“Happy Family, a home counselling centre” by Karolina Balcer, curated by Zofia nierodzinska at the Municipal Gallery Arsenal in Poznan 07.10.22 – 08.02.23

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photo: Karolina Balcer

[AD: The photograph is taken in a bathroom. The figure of a young person is reflected in the mirror wearing a handmade jumper in pastel colours: blue, turquoise, pink, yellow and orange. The jumper bears an inscription in English: I’M FINE. The person in the photo is hiding her face in a wide turtleneck, only the top of her head and her eyes are visible. She has brown hair and an evenly trimmed fringe. Behind her back is a shower cubicle. The bathroom tiles are white and blue.]

more on: https://arsenal.art.pl/exhibition/happy-family-poradnia-domowa/

CURATORIAL TEXT:

The photograph shows a family, from the left: Karolina, her two years older brother Filip, grandfather, father Sławomir, and mother Aleksandra. They are sitting around a white tablecloth-covered table eating a meal. In the background, on the wall, there’s a monidło, i.e., a coloured wedding photograph, depicting the grandparents at, probably, the best time of their lives. Everything appears to be exemplary, festive, even – no Polish politician would hesitate to show off such a family on their election posters. This photograph opens the Happy Family Project website, set up by the artist Karolina Balcer for research purposes. The focus of her investigation are her loved ones, and the starting point – a desire to comprehend what her family has endured over the last several years – ever since Filip sought help for addiction, received a double diagnosis (substance use disorder + schizophrenia) and periodically battled homelessness; ever since her parents became experts in the field of co-addiction, and she herself experienced depressive episodes.

This typical Polish family is fighting addiction, co-dependency, homelessness, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder – and none of this is visible in the photograph. What often escapes the frame is indeed the subject of Balcer’s work. The artist reveals family secrets that are often swept under the carpet. In order to do that, she employs knitting and tufting, turning family traumas into shapes: pillows with destigmatizing slogans, sweaters with practical answers to the most frequently asked questions, doormats displaying a cry for help, a carpet showing severed family ties, happy pills for everyday day, or a portrait of her father covered with a protective duvet-armour.

Balcer emphasizes that illness is a communal experience – it plays out within the closest, familial relationships, from which it is impossible to check out:

“A coaddict adapts his/her behaviour to a destructive situation in order to maintain the family unit. This causes a number of physical, emotional and psychological changes that result in a state resembling addiction.” [1] As they attempt to help themselves, family members attempt various tools related to education – more or less formal support groups, therapy, studies, reading specialist literature or, as with Karolina, initiating a research and artistic project that allows them to distance themselves from their own experience. Translating these experiences into symbolic language facilitates communication.

Aleksandra Kubiak, an artist and performer associated with the Sędzia Główny artistic duo, undertook a similar process of working through her own traumatic family history using the language of art. In the 40-minute film entitled Śliczna jesteś laleczko/You’re a Cute One, Sweetie (2017), she explores her relationship with her mother, who died in tragic circumstances.[2] For Kubiak, art becomes a therapeutic tool. On the one hand, it may allow viewers to understand the artist’s past and experience catharsis with her, and on the other – may cause embarrassment at crossing the boundaries of her intimacy.

Balcer uses humour to safeguard herself and the audience from getting too close. This allows for a greater comfort and makes it possible for a  viewer to experience her work on multiple levels: aesthetic, research, emotional, and relational one. The artist doesn’t impose her narrative. Even though she communicates it in a direct, taboo-free way, she leaves a lot of space for interpretation and for complementing the rugged visual signs with content, not necessarily directly related to her biography.This empathy towards the viewer distinguishes Balcer’s work from that of other artists dealing with trauma, also because she pays attention to the educational, pragmatic and didactic dimensions of her activity. Hence, here in Poznań, during the second – following a show at Miejsce Projektów Zachęty – run of her exhibition, leaflets, and information about support groups operating in the region will be distributed. In addition, the show will be accompanied by guided tours and an educational programme. There will also be an event presenting a guide edited together with experts, containing information on mental crises, addiction, codependency, homelessness, depression, and ways of dealing with such issues.

Elvin Flamingo’s letter, published two years ago [in 2020] in the “Postmedium” magazine, also helped break the taboo related to mental illness enhanced by working in the art world. A well-known, award-winning artist of the middle generation confesses to his life with bipolar disorder, periods of mania and depression. They brought Flamingo success, but also endangered his life – the artist survived several attempts to take his own life. Importantly, his statement emphasizes the role played by the art world, which drives and rewards narcissistic and manic disorders.

The themes of neurodiversity, family, and identity crises have become increasingly popular with the younger generation of artists. For painters such as Patryk Różycki or Martyna Baranowicz, the concepts of masculinity and femininity, associated fantasies and inevitable failures are the material with which they build the visual language of their statements. Through painting, they seek their own place in the hostile environment that is one of the most conservative countries in Europe.

Adelina Cimochowicz’s project entitled Museum of Neurosis (2017), awarded at the Młode Wilki [Young Wolves] Art Festival, collects photographs documenting people’s struggles with their obsessions and compulsions. The virtual museum archive includes, for example, taps and stove knobs, door handles, locks, balcony doors, windows, gas stoves… The photographs bear witness to the repetitive actions taken by people with obsessive-compulsive disorder in order to maintain a sense of security and alleviate guilt stemming from the fear of triggering dramatic consequences if the gas is not turned off or the balcony door is not closed. By attaching artistic value to their neuroses, the artist validates that, which causes shame while maintaining anthropological distance.

