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. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


... and if you happen to be in Pristina tonight, come to Galeria e Arteve e Kosovës. I will speak about existing and non-existing museums, monuments, parks, amnesia and (unfulfilled) dreams. We start at 7 pm. The building which can be seen outside of the lecture room window (above), is the university library from 1982, designed by Andrija Mutnjaković. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Reads Like a Book

Reads Like a Book is a newly opened exhibition on books (which often might be neither legible nor made of paper), the next chapter of the ambitious, long-term programme entitled Book Lovers, curated by David Maroto and Joanna Zielińska. As they explain its aim is to “investigate the many ways in which artists conceive their novels as part of their art projects”. The mistery how to exhibit a novel in the museum has remained unsolved but the project already generated some desirable confusion among art book aficionados, materialising in the form of a reading room, mammoth collection of artists’ novels  (already acquired by M HKA), seminar, conferences or staged public readings. Reads Like a Book is the most conventional (as far as it can be) chapter of Maroto and Zielińska’s investigation, as a set of installation works by Jill Magid, Cheng Ran and Lindsay Seers at Cricoteka, the Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor. They all struggle with the narrative and fictitious characters, which have been sort of kidnapped from the book pages (making an adaptation of a non-existing material is absolutely all right!) and transformed into spatial forms. There are beautiful failures in the show, like the narrow spiral reading room by Ran, which content (pages of the artist's novel framed and hung on the wall) is obviously impossible to digest in such conditions – an experience which might be compared to an attempt of watching 3-hour long video during a busy exhibition opening.  But there are also other elements by Ran, which compensate the frustration of the compulsive viewer like myself, who tries to consume every little bit of the show. 
Magid and Seer’s works are splendid – rich and multi-layered. Magid solved the riddle of how to display a book by arranging a constellation of some “exhausted” objects (eg. a "dead" pedestal which projects a blank slide - it’s not difficult to feel empathy toward the object who has fallen so miserably that might be mistaken for a bench!), mixing up Faust’s story with a shooting in Texas. Seers’ work takes time – it consists of two films, a sculpture and a book which is supposed to be taken and read afterwards (see it below, already domesticated). All in all, this is a set of three-dimensional novels to be walked into and skimmed, 
compiling a spectral textual assemblage in your own head. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Teresa Murak: Easter Carpet, 1974

As the exhibition Rainbow in the Dark is over (but fear not!, the second chapter of the project is coming this year), we'd like to share one of its greats. The performance Easter Carpet was staged in 1974 in the village of Kiełczewice, by our favourite (though little known internationally) Polish land artist, Teresa Murak.
Murak was one of the first Polish artists to work with performance, land art, and interventions in public space. She participated in the “church exhibition movement” in the 80s during the Martial Law, realizing performances such as mud splashes in church naves and co-organizing processions and public prayers, where her organic sculptures played an important part of the liturgy. Regardless of whether Murak follows the destruction of a subtle textile, observes a stubborn growth of plants or dilutes bread leaven in the mud – this artist touches upon the essence of giving and empathy. The tradition of land art takes the form of a religious ritual in which life and death are interspersed in an inextricable grip.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Rainbow in the Dark

If you happen to be in Istanbul this weekend (or if you are lucky to live there), please come to SALT Galata where we present, with my dear friend Galit Eilat - Rainbow in the Dark, which closes this Sunday. An exhibition which takes a post-secular perspective, investigating how contemporary art challenges the outdated opposition between religious and secular societies. It explores the way current art addresses the appeal of rituals, mysticism and the irrational beyond the horizon of modernity. Our guests are: Kader Attia, Fayçal Baghriche, Mirosław Bałka, Fatma Bucak, Köken Ergun, Nilbar Güreş, Jonathan Horowitz, Gülsün Karamustafa, Paweł Kwiek, Virgínia de Medeiros, Mujeres Públicas, Teresa Murak, Walid Raad, Zofia Rydet, Wael Shawky, Slavs and Tatars, Zbigniew Warpechowski, and Artur Żmijewski.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Needle in the Haystack

A Needle in the Haystack is the hidden venue of the 8th Liverpool Biennale, a textual chamber full of fiction, odd stories, poems and philosophical anecdotes. One of the characters, a guy called Eddie "would light a cigarette in the museum if he really liked the show". The book is teeming with gorgeous and lustful apes painted by Abraham Cruzvillegas. Abraham didn't use a broom this time. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


It seems we've found it again! The photo taken by Gosia Mazur somewhere in California is the inconvertible evidence. Anyway, we're back.