Thursday, 29 January 2015

A-Z (Educational Cabinets)

The book A-Z (Educational Cabinets) is a summary and most probably the conclusion of the project by Andrzej Tobis, created between 2006 and 2014 - undoubtedly one of the most important artistic endeavours in Poland in the 21st century. 
The A-Z collection is a result of the author's linguistic and visual journey around Poland following in the footsteps of a little-known Polish-German dictionary from the 1950s.  I first learned about Andrzej Tobis' project during his visit in my office at the end of 2006. His visit bore the promise of a new adventure.  Andrzej is rather reserved and mysterious about himself.  He has countless unusual stories to tell (strange things just seem to happen to him all the time) and he likes to share them at the right time.  He is a man of many talents and an unusual sense of humour.  When we met Andrzej slammed a little Polish-German dictionary down on the desk, and from a blue IKEA bag he took out some showcases containing photographs, which looked like teaching materials from primary school.  The new project – or rather his new obsession – was a total volte-face on his approach to art, before who was known mainly as a figurative painter.  His plan of action for the coming years was bold and seemingly unachievable, namely to attempt to recreate in photographs the “revised edition” of an illustrated Polish-German dictionary issued in Leipzig in 1954 (Bildwörterbuch Deutsch und Polnisch).  He was going to recreate each and every entry, and there are thousands of them.  The book itself is bizarre; the illustrations in it depict the entire visible world (although limited to East German reality).  For the sake of clarity, the original dictionary was divided into fifteen sections, e.g. ‘The democratic system’, ‘Worker's welfare’, ‘Personal hygiene’, ‘Plants’ or ‘Miscellaneous’ for less specific entries.  However, the original classification loses coherence here and there.  The translation is equally strange, rough and old-fashioned.  Often, it is simply wrong.  The dictionary is a motley collection of readymades, a cabinet of curiosities placed in an industrial setting, a surrealist exhibition catalogue, or something along those lines.  Tobis decided to locate the objects, people and animals listed in the dictionary in the real world, mainly in the chaotic Upper Silesian landscape. Finally, here it is: the reader with a bigger part of A–Z (Educational Showcases) archive in the form of the book. We assume that there will be no end to this obsessive inventorying of the whole world. We, the dictionary users, pick up the project more or less where the artist left off. A truly genius work of art is finally available as a handy book.