the ready-made product. It is characterized by low water absorption, high mechanical strength, high resistance to chemical agents, and impermeability to liquids and gases. Porcelain was called “white gold” because it replaced gold as a royal gift, reaching prices comparable to ore. Porcelain was invented in China at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). As early as the 3rd or 4th century AD, glazed stoneware dishes were being made. Technical skills and the use of kaolin and feldspar in the production of stoneware, led to the invention of “white gold” in the 1st half of the 7th century. Chinese porcelain is more fusible than European, because it contains more feldspar. Initially, it was used to make thick-walled or small dishes, decorated with coloured glazes and engraved ornaments.
Maciej Chorąży’s work, Flashback Smurfs, contains an attempt to mirror perceiving the world from a child’s perspective and light criticism of consumer culture, which gives mass production objects symbolic meaning – sometimes even magical – always according to the standard algorithm of promoted values (such as beauty, youth, attractiveness, usefulness, and effectiveness). In realizing both these artistic assumptions, the ordinary object acquired from everyday surroundings play a central role.
The painting shows a small boy embracing a woman who is presented from her shoulders down, without her head. The woman is dead, although it seems that she is returning the caress with a numb gesture of her hand. The artist painted her in a bluish azure and dressed her in a blue dress. He painted all war victims and dead people in this way — using the symbolism of blue: the sphere of shade, immateriality, and transcendence. The form generalised and knowingly made primitive as well as nearly evenly laid colour are for the condensation of essence and expression.
In traditional culture, serpents represent a threatening and powerful symbol of the primal cosmic forces; they are representatives of chaos and death. They were often also the object of worship: for ancient Egyptians they symbolized the power of wielding life and death, decorating the crown of the pharaohs; the Greeks considered them to be the embodiment of the chthonic gods, and because of their annual skin moulting, they added them as an attribute to Asclepios, as a symbol of life, health, and rebirth. The Romans bred snakes in their homes, seeing them as the guardians of their home and family; The Aztecs made a feathered serpent — Quetzalcoatl — a co-creator of the world, the god of wind and earth. The primal cult of serpents also flourished in regions closer to us: for example, in the Krakowiak tribe from the right bank of the Wisła. The Judeo-Christian culture judged serpents rather negatively: in the story of Adam and Eve, they became cursed creatures; the Old Testament God sent them as a punishment to the Israelites, and then, through Moses, sent a serpent to their rescue, but one made of copper.
The project by Nicolas Grospierre, The house which grows, tackles the problem of the gap between aesthetics and the functionality of architecture. In his work, the artist is interested in forms of modernist architecture and in how the very possibility of establishing universal public housing led to the fall of this utopian project.
The cycle Everyday news is a visual record of press cuttings, processed by the artist. Basia Bańda was inspired by the headlines from local, internet news portals of Lesser Poland (Kraków.wyborcza.pl, gazeta.pl), which became titles of thirty collages. Tragic events prevail amongst them: unfortunate accidents (The passenger lost her leg under the wheels of the train), acts of violence (A man from the coast beat a woman in Nowy Targ), disappearances (She disappeared around Wielka Krokwia), murders (Murder on Budryk Street. The police are looking for the stabber), incidents of devastation (He damaged 36 cars. Prosecutor: prison and damage repair). People’s dramas intertwine with equally catastrophic information from the world of nature (Dead fish in the Biała river – investigation discontinued). Most misfortunes chosen by the artist and described in the press concern individuals, and their impact on the life of the local community is negligible.
The starting point for the performance Rocket, was the text of a futuristic poem by Anatol Stern, Europe, published in 1929. It was processed by the members of the Strupek Group, using a modern internet tool — Google translate — to obtain an absurd, mechanized form of language. However, what survived is the essence of the original poem and its embedded story of the brutality of the 20th century history, the traps of totalitarianism, and the triumph of violence, whose horror was highlighted by ghostly sounds extracted from a theremin (an electroacoustic musical instrument constructed in the 1920s by a Soviet physicist Lev Termen). The oppressiveness of the situation increased the audience’s involvement in the space of the show itself and confronted them with characters shouting out consecutive lines: Priest, Altar Boy, Mother, Rocket, and the Sacrificial Lamb, conducting the action. The play, which was recreated three times, was an adequate conclusion of the public activity of the Strupek Group — from then on, the fates of its members were to go down their individual paths.
Honza Zamojski’s video, entitled Modernism, is an attempt to critically look at the phenomenon of modernism in architecture. The artist reduces the ideas underlying this trend to a simple pattern of repetitive action seen on the screen. As a result of a looped gesture of arranging round cookies, placing one on another, a kind of a tower is created, which, in a distant association, evokes materialized assumptions of modernist architecture, manifested in simple geometrical forms, abandoning decorativeness and ornamentation, reducing the body of the building to an abstract structure.
Taking up the fight with the two-dimensionality of the painter’s medium, Bartosz Kokosiński inflates the structure of the canvases with foam, deforms them, and radically bends their stretched frames. He deconstructs the painting as an artistic medium. In his most famous series – paintings devouring reality (2010–2015) – the canvases have been transformed into expanded objects, drawing in collections of various things, found by Kokosiński at flea markets, attics, and in the studios of befriended artists.
