2004-10-20 - 2004-10-20

Curated by: Ryszard W. Kluszczyński

Artists: Anna Baumgart, Barbara Konopka, Józef Robakowski, Piotr Wyrzykowski

Selection of Polish video works realized within the Projected Visions program developed by apollonia european art exchanges, Strasbourg.

Rather than via formal investigation, “Spaces of Intimacy” approaches its central theme in video explorations of personal life. Sometimes dramatic and emotional, sometimes distant and ironic, five artists examine the problems of personal and social identity and reflect on the character of cultural and trans-cultural relations. The works present different ways of communication between the private and the social; between the inner space of perceptions, feelings and reflections and the external world that helps to shape them. Yet whatever their tone, the works are simultaneously analytic and immerse.

Józef Robakowski belongs to the first generation of Polish artists to employ the video camera as a chief vehicle of expression. In his case, the road to the new medium wound its way through the cinema – or, more accurately, through the art of the mechanically created image. A photographer and a filmmaker, Robakowski began his artistic activity in the 1960s. He is a co-founder of the “Film Form Workshop” – the most important institution in the history of avant-garde film in Poland – and made his first video in 1974.

Over the course of several years, Robakowski concluded that, thanks to its convenience and closeness, video a tool for achieving an uncommon scale of intimacy. With the help of video, Robakowski could lead audiences into the world of his own thoughts and emotions in a way not comparable with his achievements to that time in other visual media. Numerous works appeared in this period, including “About my fingers...” [1983] or “My theatre” [1985], examples that elevated private issues to the level of shared experience. The monologues contained in these works, coupled with their visual imagery, do much to create this climate of intimacy.

 In more or less the same period, Robakowski created a cycle of video shorts under the banner “Dedications,” each of which (as the name implies) possesses its own particular addressee. In these works, subjectivity acquires the added dimension of concrete personal communication as the artist speaks directly to the person to whom the work is “dedicated” and includes the viewer in this intimate dialogue, forcing an equally personal commitment based on his or her own perception.

In the cycle “Vital/Video” [1973-1993] an ironic attitude joined the intimate climate and thus offered a representative example of the key characteristics of Robakowski’s oeuvre.

 In 1997, Anna Baumgart began using video to create a series of works which ultimately shifted her interests towards human relations in society. In them, the artist reveals the mechanisms that lead the individual to bow to social convention. She analyses the social and cultural perceptions of gender difference and the roles that are ascribed to women through the patriarchal order and their own acceptance of the relations between parents and children. She shows the world of men reflected in the male ego and adored by women, and the world of women as seeking approval in the male gaze and thus confirming their worth in male acceptance.

“A small collection of makeshift epitaphs” [1997] appears as a form of meditation. Ironic in the Rortian sense, the work is a reflection on contemporary human social practices and the conflicts of value and superficiality that result when they collide with individual dreams and desires. It offers a montage of images drawn from many sources – Baumgart mixes in content broadcast on television with original footage – constructing a depressing, distanced image of social existence. It represents Baumgart’s first use of photomontage techniques that employ the work of others and feature prominently in later pieces

In subsequent works, Baumgart introduces active protagonists as her videos cease to be ironic, monologue meditations on human relations and take on the form of multi-layered dialogues in which the female (and sometimes male) protagonists speak of their problems. They answer Baumgart’s questions, with the artist taking part in the conversation directly (at the verbal level), arranging monologue responses and structuring the visual elements (photographs, montage, composition, etc.) of the work.

One particularly interesting example of Baumgart’s shift in tone and structure is “Mother” [1998]. The work is a confrontation of two situations: an interview between the artist and the protagonist and reaction of the latter to watching the completed video. Edited and dubbed with this commentary, this response ultimately becomes a component of the work, transforming it from inside. Each set of dialogue becomes an active agent both on creative and existential levels. For both artist and subject, it becomes a source of a new understanding of the motives for their own behavior and the possible consequences arising from it.