Challenging taboos associated with the subject of psychological conditions means that they can be discussed more often and gradually normalized, meaning that, eventually, there’d be less stigma attached to those living with them. However, reflecting on one’s own well-being is too rarely combined with consideration that would allow us to examine the ways in which society works, that, in turn, can provoke and fuel fear and anxiety. I do hope that Karolina Balcer’s exhibition, Happy Family, a family counselling centre, can contribute to the broader trend of destigmatizing psychological states and illnesses by emphasizing their critical and community-forming potential. The exhibition aims to produce and disseminate knowledge, as well as to encourage viewers to destabilize the existing, oppressive societal patterns. Its goal is to co-create a space in which living with trauma, co-addiction and illness doesn’t lead to marginalization, but adds an indispensable element of realism to the collective experience, also related to our functioning within the art world.

Zofia nierodzińska

Translation into English: Joanna Figiel


[1] happyfamilyproject.com/wspoluzaleznienie/

[2] The film was shown, among others, at the exhibition Życie codzienne w Polsce/Everyday Life in Poland at the Municipal Gallery Arsenal in 2018, curated by Marek Wasilewski.

Коаліція / Koalicja / Кааліцыя / text to the exhibit at DOMIE / Poznań

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(English below)

Zofia nierodzińska

Коаліція / Koalicja / Кааліцыя

28.09–11.10.2022

Historia dzieje się na naszych oczach, w ciałach i domach ludzi mieszkających na liniach frontów, walczących, stawiających opór, w ciałach zwierząt, w ich niszczonych siedliskach, w przesyconym plutonem powietrzu, w kwaśnych deszczach, w ciężkiej od metali ziemi, w Ukrainie, Białorusi, Bośni, Czeczenii, Armenii, Afganistanie, Syrii, Iranie, Jemenie, Palestynie, Sudanie Południowym, Nigerii, Ugandzie, Kongo, Indiach, Pakistanie, Mjanmie, Meksyku, Kolumbii… Do konfliktów zbrojnych i walk z imperializmami dochodzą konflikty wewnętrzne i rewolucje skierowane przeciwko rządzącym. Te ostatnie kończą się najczęściej porażkami pokojowo protestujących obywateli_telek, którzy_re jako odpowiedź na odrzucenie przemocy otrzymują represje.

Wystawa „Koalicja” w poznańskim DOMIE mierzy się z trwającymi konfliktami i katastrofami. Artyści_ki z Ukrainy, Polski i Białorusi mówią o tym, czego sami i same aktualnie doświadczają. Nie poszukują utopijnych przestrzeni, do których mogliby wewnętrznie lub zewnętrznie wyemigrować, pozostają z problemem; nie pozwalają się zabić. To nie jest pokolenie marzycieli, ich nadzieje runęły pod bombami (Ukraina), zostały skatowane przez OMON (Białoruś) lub zgasły w bardziej subtelny sposób: zostały stłumione administracyjnie (Polska). Powodem dla zaangażowania i niezaprzestawania aktywności artystycznej jest szukanie porozumienia, szczególnie tego na poziomie emocjonalnym, pozbawionego narodowej, etnicznej i religijnej symboliki, która scala wspólnotę kosztem anihilacji Innych. Tytułowa koalicja jest zatem czymś innym niż jej parlamentarna i międzypaństwowa wersja, jest szukaniem bliskości, która nie zagraża, która daje poczucie stabilności, łączności z tym, co żyje, na przekór samounicestwiającej, kapitalistyczno-patriarchalno-gatunkowej dominacji. Wystawa jest kontynuacją współpracy pomiędzy kolektywem DOMIE a platformą prezentującą współczesną sztukę z Białorusi: KALEKTAR. Pierwsza ekspozycja – „ODKSZTAŁCENIE/ ДЭФАРМАЦЫЯ / UNLEARNING” – odbyła się jesienią 2021 roku i była poświęcona praktykom oduczania się.

Tym razem do współdziałania, oprócz indywidualnych artystów i artystek, została zaproszonaMiędzynarodowa Koalicja Pracowników_czek Kultury Przeciwko Wojnie (International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War), wirtualna platforma archiwizująca prace artystów_ek z całego świata. Została stworzona przez Ambasadę Kultury i pracowników_czki sztuki z Białorusi i Ukrainy, którzy_e w latach 1994–2021, opuścili_ły swój kraj ze względu na represje polityczne. W ramach projektu ANTIWARCOALITION.ART zostaną zaprezentowane wybrane filmy białoruskich, polskich i ukraińskich autorów_ek. To od nazwy kolektywu został zaczerpnięty tytuł wystawy.

Proces trawienia konfliktów, oprócz poziomów kolektywnych, obejmuje również te indywidualne, jak w przypadku Vlady Ralko, która w sugestywnych, zalanych krwią akwarelach-manifestach przedstawia siłę i ból doświadczany przez walczące, rozczłonkowywane kobiece ciała. Ul Pazniak w instalacji „Dmuchawiec” krytycznie przygląda się napompowanej heroizmem wojennej narracji. W ramach wystawy w DOMIE pokaże obiekt odnoszący się do projektów masowych grobów żołnierzy oraz napis na ścianie: „Мы просто сдохнем, а они попадут в рай / My po prostu zdechniemy, a oni pójdą do Nieba”, będący parafrazą wypowiedzi ważnego rosyjskiego polityka podczas prezentacji koncepcji wojny jądrowej na corocznym spotkaniu Międzynarodowego klubu dyskusyjnego „Wałdaj”. Kataryna Lysovenko, podobnie jak Ralko, w centrum swoich poszukiwań stawia doświadczenie kobiet, scalając je w monumentalne, obłe figury domagające się sprawiedliwości na przykład poprzez użycie uniwersalnych gestów feministycznego wkurwu, jak wyprostowany środkowy palec. Sergey Shabohin dokonuje podziału Monumentu Przyjaźni, nazywanego także Trzema Siostrami, który w momencie swojego powstania w 1975 roku na styku granic Białorusi, Rosji i Ukrainy symbolizował bliskie, wręcz rodzinne relacje pomiędzy tymi krajami. Dziś grozi mu wyburzenie. Artysta zaprezentuje również płótno z przeciętą Kartą Polaka. Przebywający aktualnie w Poznaniu Aleksey Lunev za pomocą instalacji złożonej z nazw miast, w których mieszkał: Nowopołock, Kijów, Poznań oraz trzech przenośnych lamp z popularnego sklepu meblowego mówi o życiu migrującej osoby, o niestałości i domu, który pomimo albo właśnie ze względu na powtarzające się, standardowe elementy wyposażenia podsyca poczucie obcości.

