Exhibitions

Plundering the Ruins of Reality – a referral to a onetime sticker of Twożywo Group? Or maybe more serious, even a bit pretentious “At my back the ruins of Europe” quoting Hamletmachine by Heiner Müller? Or more risky, almost at the edge of good taste Europe after the Rain (you probably remember Max Ernst’s painting and later John Foxx’s song)?

Or in another way, Concrete Island, referring to J. G. Ballard? In a pop style, Picnic by the Motorway as Suede named one of their songs (probably also reminiscing Ballard)? This all could have been the titles of one and the same exhibition, or few exhibitions exploring one and the same subject.

The world after a turning point, after catastrophe, after a fall down, or simply in a state of suspension, of energy loss. Something has ended but the remains of it still dominate the landscape. We have already seen similar things. Once at the etchings of Piranesi, which show the slow death of the Roman Empire. But today we know that “modernism is our antiquity”. The Empire that falls apart right in front of our eyes is the empire of blocks of flats made of panel buildings, swings once designed in the name of the progress, concrete parking lots at the suburbs. Modernist project of organized life is turning into ruin. It is not at all a spectacular disaster, rather a slow dying, fading down. Death on installments. No wonder that it creates strong melancholic consequences.

According to Freud the structure of melancholy is rather an easy one to explain. We are in an intense, although a complicated relationship with someone. A bit of love, a bit of suffering, a lot of mutual resentments. Then that someone goes away (dies, leaves us) before we managed to clear all the problematic issues. As a result we are left with a painful memory. It is a mix of failed hopes and stings of remorse. He left, so we probably didn’t deserve him being with us. He left, so he didn’t manage to apologize to us, to make up for the harm done. We miss him, we feel that he influenced us, and at the same time the situation is somehow embarrassing; we’d prefer that he left our memories completely.

Maybe it is a bit strong statement, but it seems like a huge part of Polish art suffers from melancholy after modernism. Monika Sosnowska runs a dialogue with an architectural tradition of national socmodernism by admitting it its place in the history but also by taking revenge on it (there is loads of embarrassing bent bars, and deformed blocks in that art). Michał Budny deliberately builds his sculptures of non-durable materials; it is still minimalism, but broken; it is still modernism, but soft, exposed to devastation. Katarzyna Przezwańska brings the techniques of abstract, modernist painting into places where modernism waits for its last days; she brings it to the façades of socmodernism shops and to concrete pavements in the parks.

This list can go on for long. There is Grzegorz Sztwiertnia who explores the connections between modernism in art and modernist practices of social discipline. There is Rafał Jakubowicz who only weeks ago finished his emblematic work; it sums up the fall of the modernist idea by showing a sign FIASCO made of font designed by Bauhaus student, Franz Ehrlich who was later a prisoner of a concentration camp in Buchenwald. There is also Wilhelm Sasnal fascinated by modernist history of his home town Tarnów. Etc., etc. It all brings a thought, which for now can only be whispered and which needs fur-ther verification; the real passionate discussion, the authentic search within the young Polish art takes place in a completely different area than we thought. It isn’t rivalry of realists with surrealists, neither it is a fight of the politically engaged with escapists, that organizes the art scene. Those arguments seem arranged and they bring benefits only to its participants. And yet in another area there is a growing group of artists trying in diverse ways to deal with a problematic historic fall, a fall that they define as a modernist one.

We know more and more about modernist tradition in our art. We have books of prof. Piotr Piotrowski, in which the concept of modernism is a central one and it organizes the whole argument; we have the efforts of the Warsaw Modern Art Museum that refers to the modernism not only in its name. What we don’t have is a clear awareness of the fact that the discussion with modernism (or rather melancholic memories of modernism) is not only the past but also a present.

BWA Warszawa is suppose to be a gesture in that direction. Almost everything here is connected with modernism (in its diverse forms); starting with the name (which is an ironic referal to the times when the art was suppose to function as a fragment of radical programme of social engineering), through its seat (it’s settled in the villa built in 1928 in the International Style, by Czesław Przybylski, al-so the author of Warsaw’s House Without the Edges or of already non-existent train station Warszawa Główna), finishing with the artists. BWA Warszawa programme is coherent not on the level of generation (the youngest of our artists is younger than the oldest one by almost two decades), nor on the social level (we didn’t meet over the coffee table), but on a deeper and probably more important level. Our artists don’t repeat one another, each of them has its individual voice, but they all speak about the same world, the world of burned out modernism. It is clearly visible in an exhibition that inaugurates the activity of the gallery.

Tomasz Plata

 

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