Artur Żmijewski

Artur Żmijewski was always focused on social processes, traumas, the borderlines of taboos, therapeutic situations, and the Other—specifically the one that has been displaced, handicapped, crippled. His art evolved out of the issue of human beings’ subjectivity/objectification and the conceptualization of the body during the 1990s, a development that culminated in his explicit manifesto Stosowane Sztuki Społeczne (known in English as Applied Social Arts), published in 2007 in the leftist magazine Krytyka Polityczna, of which Żmijewski is one of the co-editors; that same year, he also contributed the preface to The Politics of Aesthetics by Jacques Rancière in the magazine’s KP book series. At the same time, making reference to Lars von Trier’s “Idiots” during the “Avant-garde in the Bloc” conference in Warsaw (2007), he stated: “By artist, I mean not one who knows, who is a shaman or a demiurge, but one who is an idiot.” Thus, for Żmijewski, the artist’s task is not to create sculptures or paintings, but “to go out to society,” to “enter reality” and “spasticate.” Spasticity is tantamount to breaking the rules. It enters the situation blatantly, disturbing conventional language. As a “cognitive tool,” it unmasks social relations and mechanisms as well as opens up the possibility of liberation from shame and the normative, but also activates unknown conventions and new behaviors. The metaphor of ‘spasticity’ is very much reminiscent of the practices of Grzegorz Kowalski’s studio class “Kowalnia” at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts during the 1990s, where Żmijewski studied between 1990 and 1995 along with Paweł Althamer and Katarzyna Kozyra. Kowalnia’s unconventional didactics might be perceived as a continuation of Oskar Hansen’s utopian theory-practice of the Open Form, which professor Kowalski referenced and interpreted in his teaching. Żmijewski feels himself part of this “Hansenian” tradition and recalls it as a “technique” he learned as a student while striving to develop it creatively (analogous to Paweł Althamer) by working with others and with groups. One of the first Kowalnia group projects on which Żmijewski worked was Common Space, Private Space (Obszar wspólny, Obszar własny) in 1993, which was based on a dialogue involving no verbal communication. For this exercise, Żmijewski created simple “interactive” assemblages and sculptures entitled Studies in an Act (Studia aktu, 1993), imitating both physiological processes and decay. In search of solutions for Kowalski’s “exercise” projects, Żmijewski began using performance techniques. In 1994, he arranged a series of performances addressed to chosen individuals entitled Monologues to People (Monologi do ludzi), and he also began using photography and film. His diploma directly addressed the physicality and phenomenology of the human body, prepared as one object in 40 Drawers (40 Szuflad, 1995), which consisted of drawers with photos of naked bodies (or fragments thereof), powerfully (oppressively) touched by hands as “informe” mass. That same year, he made the analogous “body” film Temperance and Work (Powściągliwość i praca), in which he “conceptualized” the body in a similar way, acting himself along with Katarzyna Kozyra. This film shows bodies in various deformed states that result from their touching, with each of them effecting the contortion of the other. At that time, Żmijewski—along with other students of Kowalski—was running an art magazine, Czereja, and an ephemeral art space bearing same name, which appeared outside the Academy with Kowalnia’s group shows at the Stolica Cinema. The film Me and Aids (Ja i Aids, 1996) was made for one such exhibition, organized by Żmijewski and Grzegorz Kowalski and with participation by Katarzyna Kozyra and Paweł Althamer, which bore an identical title (Me and Aids). It was closed due to a decision by the cinema’s management, and it proceeded to reopen later on at Jacek Markiewicz's a.r.t. gallery in Płock. The film presented collisions of naked bodies (Żmijewski, Twaróg, Maciejewski) bumping into each other, symbolically representing the danger inherent in “meeting and living with the Other.” Analogous “collisions” and games appear in Żmijewski’s later film projects such as Berek (1999) and became his main focus in situations featuring “conflict” and group behaviors, evoked and directed by Żmijewski himself, as can be seen in: Repetition (Powtórzenie, 2005), Them (Oni, 2006) and in his curation of the 2012 Berlin Biennale.



1966, Warszawa / PL


Please follow this link for a selected bibliography available at the ERSTE Foundation Library
Courtesy the Artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation, photo Lidia Rossner
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