Niektórzy_re artyści_tki, oprócz prezentowania swoich prac na wystawie, przejmują również obowiązki kuratorów_ek. W takiej podwójnej roli znajduje się obok Sergeya Shabohina również cały zespół DOMIE, czyli Martyna Miller, Katarzyna Wojtczak i Rafał Żarski. Martyna Miller w filmie „Sen żółwia” wraca do bałkańskiej misji polskiego ministra Tadeusza Mazowieckiego, który w latach 90. jako specjalny sprawozdawca ONZ informował o katastrofalnej sytuacji w regionie; nie doczekawszy się adekwatnej reakcji od wspólnoty międzynarodowej, po czystkach etnicznych w Srebrenicy, zrezygnował z pełnionej funkcji. Miller stara się zbliżyć poprzez nagrania i wywiady do historii zbrodni, której towarzyszyła instytucjonalna bezradność. W innym kierunku spogląda Katarzyna Wojtczak w swojej filmowej, futurystycznej opowieści podsumowuje efekty warsztatów z wykonywania Pysanek Oporu, które odbywały się w kilku miejscach w Polsce we współpracy z osobami z Ukrainy i Białorusi. Baśniowe obrazy z mitologicznym jeleniem symbolizującym nadejście wiosny splatają się tutaj z nagraniami lasu na granicy polsko-białoruskiej, w którym ukrywały się osoby poszukujące lepszego życia w Europie, a który dla wielu okazał się pułapką.

Trzecia osoba z kuratorsko-artystycznego zespołu DOMIE, Rafał Żarski, w minimalistycznej, instruktażowej grafice przedstawia rozpad i wypalenie jednostki poddanej systemowej presji oraz nakłania do zmiany kierunków ruchu, gdyż, jak udowadnia za Gilles’em Deleuze’em, jednotorowa akceleracja powoduje niechybnie wpadnięcie w koła przetaczającej się, podsycającej destruktywne pragnienia maszyny faszyzmu.

Przestrzeń wystawy w DOMIE zbiera te świadectwa indywidualnego i kolektywnego oporu, które nas do siebie zbliżają i pozwalają na budowanie społeczności i koalicji na podstawie współodczuwania i współodpowiedzialności, na zmianę kierunków pragnień. Pewnie nie odwróci to od razu losów świata i nie powstrzyma katastrof, ale może choć na chwilę pozwoli przypomnieć sobie o tym, że jako ludzkie zwierzęta potrzebujemy siebie nawzajem, i że warto się o te relacje zatroszczyć.

Artyści_tki: antiwarcoalition.art, Kateryna Lysovenko, Aleksey Lunev, Martyna Miller, Ul Pazniak, Vlada Ralko, Sergey Shabohin, Katarzyna Wojtczak, Rafał Żarski

Kuratorki_torzy: Martyna Miller, Sergey Shabohin, Katarzyna Wojtczak, Rafał Żarski

Produkcja: Agata Kneć

Organizacja: Pavel Preobrazhensky

Komunikacja i media: Tomek Pawłowski-Jarmołajew

Asysta: Małgorzata Patalas

Organizatorzy_rki: DOMIE, KALEKTAR.org, Rönne Stiftung

Wsparcie: German Federal Foreign Office, Civil Society Cooperation

Partnerzy: Stowarzyszenie Komplet

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EN

History is happening right in front of our eyes, in the bodies and homes of people living on the front lines, fighting, resisting, in the bodies of animals, in their destroyed habitats, in the plutonium-saturated air, in the acid rain, in the metal-heavy soil, in Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia, Chechnya, Armenia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Palestine, South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Congo, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Mexico, Colombia… In addition to armed conflicts and struggles against imperialisms, there are internal conflicts and revolutions directed against those in power. The latter usually end in defeats for peacefully protesting citizens, who in response to their rejection of violence receive repression.

The exhibition ‘Coalition’ at Poznan’s DOMIE confronts ongoing conflicts and disasters. The artists from Ukraine, Poland and Belarus speak about what they and they themselves are currently experiencing. They are not looking for utopian spaces to which they could internally or externally emigrate, they remain with the trouble; they do not allow themselves to be killed. This is not a generation of dreamers; their hopes have collapsed under bombs (Ukraine), been battered by OMON (Belarus) or extinguished in a more subtle way: they have been suppressed legislatively (Poland). The reason for engaging and not giving up artistic activity is the search for understanding, especially on an emotional level, devoid of national, ethnic and religious symbolism, which unites the community at the expense of the annihilation of the Other. The coalition of the title is therefore something different from its parliamentary and international version; it is a search for proximity that is not threatening, that gives a sense of stability, of connection with what is alive, in spite of the self-annihilating, capitalist-patriarchal-speciesist domination. The exhibition is a continuation of the collaboration between the DOMIE collective and the platform presenting contemporary art from Belarus: KALEKTAR. The first exhibition – “ODKSZTAŁCANIE/ ДЭФАРМАЦЫЯ / UNLEARNING” – took place in autumn 2021 and was dedicated to unlearning practices.

This time, in addition to individual artists, the International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War, a virtual platform archiving the work of artists from all over the world, was invited to collaborate. It was created by the Embassy of Culture and art workers from Belarus and Ukraine, who from 1994 to 2021, left their country due to political repression. The ANTIWARCOALITION.ART project will present selected films by Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian authors. It is from the name of the collective that the title of the exhibition was taken.

