03.02.2011 – 16.03.2011
galeria Art Stations
The winter exhibition in Art Stations presents works by both Polish artists – Zofia Kulik, Maciej Osika, Konrad Kuzyszyn, Jerzy Lewczyński and Katarzyna Górna – and international ones: Zhang Huan (China), Loretta Lux (Germany), Michael Najjar (Germany), and Thomas Hirschhorn (Switzerland) who use photography as their prime medium of expression.
The show offers an interesting generational and thematic cross-section, with the complex issue of identity at the turn of the 21st century as a common reference point. The time and place these works came into being are equally significant. The selection process identified a multifaceted perspective towards the issue, illustrating aspects of identity at the personal, social and cultural level. It furthermore unveiled an iconographic richness and iconological depth that reflect the impact of social, political and historical phenomena on identity formation.
Equally crucial here is a more and more identifiable new perspective in the post-western world, where the voice and experience of artists from China and the Middle East who enter the international stage supplement significantly the vantage point of European artists. One of the characteristic features of the show is, therefore, the multiculturalism of the present.
Despite this thick network of intertwined aspects of identity and their conditions, the exhibition is quite transparent, both in terms of the works on display and the content conveyed. It is thanks to these works that the objective of the exhibition becomes crystal clear: to demonstrate the network of new relations and co-dependencies that arise between the works to furnish a vast array of different significations.
As many as two floors of the show are dedicated to a series presented for the first time so extensively; these are works by Zhang Huan (b. 1965), one of the major representatives of contemporary Chinese art. Zhang Huan is the youngest exponent of a new wave of artists that emerged from China in the early 1990s. His works give a frank account of both the personal and collective experience of history and the process of China’s political and cultural transformation. The artist is famous especially for his traumatic performances that provide uncompromising commentary to e.g. China’s social policy (the so-called one-child policy in a 1994 performance).
In his art, Zhang Huan makes use of a whole gamut of media, ranging from performance through photography to installation, sculpture and painting with ash. The show in Art Stations will present two suites of photographs, “Shanghai Family Tree”, 2001 and “Foam”, 1998. As to their underlying message, both series attempt to take a middle position between the impact of society and family ties and the role of fate in identity formation and the development of a particular place for the artist as an autonomous being in family and social life. Thus, identity and a widely-construed spirituality is the principal motif of both series. Equally intriguing is the iconography of the pictures, as in the “Shanghai Family Tree”, where calligraphed texts are superimposed on the artist’s and the accompanying persons’ faces, and in the case of the “Foam” series, 1998, in which family pictures acquire a specific symbolism in the artist’s mouth.
Iconographic evocativeness and multiple meanings can be also found in the works by Zofia Kulik, who is presenting here her “Self-Magnificence V” (Mother, Daughter, Partner), 2007. In the context of thinking about identity, the tripartite subtitle is an important introduction into the inner realm of the work. Extensive archives of gathered, defined and arranged objects and gestures are the initial form of the work. Both the air of the works and their choice are characteristic of Zofia Kulik. Through a very precise self-definition, the artist strives to partake in existence as much as possible, to be a fragment of “the portrayed wholeness of existence”, of which she herself feels part and parcel.
It is the dormant force discovered in the ability of self-determination, a medium also found in portraits by Maciej Osika or a work in the “Madonnas” series by Katarzyna Górna that points to a parallel dimension of identity contained within the sexual. In Osika, this is a record of the artist’s extraordinary ability to become a woman and the mastery of showing himself as an “androgynous being”, balancing off the related female and male elements within his own psychosomatic self. Another equally bold revaluation is attempted by Katarzyna Górna, who struggling with women’s gender roles, also fights for the renewal of the visual tradition, assigning a new dimension to historical iconography. Here the entire body of a woman is a source of deliverance despite layers of historical connotations that put its freedom into question.
Identity seen through the prism of a pursuit of the human condition is taken up by Konrad Kuzyszyn. The artist focuses on the human body, subject to natural and human experimentation. This is a body subject to an irreversible transgression, shown as symbolic of the limits of being, suspended between truth and fiction in a mute question about one’s own identity.
This very question, if in another context, subtly referring to the psychology of facial expressions, is wrestled with by the unreal figures created in Loretta Lux’s photographs. Changes in facial proportions introduce an unknown and unsettling element in human physiognomy. Yet another, comprehensive scope or departure from reality is visible in the work by Thomas Hirschhorn. Here, the impact of the environment and the formula of its representation refer directly to the development of reality as a major component of identity. The artist evocatively portrays features of contemporary information and commercial landscape, compiling selected fragments of it in order to show the dominant characteristics of the present all around us.
