A Czech Pope! Is it a mistake? A joke? A slip of the tongue! An irrational misunderstanding stemming from bringing together the head of the Catholic Church with Europe’s most unreligious nation. A classic Central European absurdity pronounced with a dead serious facial expression. On your knees! Lie prostrate and sing litanies! Oh, Czech nation, put the highest patriarch on you Hussite-laic throne! Given by your Slavic brothers, The Czech Pope!
Five young Polish artists, Ewa Axelrad, Ada Kaczmarczyk, Bartosz Kokosiński, Mateusz Okoński and Jakub Woynarowski address the motifs of faith, religiousness and their obedient daughters: spiritualism and occultism. They look at sacrum with a critical eye. They dismiss hypocrisy typical for priests’ gibberish, yet they avoid taking sides with the mediocre leftist critique. The fact of taking up the topic of religion can be explained in several ways; from reacting to the Polish marriage with Catholicism, through a tradition of supporting arts by the Church, to the attractiveness of spiritualist motifs discussed by Nicolas Bourriaud in “Relational Aesthetics”. This time it is the viewer’s job to discover the meaning. What, then, will Czech people do with the Czech Pope? Perhaps, going against the well-known saying, will they announce him a prophet?
Kuba Woynarowski and Mateusz Okoński decided to present our Slavic neighbors with prophecies. With all seriousness, coarse Polish cordiality and elevated tone, the two artists present the Czech nation with a memorable gift. To understand the gravity of this gift one needs to fully comprehend the mystery of prophecy – a crucial religious genre. A promise of a better tomorrow, a harbinger of the new world. The two artists risk being ridiculed, yet at the same time they proudly give the best they can offer: art with a message. A religious ornament. What is most interesting in this gesture is the immediately following moment of pure embarrassment. This moment when you don’t know how to behave. This parable starts with consternation, and it’s probably the way it ends as well.The mystery of religion may be solved with some help offered by Woynarowski’s diagrams. Synthetic and visually refined attempts at ordering ideas. The minimalist style conceals disillusion. Yet, it’s not just an unproductive discontent with contemporary aesthetics and visual culture, but a suggestion of a sophisticated alternative. Woynarowski provides a scientific analysis of the meeting points of religion and occultism. He traces conspiracies, follows Freemasons’ plots, finds new contexts and motifs only to provide a final laconic summary of all this mess: a simple diagram.
Ada Kaczmarczyk made her own religiousness a basis of her art. In her work, she documents and creatively comments on spiritual developments – from the dark period filled with blackness and fascination with occultism, through moments of esoteric ecstasies, to cheerful chants praising the Virgin Mary. What’s particularly intriguing is that behind this seemingly banal form we can find a perspective grounded on theoretical insight and empirical accuracy. The inherent individuality of this approach is striking, providing a fascinating combination of naïve faith and ironic detachment.
Mateusz Okoński offers a sacrifice on the altar of history in the form of a white marble pig. This pig is both a gesture of purification, as well as an empty form providing a vessel for a mixture of various plots and stories. The unclean animal and the pure marble – clean whiteness ready to be stained, tainted. In a very subtle way, Okoński settles accounts with religious tradition. As a Pole, a Catholic, and a gay man, avoiding cheap profanation, he questions contexts and provokes new meanings. He combines Judeo-Christian symbols into one whole, offering an apt summary of religion beyond divisions of gods and denominations. Kokosiński’s monumental pictures tear away from the walls and leave their frames. They seem to be falling under the material weight of the forms they represent. Moreover, the folded, dropping or swollen canvases release a marching crowd of objects, relics and animals. Kokosiński offers a subtle mockery of academic painting and places it on the verge of sculpture. Thus he becomes a part of the typically postmodernist discussion on the end of representation.
Ewa Axelrad’s viewers get lost in the chaos of speculations. A monumental sculpture called It is safe showing a chipped tooth is as minimalist as it is disturbing. Axelrad places on a pedestal and elevates onto a patrician level a small and inconspicuous object. She combines the beauty of a golden calf with inevitable passing. Finally, she fetishizes an object that can at most work as a run-of-the-mill symbol of vanitas. Yet, in the space of the exhibition it works most of all as a kind of contemporary secular relic. An object of a strange cult displayed for public view in a gallery – the temple of art – that is a place of silent and sophisticated contemplation.
In his book entitled Zrób sobie raj (Make paradise for yourself), Mariusz Szczygieł presents an apt description of the way an ordinary Pole perceives an ordinary Czech. Namely, he compares it to an object of desire that a woman is for a drag-queen. This is correct. Polish perspective on Czech culture is marked by a fascination with a foreign tradition, wonderful liberalism, and liberated individualism. What is the point of view of the neighbours from the other side of the border? I could risk a kind of mean comparison to the visit of a grumpy old aunt who tires to explain to her naughty nephews her conservative point of view. To smuggle under the pretence of good will a bit of truths and values. History, religion, symbols and ideas that for Poles constitute the core of tradition and culture. Analogies and differences between Poles and Czechs are potentially an infinite source of comparisons and contrasts leading to interesting results. The exhibition, taking as its main theme religion and religiousness, is meant to provoke a reflection on art, but most of all on the mental condition of these nations.
Ewa Axelrad (b. 1984) – intermedia artist, maker of installations and site specific objects, as well as photography. A Graduate of the Department of Multimedia Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan and the Royal Collage of Art in London (photography). Nominated for Conran Award (2010), and winner of Young Poland scholarship (2013). Lives and works in London; but keeps strong links with Silesia which she often visits. Lecturer at the University of Arts in London.
Ada Kaczmarczyk (b. 1985) – multimedia artist, performer, and blogger. Graduate of the Department of Multimedia Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan (supervised by Professor Wasilewski). Prizewinner at numerous artistic contests: “Kanon Twórców”, “Dolina Kreatywna”, and the prestigious “Samsung Art Master”. Lives and works in Warsaw.
Bartosz Kokosiński (b. 1984) – painter, installation and video artist. Graduate of the Department of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (supervised by Professor Bednarczyk and Professor Stelmachniewicz). Three-time winner of the scholarship of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, as well as awardee of the Foundation of Elizabeth Greenshields from Canada. Participated in the 6th Triennial of Young Art in Orońsko and in the 10th Geppert Competition in Wrocław. Lives and works in Warsaw.
Mateusz Okoński (b. 1985) – artist, curator, history enthusiast and antiques collector. Graduate of the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (supervised by Professor Salwiński). Co-founder of STRUPEK art group. Founder and former head of Zbiornik Kultury. Lives and very actively works in Krakow.
Jakub Woynarowski (b. 1982) – intermedia artist, curator and graphic designer. Graduate of the Department of Printmaking at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (supervised by Professor Kucia); currently an assistant at the Department of Digital Imagining. Worked with TVP Kultura, the National Centre for Culture, Conrad Festival, MFKK Ligatura, Manggha Centre of Japanese Arts and Technology, the National Museum in Krakow and Korporacja Ha!art. Member of Restart think tank. Lives and works in Krakow.