The process of digesting conflicts, in addition to the collective levels, also encompasses the individual ones, as in the case of Vlada Ralko, who in evocative, blood-drenched watercolour-manifestos depicts the power and pain experienced by fighting, fragmented female bodies. Ul Pazniak takes a critical look at the heroism-inflated narrative of war in his installation “Dmuchaniec”. As part of the exhibition at HOME, he will show an object referring to the projects of mass graves of soldiers and the inscription on the wall: ‘Мы просто сдохнем, а они попадут в рай / We will simply rot while they will go to Heaven’, which is a paraphrase of a statement by an important Russian politician during the presentation of the concept of nuclear war at the annual meeting of the International Discussion Club ‘Valdai’. Kataryna Lysovenko, like Ralko, places the experience of women at the centre of her explorations, integrating them into monumental, obtuse figures demanding justice through, for example, the use of the universal gestures of feminist pisser, such as the upright middle finger. Sergey Shabohin divides the Friendship Monument, also known as the Three Sisters, which, at the time of its construction in 1975 at the junction of the borders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, symbolised the close, even familial relations between these countries. Today, it is in danger of being demolished. The artist will also present a canvas with a cut Pole’s Card [Karta Polaka]. Aleksey Lunev, currently residing in Poznań, present an installation composed of the names of the cities in which he has lived: Novopolotsk, Kiev, Poznań, and three portable lamps from a popular furniture shop, he speaks of the life of a migrant, of instability and of a home that, despite or precisely because of its repetitive, standard furnishings, fuels a sense of alienation.

In addition to presenting their works at the exhibition, some artists are also taking on the duties of curators. Alongside Sergey Shabohin, the entire DOMIE team, namely Martyna Miller, Katarzyna Wojtczak and Rafał Żarski, are in such a dual role. In her film ‘Dream of a Turtle’, Martyna Miller revisits the Balkan mission of Polish minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who in the 1990s, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Commission on Human Rights, informed on the disastrous situation in the region; having failed to receive an adequate response from the international community, he resigned his post after the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. Miller seeks to approach through footage and interviews the history of the crime, accompanied by institutional helplessness. Katarzyna Wojtczak chose to look in a different direction. In her cinematic, futuristic story she sums up the results of workshops on making Pysanky Oporu [Resistance Easter Eggs], which took place in several locations in Poland in collaboration with people from Ukraine and Belarus. Fairy-tale images with a mythological deer symbolising the arrival of spring are intertwined here with footage of a forest on the Polish-Belarusian border where people seeking a better life in Europe hid, and which proved to be a trap for many.

The third member of DOMIE’s curatorial and artistic team, Rafał Żarski, in minimalist, instructional graphics, depicts the disintegration and burnout of the individual subjected to systemic pressure. Żarski urges his individual to change the direction of movement, for, as he proves after Gilles Deleuze, single-track acceleration inevitably results in falling into the wheels of the ever-rolling, destructive desire-fuelled machine of fascism.

The exhibition space at DOMIE collects these testimonies of individual and collective resistance, which bring us together and allow us to build communities and coalitions on the basis of compassion and shared responsibility, to change the direction of our desires. It probably won’t immediately reverse the fate of the world or stop catastrophes, but perhaps it will at least for a moment allow us to remind ourselves that as human animals we need each other, and that these relationships are worth taking care of.

Artists: antiwarcoalition.art, Kateryna Lysovenko, Aleksey Lunev, Martyna Miller, Ul Pazniak, Vlada Ralko, Sergey Shabohin, Katarzyna Wojtczak, Rafał Żarski

Curators: Martyna Miller, Sergey Shabohin, Katarzyna Wojtczak, Rafał Żarski

Production: Agata Kneć

Organisation: Pavel Preobrazhensky

Communication and media: Tomek Pavlovsky-Yarmolayev

Assistance: Małgorzata Patalas

Organisers: DOMIE, KALEKTAR.org, Rönne Stiftung

Support: German Federal Foreign Office, Civil Society Cooperation

Partners: Stowarzyszenie Komplet [Komplet Association]

The Worlds We Hallucinate Together, Thoughts on Berlin Biennale

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Nil Yalter, installation view, 12th Berlin Biennale, KW Institute for Contemporary Art; Photo: Silke Briel

The English version of the text at BLOK Magazine

First appeared in nd (Neues Deutschland)

The Berlin Biennale, under the title Still Present!, curated by artist and intellectual Kader Attia, addresses nothing less than the yoke of colonisation. Fascism is the violence exercised by the colonisers that has returned to the old continent under the mask of modernism, Attia explains in the catalogue’s introduction. The weight of this statement casts a dense shadow over the entire event and its six exhibition venues; coming to terms with the traumas of this world in a heated cultural capital is a difficult but not impossible task.

(…)

An important task the Biennale sets for itself is to provide a platform for decolonial feminism, hence the works in KW Institute for Contemporary Art that speak in women’s voices: A film essay by Mónica de Miranda on the Angolan guerrillas and the revolutionary role of water, precisely the Kwanza River, in the struggle for independence; Ariella Aisha Azoulay’s installation Natural History of Rape, which shows the history of rape as a “natural” and universal weapon of war – here rather selectively, as it is only illustrated by the testimonies of German women during the Second World War – or Zuzanna Herzberg’s work, which recalls the figures of Jewish women fighters who took part in the Warsaw Uprising. Herzberg’s installation is one of three works in the Biennale that take an Eastern European perspective. This modest representation of artists from this part of the world may suggest that there is only Western imperialism in the decolonial perspective, which here manifests itself as the relationship of the prosperous North (Europe without the East-West divide and the US) to the exploited South. The hegemons such as Russia or China are not given any space or attention here. Thus, the exhibitions mainly show the perspectives of artists from Vietnam, India, the Middle East, North Africa, Sudan, but hardly from former German colonies (Namibia, Tanzania, Burundi) or Eastern Europe and East Germany. Astonishing is the complete absence of artists from Ukraine and Belarus, countries that are only a day’s journey away from Berlin, where in recent months revolution (Belarus) and war (Ukraine) have broken out and which, together with Poland, Romania, and the Balkans, represent a reservoir of cheap labour for Germany and the entire Western world, as the period of pandemics and the subsequent lockdowns have clearly shown. Is the unequal relationship between the European states too complex a topic for the biennale? Are they simply located too close to find an appropriate perspective which, on the one hand, does not unreflectively adopt postcolonial discourses developed primarily in the English-speaking world and, on the other hand, acknowledges the differences that undoubtedly exist? How can one talk about inequality without reinforcing the racialising ethnic differences enforced by systems of domination?