Like many subsequent works, “Mother” documents an emergence from the labyrinth of isolated identity – which often lack full self-understanding and are passive to the occasional negative influences of their surroundings. These identities owe as much to the effects of culturally (mimetically) and genetically inherited characteristics as to the results of attempts at determining their fate. The labyrinth is shown as a model of identity, while emergence represents attempts at self-knowledge. This is because we are continually are placed (or place ourselves) in new contexts and must verify whether we can still recognize who we are.

Piotr Wyrzykowski’s video work fuses the conceptual inspirations evident in Polish art in the 1970’s with those of performance art – especially body art – in the succeeding decade. The artist uses a variety of media in his work, its references to fundamental problems of the contemporary world and – perhaps of utmost importance – its role in bringing together elements from different paradigms into one fragmented, hybrid, but cohesive, whole.

Wyrzykowski explores the influences of technologies on the perception of presence of a human body, using digital or analogue representation as tools for extending corporeality. Corporeality is here expressed in texts or moving pictures, set in the structural aspects and offered for intellectual experience. Such was the case as in Wyrzykowski’s performance at WRO media biennial, where the artist wrapped himself in videotape, mixing body imprints with magnetic records. Corporeality is offered as well in virtual and interactive forms “There Is No Body’ [1997/99], and hybrids in his interactive installation “Cyborg’s Sex Manual 1.0” [1998/99]. Shown as part of with “Spaces of Intimacy”, “Runner” [1993] creates visions of body movements in the context of constructed city space. Meanwhile, “Watch Me” [1996] is a visualization of the artist body through digitalization process. 

Built on biography, on memory and on the most intimate divulgences, Kinga Araya’s work mocks privacy as a form of artistic expression. The irony inherent in her skeptical self-portraits offers not only an element of distance, but also confuses the metaphors they contain. Her art relates to the most intimate experiences; moments of loneliness, random encounters, and banal observations. With the aid of irony, memory is transformed into imagination. Absent certainty bar that of shared experiences of form and emotion, individual experience becomes commonplace. Her ironic, internal dialogues usually accompany visual representations of some sort of displacement and serve to liberate the artist from spiritual homelessness, allowing her – and her audience – to overcome the pain of alienation. In that way, irony emerges as a source of creativity. Through exceptional self-awareness and intense introspection, the artist offers profound insights – pictures of a distanced world.

According to Araya, displaced art is actually an art of estranged emotions. Reason and passion define the ambivalence of experience because through them people discover the differences that divide and hamper communication and render it an impossible act. Still, these differences help to separate faith from ideology, fear form neurosis, hope from naive optimism and a lack of imagination. Araya’s art conveys emotions stemming from the state of dwelling in between. Her work expresses the sensation of estrangement coupled with the need for intimacy – feelings that grow from displacement and alienation and ultimately direct us towards our idea of the Self. Further, they inspire introspection and reflection on one’s immediate surroundings and lead us to contemplate the passage of time and our place within it.

Barbara Konopka explores the transformations which both body and identity undergo when confronting the information revolution that has come about via the rapid development of telecommunications and information technology. A leader in the cyber-feminist current in Polish art, she finds cooperation with a machine, learning its specific logic and ways of communicating significant experiences. The interaction between man and machine affects human abilities and habits as they engage in these activities.

 Konopka began working in video in 1989. A background in music and performance art gives her approach a distinctive character. It is reflected in the sensitivity of projects that combine drama of expression and growing formal and visual interest in the technical aspect of video. Technology enables the artist to project her “active” imagination. In subsequent works, Konopka also undertook the problem of energy transmissions, treating her video works as a vehicles both for her own energy and as a stimulator of energetic movement in the viewer

Translated from Polish by Marek Stelmaszczyk. Proof read by Rick Butler.


Organisation: apollonia european art exchanges, Strasbourg, Museum of Contemporary Art, dept. of the National Museum in Szczecin

Venue & dates: Le Quai école d’art de Mulhouse, 20.10.2004

Project realized within the program NOVA POLSKA 2004 (Polish Season in France) in collaboration with Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw