Tymek Borowski: COMMON AFFAIRS, 2016 © Tymek Borowski
Elżbieta Jabłońska: Nowe Życie (New Life), 2011 © Elżbieta Jabłońska
Agnieszka Polska & Witek Orski: Videostill Guns, 2014 © Courtesy of the artists and Żak Branicka Gallery, Berlin
Monika Sosnowska: Untitled, 2015, Photo: Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw © Courtesy the artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, The Modern Institute, Glasgow, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Kurimanzutto, Mexico, Hauser & Wirth, New York
Łukasz Jastrubczak: "Skizze Sprite for Conceptual Artist", 2016 © Łukasz Jastrubczak
The word “common” can mean “ordinary” but also “joint” in the sense of shared. In connection with both the Polish as well as the global art scene, which is becoming increasingly transgressive, media and market oriented, political, and controversial, the exhibition title COMMON AFFAIRS raises questions. Is art really so commonplace? Is it really a joint matter? What role does art play today, in the summer of 2016—not only in Poland, but also in a European context? COMMON AFFAIRS was conceived as a cooperation project between the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin, the Polish Institute Berlin, and the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. At the two Berlin venues, the exhibition presents a selection of artists who were nominated for the VIEWS Award from 2003 to the present. It touches on the history and impact of the award initiated by Deutsche Bank and the Zachęta, which has become the most important prize for contemporary Polish art.
At the same time, the curators of the show, Julia Kurz from Leipzig and Stanisław Welbel from Warsaw, together with the participating artists, explore the freedoms, discourse, and exchange afforded by public and private sponsorship, and how art is used as an ideological instrument as a result. The different artists featured in COMMON AFFAIRS comment on the years that have elapsed since the new political system was introduced in Poland in 1989 and Poland’s changed role in the European community. It is telling that the exhibition is taking place within the framework of the festivities commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Polish- German Treaty of Good Neighborship and Friendly Cooperation and the twinning arrangement between Berlin and Warsaw.
Polish artists have repeatedly cast a critical eye on the country’s political situation. One such artist is Janek Simon with his sculpture series “Real Poles”. The series is a reaction to recent political discourse in Poland and the discussion about what it means to be a Pole. Anna Okrasko also poses this question with her ongoing project “Patriots” in which she investigates the relationships between a group of young Polish emigrants who divide their time between Rotterdam and Silesia. In his multimedia sculpture “The Cross” Piotr Wysocki incorporates footage of mourning rallies following the crash of the Polish presidential airplane in 2010. The work conveys an impression of how worldviews in Poland have become estranged from one another. It shows how joint national mourning, which actually reflects a spirit of community in Polish society, can be used by different sides to serve a specific concept of the nation’s identity. Wysocki doesn’t give simple answers but analyzes both his own detachment from such events and how they are experienced by their participants.
Since 2009 Karol Radziszewski’s installation series “Kisieland” show an alternative Poland. Amongst others based on an artistic photo series of the activist Ryszard Kiesel which had been a reaction on an anti-gay action of the Polish secret service during the communist era. Supplemented by further materials, Radziszewski collects this unknown part of queer Polish history in the framework of his founded “Queer Archives Institute.”Alternative history is also the theme of Agnieszka Polska und Witek Orski’s video “Guns”. It addresses the (unconfirmed) history of the student protests in Poland in 1968. The rulers ordered the army museum to render all of the weapons in the collection unserviceable, fearing that demonstrators might seize them.
The history of Poland in context of Europe from industrialization through the World Wars, the Holocaust, to transformations and entry into the European Union is a focal point of COMMON AFFAIRS. The country’s grappling with modernism is a key theme, ranging from Anna Molska’s version of Gerhard Hauptmann’s “The Weavers” to Rafał Jakubowicz’s work “Bauhaus”, whose typography was used by Franz Ehrlich, a graduate of the Bauhaus in Dessau. As a prisoner, Ehrlich worked at Buchenwald concentration camp and designed the inscription on the gate to the inmates’ camp “Jedem das Seine” (To Each His Own)—in the typography of Bauhaus modernism defamed as “degenerate” by the Nazis. Monika Sosnowska’s sculptures, on the other hand, thematicize the failure of modern social ideas. Inspired by nineteen thirties Polish Constructivism, former Easter Bloc Social Realism, Minimalism and Conceptualism, she draws on examples of modernist architecture in the Polish People’s Republic.
Elżbieta Jabłońska’s ready-made “Nowe Życie” (New Life) is on view at the Polish Institute Berlin. It is a ten-meter-long neon sign from the nineteen-seventies that the artist found at a farming cooperative. The optimistic promise of a new beginning takes an ambivalent turn more than forty years later in the context of the exhibition. For COMMON AFFAIRS, the giant light sculpture been loaded onto a ship and is transported illuminated down rivers and canals crossing the border from Poland to Germany.
The second focus of COMMON AFFAIRS is the exhibition’s Engagement with the mediation and production of art, the investigation of the conditions at cultural institutions and the social hierarchies in the art industry. Among the works that address these issues is Paweł Althamer’s collaboration with the security staff of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle and a new work by Supergrupa Azorro titled “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”. The latter casts an ironic glance at the canon of the art system. The artists, who wanted to show their work in Berlin in 2002 and presented it without success to the Deutsche Guggenheim, return to the KunstHalle fourteen years later under changed conditions. In her film “Office for Monument Construction”, Karolina Breguła shows that a museum collection not only creates a group identity, but is also an instrument of state and institutional power. Tymek Borowski sees his works as cultural experiments encompassing art, design, and science as well as tools that enable people to understand and change reality. He not only designed the visual identity of the exhibition—the logo and catalogue—but also provided a separate graphic commenting on each contribution, some of which are on view in the exhibition.
This dialectical principle, whereby COMMON AFFAIRS repeatedly comments on itself as an exhibition, runs through the entire project. Thus “Arena 2”, the work of VIEWS Award winner 2015 Iza Tarasewicz, combines different works in the exhibition on an abstract level and arranges the space into a kind of stage set—as an encounter between works, energies, places, temporalities, and concepts. Łukasz Jastrubczak’s “Sprite Fo Copcentual Tartist” creates a link to further museums in Berlin and Konrad Smoleński steps with his guerilla perfromance “Untitled” out of the gallery space into the periphery of Berlin.