Review of the exhibit “Politics of (In)Accessibilities, Citizens with Disabilities and Their Allies” at Galeria Miejska Arsenał in Poznan, by Paweł Leszkowicz

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“In Search of Accessibility, in Search of Love”

“The ‘Politics of (in)accessibility’ exhibition proved to be important not only because of the exhibition itself, but also because of the accompanying debate, dedicated to art and visual culture dealing with the issue of disability. The Arsenal Gallery in Poznan presents artists who are people with disabilities or who address the subject of disabilities in their art — so they are collaborative allies.


Participants in the exhibition include Pamela Bożek, the Bojka Diving Collective, Daniel Kotowski, Grupa Nowolipie, Paulina Pankiewicz and Grzegorz Powałka, Joanna Pawlik, Rafał Urbacki, Karolina Wiktor, Liliana Zeic, Katarzyna Żeglicka and Artur Żmijewski. Among those mentioned are people with visual or hearing impairments, aphasia, experiencing alternative mobility and facing cognitive challenges.


nierodzińska’s project is about acceptance, empathy and therapy through art and love. The exhibition is presented on two levels. The introduction to both parts are large portrait photographs with erotic potential. This is not reductive, however, as the eroticism here is a deliberate strategy of affirmation. The affective eroticisation stands for empowerment”. (…)

What can be seen beyond the valley?

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My review at Czas Kultury of the second and unfortunately the last edition of the Biennale Warszawa :

“After a very intensive programme of one and a half months, the second and unfortunately final edition of the Warsaw Biennale, entitled Seeing Stones and Spaces Beyond the Valley, will come to an end on 17 July 2022. The Warsaw Biennale is a para-institution that is (or rather: was) concerned with creating a place at the intersection of visual arts, activism, education and research work. It was established by Paweł Wodziński and Bartek Frąckowiak – theatre directors, writers and curators. Over the four years of its presence, the Biennale has built its programme on two parallel lines of inquiry: the first was the co-creation of grassroots, realistically democratic structures of organisation and self-management; the second was the analysis of authoritarianism and its relationship to global capitalism, religion, nature and technology. During this time, nine thematic series consisting of exhibitions, meetings and events were organised in which the word ‘democracy’ was repeated like an incantation – including: “Democratic Metropolis”; “Democratic Education”; “Direct Democracy”… If I am reading the Biennale team’s intentions correctly, the idea was to create a place that uses culture as a tool to analyse the world, to build transdisciplinary and transnational networks of solidarity, and to educate towards a society in which we would like to live, rather than one in which we learn to survive. I am writing this text as a participant, listener and reader of the knowledge produced by the Biennale. At the same time, I feel sad that an important, interdisciplinary, intellectually lively and politically engaged institution will soon cease to exist. It will be very difficult to replace it.” (…)

POLITICS OF (IN)ACCESSIBILITIES, CITIZENS WITH DISABILITIES AND THEIR ALLIES, exhibit at Arsenal Municipal Gallery, 11.02-10.04.22

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[The image advertising the exhibition is a collage by Magdalena Sobolska. It is maintained in brown and blue tones. In the foreground there is a pond in which divers are immersed. A black hand with golden fingertips, from which a lily is growing, emerges from the water. To the right of the painting sits a smiling girl with no legs, dressed only in a T-shirt and panties. On the left are pasted naked male bodies. One of them has no leg and his hands are sticking out from under the amputation at the level of the thigh. They belong to the other figure, which is able-bodied, leaning forward to provide support for the legless person. In the background are visible rocks, stones, desert sand, bushes, and behind them a rocky mountain].

Participants: Pamela Bożek, Bojka Diving Collective, Daniel Kotowski, Nowolipie Group, Paulina Pankiewicz & Grzegorz Powałka, Joanna Pawlik, Rafał Urbacki, Karolina Wiktor, Liliana Zeic, Katarzyna Żeglicka, Artur Żmijewski.

Assistance: Zofia nierodzińska

Arrangement: Raman Tratsiuk

Visual identity: Magdalena Sobolska

Promotion: Ewelina Muraszkiewicz

Coordination of events: Joanna Tekla Woźniak, Kinga Mistrzak

Editors: Bogna Błażewicz, Jacek Zwierzyński

Translations into language easy-to-read and understand: Agnieszka Wojciechowska – Sej

Translation into Polish Sign Language: Marta Jaroń, Anna Borycka, Kamila Skalska, Karolina Bocian

Audio descriptions: Remigiusz Koziński

Translation into English: Marcin Turski, Zofia nierodzińska

Proofreading: Richard Pettifer

Production: Marcin Krzyżaniak, Yuliya Zalozna, Viktoria Zalozna, Zbigniew Wanecki, Szymon Adamczak, Monika Petryczko, Krystian Piotr, Michał Mądroszyk

Collaboration: Zofia Wiewiorowska


Disability can be an identity a person assumes, a condition they struggle with, a space where they find freedom, or a concept that is used to marginalise and oppress. It can also be all of these things at once.

Sunaura Taylor

In disability studies, a distinction is made between impairment and disability. Impairment refers to physicality–the (in)capacities inherent in the body we inhabit – while disability is a social condition related to cultural perceptions of people with disabilities, and the degree of accessibility existing in shared spaces. The former is a medical category, the latter a political one. The society that makes people disabled heats up debates, and mobilises activists’ fights. In Poland, the most notable event in the history of the struggle for a dignified life for people with disabilities remains the 40-day occupation of the Sejm building in 2017. The play A Revolution That Never Happened, performed by actors of Theatre 21, was based on this event.