Karol Radziszewski’s work consists of six photographs and a drawing made on their basis. The cycle is considered a preparatory study for the mural, which was to be created in 2009 at the Mur Sztuki Gallery, located in the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. However, the work did not come to fruition, because it was considered too erotic and detrimental to the feelings of the museum’s public.
The motifs of urban everyday life as an illusory sign of economic prosperity prevail in Karolina Kowalska’s works. Streets, blocks of flats, and office buildings appear next to intimate apartment interiors and impersonal infrastructure. The architectural and media indicators of capitalism determine the area of human activity, rendering the world of nature a luxurious addition. The artist manipulates their images, pushing them into everyday realities and, with a hint of irony, transforming them. Thus, her photographs, films, installations, and objects reveal in a nuanced, jocular manner, the influence of urban cityscape on individuals and relationships and propose slightly improved variants. The projects realized by the artists combine music, visual art, and text at times.
The works by Marcin Maciejowski reveal interest in the present and everyday life of a human being. His pictorial commentaries on reality are the result of insightful and multifaceted observation of Polish society. The artist analyses customs, explores stereotypes and cultural patterns. He deals with media topics, presenting figures known from the first pages of newspapers (politicians, journalists, celebrities), topics of sensational events, as well as social and economic problems. He devotes much attention to the social reception of art and the role of the artist.
For Monika Drożyńska, embroidery – a technique of centuries-old tradition, which is nowadays regarded as a less typical medium of art – is a form of meditation. The artist’s activity in this field is part of the language of women’s art, which is close to crafts such as sewing, embroidering, and crocheting. Her work, Between words, using the embroidery technique, was implemented by the artist as part of her individual exhibition, After the word, which took place at the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery in 2011.
Jan Hoeft initiated an artistic intervention taking place on the border of visibility: in the middle of a vast lawn in Kraków’s Błonia Park, he placed a ten-metre-long sculpture, made of stainless steel, deliberately resembling a scaled-up barrier (easily restored if necessary). Over its frame, a white and red scarf was slung, reminiscent of the colours sported by the fans of the nearby football clubs, Cracovia and Wisła. In place of the club’s name, a phone number was embroidered, the use of which resulted in drawing the caller into a remote performance, following the scenario prepared by the artist.
Zorka Wollny’s work situates itself between theatre, dance, music and visual arts. Her achievements include video films – distinguishing themselves with a pictorial vision – concerts and choreographic performances involving numerous actors (often realized together with Anna Szwajgier). In projects that refer to the form of an audiovisual show, the artist plays the role of director and producer, inviting musicians, actors, and dancers to cooperate, working with members of local communities, amateur clubs, and groups that share common interests. The essential element of her projects is space: works are created as a result of observing the existing conditions created by the architecture of the place, as well as penetrating its private, public, and institutional aspects.
Łukasz Jastrubczak’s Need for Speed is the artist’s journey following the trail of forms and symbols that transformed the natural landscape into the subject of reflection and culture. Already, the first frames of the film evoke recognizable themes of cinematography and art history, arranging them into a mysterious sequence. The filming scene begins with the image of a blue mountain, which, in the artistic interpretations of a number of artists – including the most famous version by Jan Domela from the 1950s – became a characteristic logo of Paramount Pictures, ceremonially announcing many of the classic Hollywood movie titles.
Aneta. Monument to Kraków – this is an example of a work related to the current of internet art and concrete poetry. The Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries duo, who are responsible for its creation, consistently uses one visual form in its creative work. It consists of words animated and displayed on a white background, in a characteristic font. In subsequent works, only the rhythm in which words appear on the screen changes, and the content of words that become a visual poem. The texts are read by a lector or are synchronized with accompanying jazz music. In the case of work carried out for the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, we deal with a record without a musical background. We only hear the voice that reads the words – alternately in Polish (by the poet and slammer Jan Kowalewicz) and English (by a member of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries – Marc Voge).
Anna Baumgart’s film, Article 1000 (Paragraf 1000), is the result of the artist’s search in the archives of the Falstad Centre. During the years 1941–1945, this location served as an SS prison camp, and, after the WWII, it was transformed into a prison for people collaborating with the Nazis. The starting point for the artist was the documentation found as a result of a query and fragments of the New Year’s performance script, staged by convicts in 1947, which went on to become a political scandal.
Her work, Wyliczanki (Counting-out Games), consists of three objects – costumes. Each consists of a skirt and a braid. Wide, embroidered skirts, with a circular pattern, inspired by Polish folklore, refer to the character and colours of festive folk costumes. They are made of combined, contrasting materials, with sewn-on patterns of contemporary silhouettes, which the artist juxtaposed with embroidered texts known from children’s plays or songs, such as: Moja Ulijanko, klęknij na kolanko [Little Ula, take a knee], Mam chusteczkę haftowaną [I’ve got an embroidered hankie], Chodzi lisek koło drogi [There’s a little fox strolling along the road side]. The colourful braids, made of old clothes, are long and thick, and therefore also heavy and uncomfortable to wear. The artist called them “cultural braids”, thus suggesting that they function as something artificial, attached.