The wide range of contemporary phenomena in Thomas Hirschhorn’s works offers a unique network of interrelations, and the manner in which they are communicated is both a sign of the times and an indicator of the artist’s background and ideological and artistic perspective. Within this complex perspective the show in Art Stations also presents works by Michael Najjar. The artist’s interests in the group on display are important in that they focus on state-of-the-art computer technologies. Najjar is intrigued by the vision of a telepathic society similar to a cordless generation of digital machinery. Thanks to advancements in this area, the artist is able to create a portrait supplemented by the permanent, previously invisible element of the brainwaves of a particular person. The iconography is extended by an additional aspect, that of identity manifestation.
As can be observed, the show is a jig-saw puzzle, a set of individual voices. As to its iconography, it presents an interesting challenge for the viewer and participant. This is because the works on display and their seemingly familiar elements make up here a completely new layer of significance.
Katarzyna Górna (b. 1968, Poland) - the author of large-sized photographs, regarded as a representative of artists dealing with women’s issues. Her works re-formulate the iconography of recognizable symbolic representations of women. She deals with stereotypical perceptions of the role and image of women in culture. She identifies contradictions in and the depth of feminine identity, confronting the viewer with an extended meaning of known symbols. In her works, classic corporality is freed from historical connotations and the body becomes a full-fledged manifesto of humanity that transcends a precisely defined social role.
Thomas Hirschhorn (b. 1957, Switzerland) - one of the major contemporary artists who use installation as an artistic medium. He is inspired by the present-day information and commercial landscape, whose visual excess, magnitude and chaos are the artist’s main interests. The material he uses for his works is the “waste” of the world of contemporary consumption, of which he is both an observer and an illustrator. The artist continues his unique perception of the world in his works on paper. These are collages where, compiling selected fragments of reality, he creates a so-called factoid suspended between truth and fiction, preserving at the same time the dominant features of the surrounding reality.
Zofia Kulik (b. 1947, Poland) - one of Poland’s major contemporary women artists. Early on she made sculptures and since 1971, together with Przemysław Kwiek, was active in performances, installations, films, videos, interventions, and actions. Since 1987, the artist has worked on her own, dedicating herself to photography and continuing work in other media. The starting point for her multiple-exposure black-and-white pictures are categorized and documented aspects of reality such as landscape, architecture, gestures, actual events, and compositions she herself created. The climate and material of her iconography is likewise rooted in Poland’s recent socialist reality. Kulik’s art is unique for its universal multiple image structure of numerous photomontages, which in spite of being compiled of dispersed multiplicity, are shown as an “inseparable tissue” of the surrounding reality.
Konrad Kuzyszyn (b. 1961, Poland) - works within the broadly construed realm of photography, with which he experiments; he also makes video installations. He focuses on the human body, its sensitivity, flexibility and durability. The artist assumes a scientist’s stand, introducing into the visual language of his works not only the human figure but also human tissue. His art deals with the subject of being but is first and foremost based on the observations of the behavior of the human body. This body has been subject to an irreversible transgression, shown as a symbol of the limits of existence, suspended between truth and fiction in a mute question about one’s own identity.
Loretta Lux (b. 1969, Germany) – her photographs combine classical techniques with painting and digital processing. Famous for her stylized portraits of children, which is a focus of her art. All the works in an original, codified form exhibit inspirations by Victorian painting. The artist creates her compositions in two stages. Part of her artistic practice is the stock taking of previously created background contexts that provide the backdrop for her protagonists. She dresses her small models in vintage clothes from her own childhood and subjects their features and bodily proportions to subtle digital manipulation, which make the children resemble slightly bizarre dolls. By her own admission, the artist uses the portraits of children as metaphors for “paradise lost” and as a symbol of innocence.
Michael Najjar (b. 1966, Germany) - works in photography, often using digital manipulation. To create new visions he also often uses computer software he himself creates. The starting point for his art are the reflections of theoreticians of culture and philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard, Vilém Flusser and Paul Virilio.
Maciej Osika (b. 1981, Poland) – in his photographs he uses both traditional techniques and computer processing. The author of numerous portrait series with himself as a model; in pre-arranged poses and appropriate stylization, he impersonated perfectly a number of women. While most of the pictures excellently obliterate differences in sex, some give away the sham and address the question of gender identity. All the incarnations transmit a very intimate understanding and experience of beauty, where eroticism and idealization are the starting point for a nearly exhibitionist desire to fully demonstrate one’s own personality. From the perspective of two decades of social and cultural transformations in Poland, Osika continues to remain one of the few artists who openly address their sexuality in the context of cultural and esthetic stereotypes that continue to prevail in contemporary society.
Zhang Huan (b. 1965, China) - one of the major representatives of contemporary Chinese art debuting in the early 1990s. His works persuasively show both the personal and collective experience of history and the process of political and cultural transformations taking place in China. The artist is especially renowned for his traumatic performances that provide an uncompromising commentary on China’s social policy. He also deals with the complex question of identity and spirituality. The artist’s own body is very often the principal medium for conveying complex and profoundly humanistic content. He uses a whole range of media: performance, photography, installation, sculpture, and ash painting.