Sunaura Taylor, author of Beasts of Burden[1], published this year in Polish, expands the concept of disability and impairment to include the environmental category. She writes and talks about the liberation of people and other animals from the yoke of ableism, which she links to the Anthropocene. She uses the term “disabled ecologies” to describe places destroyed by extractive human activity. Humans influence the environment, and the environment causes illness in inhabitants of industrialised areas by, for example, drinking contaminated water. Following Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing, instead of leaving polluted areas and colonising more planets in the Solar System, the author calls for “staying with the trouble”, i.e. taking responsibility for the history of capitalist accumulation and the effects of racialised policies, the effects of which are felt the most by indigenous people in the Americas and the Global South. As someone living with arthrogryposis, or congenital joint stiffness, she identifies with the ‘damaged landscapes’ in which she grew up.

In the documentary Examined Life–made by her sister Astra Taylor–Sunaura goes for a walk with the well-known gender theorist Judith Butler. One body moves in a wheelchair, the other needs shoes to comfortably traverse city pavements and streets. Both deviate from what late-capitalist society calls “the norm”. The queer and crip bodies confront architectural space, are immersed in a social context, and analyse their positioning using philosophical concepts and their own experience. Sunaura talks about drinking coffee from a paper cup using only her mouth–her hands are paralysed–and about the discomfort this causes to other people in the café. Judith replies that for her it is a story of dependence, about whether we as a society are ready to assist and support each other. Their conversation blurs the boundaries between the able-bodied–defined as radically independent–and the disabled, that is, the dependent, between what is considered feminine and masculine, between what is called human and what is called animal. The philosophers move through one of the most accessible places in the world, namely the streets of San Francisco.

In 1950s Warsaw, Jadwiga Stańczakowa, a writer and journalist of Jewish origin, loses her sight. She describes her experiences in her book The Blind [Ślepak], which she records on a tape. She writes down the recordings using a typewriter with individual letters marked with a piece of plasticine. Stańczakowa knows that her experience is unique, that the process of losing her sight and writing from under her eyelids can be told only by someone like her, a blind person, a “ślepak”. Her initial limitation becomes an opportunity for her to broaden her experience beyond ocularcentrism; in the book, she refers to sighted people as “sighters [wzrokowcy]”. To get out of her flat she needs a network of people supporting her. As a woman in a patriarchal society, in spite of her disability, she is used by her fellow poets to perform daily chores they don’t want to complete–for example, Miron Białoszewski, to whom she returns the favour of a creative conversation by washing his socks.

Disability is therefore an intersectional category, bringing together the various exclusions to which non-normative bodies are subjected. Recognising and accepting otherness allows us to challenge the dominant narrative based on the depreciation of the experience of people with disabilities, points out the oppressiveness of commonly-used categories, and enables us to imagine other, more equal and non-stigmatising rules. Thus, disability, alongside ethnicity, gender, class and species, becomes another possible category of emancipation. However, emancipation here is not measured by the degree of independence and autonomy, but, on the contrary, by the ability to form alliances, support, and take responsibility for each other.

The exhibition Politics of (In)accessibility, Citizens with Disabilities and Their Allies brings together different experiences and perspectives on the issue of disability. It takes a look at already historical works, such as the series of photographs An Eye for an Eye by Artur Żmijewski, a representative of critical art. In photographs taken in 1998, bodies are depicted: amputees and abled ones, complementing each other to create hybrids and mutants, creatures with five legs and two heads. The photographer takes a distanced position, the author looks at his “objects”, and animates them into taking poses. He is a collector of extraordinary bodies[2]. He wants to break the taboo of invisibility of people with disabilities in the public sphere, but he does not allow them to speak. The figures in his photographs are oddities put on display, as in the infamous freak shows[3] popular in the 1930s.

The prematurely-deceased dancer and choreographer Rafał Urbacki in his performance Mt 9,7 [And he arose, and departed to his house] speaks about disability from an autobiographical perspective. The artist confronts his religiosity, his affiliation to the Catholic Church from which he left–or rather, which excluded him when he realised his homosexuality. In a 20-minute performance, we learn about the story of acceptance and rejection, the search for identity and the resistance that an impaired body puts up to limitations, both from society and of its own. The adult Rafał gets up from his wheelchair, not by a miracle, but thanks to exercises and a movement method he has developed himself. The enormous effort he makes, however, does not stop the chronic disease. Rafał dies as a result of myopathy in 2019.

At the opening of the exhibition, activist and dancer Katarzyna Żeglicka will present an autobiographical performance entitled Contrast Resonance, in which she revisits a memory associated with the oppression of medicalisation. Katarzyna describes herself as genderqueer and crip. Through her work, she “spits ableism in the face”. She considers dance a form of activism and emancipation. During the exhibition Katarzyna will organise a workshop “Move over!” about transforming inaccessible spaces.

Karolina Wiktor is an Aphasian, i.e. a person who has lost the ability to use language, the ability to speak, read, and write. Her aphasia was caused by a stroke she suffered at a very young age. For the ex-performer, the disease and the resulting loss of memory became the subject of her art, while art itself became a practice of self-healing. At the exhibition, Karolina will show an installation entitled SAMOREAL based on a language system she created herself, which she calls “The Alphabet of the Missing Font”. The alphabet has been constructed in order to learn again the codes of communication with the world. As the artist herself says in an interview with dwutygodnik:

“I constructed the alphabet inspired by the word ‘lack’, and the new wave music band of the same name, which used a brutal red font from which elements of letters were cut out.”[4]

Liliana Zeic describes herself as an ally, or rather one who is still learning allyship. As an able-bodied, white, queer, cisgender woman, she based her presence in an exhibition about (in)accessibilities on the bodily experience of trauma. She emphasises the relational nature of dealing with difficult experiences, and visualises them through a graphic sign and an object.

Joanna Pawlik’s large-format photograph Untitled (Magda) shows a smiling young girl with no leg sitting on a bed. What draws attention is the easiness with which the model poses for the photograph, her unpretentiousness and undisguised joy.

Paulina Pankiewicz is an artist and a runner. She has been guiding long distance blind runners for 10 years. She is an ally. The installation Psychogeographic Views, created in collaboration with athlete and massage therapist Grzegorz Powałka (now deceased), is a record of their walks–an urban drift [dérive] inspired by Situationists’ practice. While Grzegorz describes space with words, Paulina chooses drawing. The overlapping of these perspectives–of a blind person and a sighted one–results in a very subjective map of the city, which shows places that evoked particular feelings in the authors. Running is also an auditory inspiration for Paulina. An ‘opera’ composed of runners’ breath will be staged during the opening.

The Nowolipie Group is a phenomenon in the Polish art field. It was formed in 2005 as a result of the alteration of a ceramic workshops for people with disabilities, run by Paweł Althamer. In practice, he extended Joseph Beuys’ maxim, following the principle: “everyone can be an artist, some people simply need to be assisted”. The group combines the pleasure of spending time together with the creative process, which usually materialises in the form of a concrete work: a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture. At the exhibition in the Arsenał Gallery, Nowolipie will present the painting Still Life and organise workshops, to which they invite everyone regardless of age and (dis)ability status to draw with them.

Pamela Bożek’s self-portrait with her son Not All Gold  and the accompanying object–a golden plaster–are a record of the way in which the experience of a child’s disability is dealt with in a public space. As the artist writes: “A desperate and extravagant strategy of aestheticisation–the gilding of post-operative plaster bandages–turned out to be an effective protection against difficult, mass expressions of sympathy, surprise, and curiosity, which prevented even a momentary escape from pain and discomfort.”

The Bojka Diving Collective brings together female divers with varying abilities and health status, who are often also at risk of economic exclusion. Bojka’s activities include counteracting gender discrimination (mainly against the marginalisation of women in the diving community), fight for the aquatic environment (with a particular focus on coral reefs) and using diving as a tool for emancipation. During the exhibition, the collective will show a series of posters relating to the (in)accessibility of institutions and urban spaces for people with disabilities.

The exhibition is a place where different experiences and approaches to disabilities come together, from distanced curiosity, through biographical and allied engagement, to a project of changing the world we live in. In late capitalist reality, disablement takes place on a global scale. Not only human and animal bodies are being exploited and harmed, but also the landscapes in which we live and which we are part of. The well-being of people with and without disabilities is therefore linked to the condition of the planet. As survivors on planet Earth, we must learn to live with the damage caused by the violence of capitalism, colonialism, and speciesism. This is the heritage we get from our ancestors. The ability to cope with it depends on situatedness. Politics of (In)Accessibility, Citizens with Disabilities, and Their Allies is a voice, or rather a polyphony of voices, in the discussion about what the category of disability is and could become, and how to use it to bring about a lasting change not only in the way we think, but also in the way our human-nonhuman communities and their institutions function.

By Zofia nierodzińska


[1] Sunaura Taylor, Beast of Burden. Animal and Disability Liberation, New York, 2017

[2] Extraordinary bodies is a term coined by American theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in her book   Extraordinary Bodies. Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature, Columbia University Press, NY, 1997

[3] Freak shows, i.e. exhibitions of people with unusual physical characteristics that were intended to shock the audience. From today’s perspective, freak shows are often regarded as socially-insensitive entertainment based on racism and ableism, and have rightly passed into history.

[4] https://www.dwutygodnik.com/artykul/7844-moje-niekoniecznosci.html (accessed: 7.12.2021)

Photo: Jakub Krzyżanowski

[The selection of photos show different views on exhibition “Politics of (In)Accessibilities, Citizens with Disabilities and Their Allies”. First three photos show the lower exhibition floor with the walls and the floor paint in red. There are works of Joanna Pawlik: larg scale portrait of a women with amputated right leg; installation “SAMOREAL” by Karolina Wiktor which consists of black letters painted on the white wall and objects to sit… ]

Notes from the Polish-Belarusian Border

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What seemed unlikely a few weeks ago is slowly becoming routine today. Violence permeates everything, crawls out of the dark cells of memory hidden in the subconscious and covered with nationalism. It crawls out of the village barn where Poles burned their Jewish neighbours, it returns in the wilderness dotted with mass graves of executed civilians and insurgents. One does not cut down and burn what is, those who are. No one is at home here. Grandfather born in Baku, grandmother in a Belarusian family, great-grandfather from Prussia, changed his name. My father emigrated to the States. I moved away just after primary school. Here, where I am, someone was already here before. The whole collective works for where I will be.

(…)

Fragment of the text written in Polish and German, published in Czas Kultury and Neues Deutschland

https://www.nd-aktuell.de/artikel/1158568.konflikt-zwischen-polen-und-belarus-im-dunklen-versteckwald.html

he appeal of the cultural community on the situation on the eastern border of the Republic of Poland 

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We, the undersigned, strongly oppose the illegal and inhumane “push-back” practices used by the Polish Border Guard. People in a desperate situation, fleeing war and violence, are demanding support from the Polish state, and we have an obligation to provide it. We appeal for immediate help for those in need, for medics to be allowed in, and for all individuals and organisations that are able to find people wandering in the forests and save them from death. At this point we would like to point out that we fully support the efforts of the Granica (Border) Group. We do not agree with the dehumanising and insulting way in which displaced people are portrayed by the Polish authorities and associated media. There is a humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border that requires immediate intervention. We appeal to the international community and in particular to human rights organisations for support. We demand compliance with the Geneva Convention and, above all, that human lives be saved.

https://www.petycjeonline.com/apel_rodowiska_kultury_w_sprawie_sytuacji_na_wschodniej_granicy_rzeczpospolitej_polskiej

The Politics of (In)Accessibility

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Online and offline symposium

[The graphic in gray-brown colors is a collage composed of layers. In the foreground there is a short arm, which ends 10 centimeters below the elbow. Next to it on a table stands a computer with a black and white image of two dogs, further, there is a prosthesis hand and an open human palm stretched upwards. To the right of the frame is the symposium title in three languages. In the background, there is a desert with rocks and cacti. Between the rocks and cacti grows a tree, over which a rainbow stretches.]

During the first lockdown some people missed “normality”. But normality is also in a crisis, as it produces separation, isolation and  infrastructures that continue to destroy our bodies and nature. The pandemic has once again shown: our lives are vulnerable, and some lives are more than others. The way out is to think space and time otherwise. We need more stories about practices of care and accessibility, about disabled artists and activists and their valuable and tireless (educational) work.

Accessibility has recently become crucial in the context of art. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, cultural institutions had to switch to remote programming. The online space has been flooded with discussion panels, 3D exhibitions and live-streamed performances. Audiences grew, people confined to their homes were able to remotely participate in cultural life, and speakers did not have to travel hundreds of miles by train, car, or aeroplane to attend a 1.5-hour-long meeting, leading to tangible benefits to the environment. However, few of these events were actually accessible to those with diverse individual needs: older people, children, and blind/visually impaired or deaf/ hard of hearing people, persons with learning disabilities etc.

How do we make public spaces, including art institutions, accessible to people with different needs, taking this into account from the very beginning, when it comes to architecture and communication? It is crucial to increase public awareness of these issues of exclusion and allocate substantial financial resources in order to implement change. For the time being, the responsibility for creating “habitable worlds”, to use Nancy Mairs’s term, rests on the shoulders of already marginalised people and precarious cultural and administrative workers, burdened with the responsibility of ensuring accessibility as part of their long list of duties. Accessibility cannot be viewed as a task to be completed in the so-called meantime. It should be our top priority, a political demand that puts into practice the constitutional right to equal treatment for all, including equal access to services and opportunity to shape common spaces. It is about criticizing power structures in institutions. As disability activist Alice Wong said “disability justice is simply another term of love”. Access means equal recognition of disabled people and changing of non-disabled people and their acting and thinking – in all spaces, including those already seeing themselves as critical. Curator Noa Winter (Berlin) writes that even non-disabled feminists forget to thank “those marginalized people who have developed this knowledge (about accessibility and digital access) with unbelievable effort and in a never-ending painful process, and who time and again convey this knowledge in mostly unpaid, emotional labour to ableist institutions and non disabled feminists alike”.

The international symposium “The Politics of (In)Accessibility” aims to explore different ways of working with accessibility by thinking together the situations of disabled activists and artists in the Polish, German and Russian contexts. The symposium comprises two events: a panel discussion, “Democratizing Accessibility” (presented in hybrid mode) and a webinar, “Art and Life in Extreme Circumstances” (online on the Zoom platform). The first will focus on the institutional reality: we will discuss the anti-ableist strategies of disabled artists and activists working or collaborating with institutions. The second meeting will take as its starting point the situation faced by the artist and activist Yulia Tsvetkova, who became a political prisoner of the Kremlin as a result of her emancipatory endeavours. Unfortunately, protection of human life is not guaranteed. While Yulia’s freedom is put under threat by the Russian state, in Poland feminist activists are taken to court for their protest against the ban of abortion. Everywhere, disabled persons in care homes and likewise institutions are at everyday risk of violence. In April 2021, four disabled persons were killed in a care home in Potsdam. In Russia, thousands of people cannot escape the walls of the “boarding houses” into which they are sent after turning 18. We will compare the Polish, Russian, and German contexts and consider what strategies can be employed in the face of systemic oppression, ableist structures and depoliticization of inclusion.

Ahead of the first panel, from the beginning of July until the end of August, we will be releasing videos by artists and activists, in which they contextualize living as those who do not conform to the physical, neurological and psychological imaginary “standards”, created by the colonial, heterosexist and ableist society. Most videos will include audio description and subtitles in Polish, Russian, German and English. The recording of the panel “Democratizing Accessibility” will be made available on Saturday 24 July. On the same day, the “Art and Life in Extreme Circumstances” webinar will take place. The registration for this webinar will be opened a week before on the 17th of July. You can find us on our website, YT channel and FB of Arsenal Municipal Gallery and on the website and in social networks of Feminist Translocalities.

During both meetings, panellists will use their everyday means of communication: Polish, Russian, German, and Polish Sign Language. The entire event will be translated into Polish and Polish Sign Language, with subtitles in Russian, German, or English added in post-production.

Participants of the symposium: Androgyne und Centaur, Anna Kilina, Alena Levina, Daniel Kotowski, Eliah Lüthi, Elżbieta Podleśna, Filip Pawlak, Karolina Wiktor, Katarzyna Żeglicka, Katrin Nenasheva, Kolektyw Nurkowy Bojka, Miriam Cochanski, Sofia Savina, Wiktoria Siedlecka-Dorosz, Vera Berlinova

Moderation: Kira Shmyreva, Zofia nierodzinska.

Technical support: Vica Kravtsova

Production: Monika Petryczko, Agnieszka Nawrocka, Michał Anioła

Translations: Irina Bondas, Victoria Kravtsova, Natalia Bucholska, Aleksander Gazarian, Renata Baranowska, Wojciech Król, Karolina Bocian, Marta Jaroń, Joanna Figiel, Marcin Turski.

Audio descriptions: Vera Berlinova, Remigiusz Koziński, Fundacja Otwieramy Kulturę i Sztukę [We Open Art and Culture Foundation]

The event is supported by Stiftung für deutsch-polnische Zusammenarbeit, as well as German Foreign Office.

Graphic design: Magdalena Sobolska