The painting “On the origin of Poles” tells the story of a kind of nationalistic megalomania, which finds its release in the myths about ancient Poland, touching upon the problem of post-truth, which is increasingly entering the realm of historical studies. The painting depicts an unspecified ritual (perhaps the baptism of Poland) placed in the ancient scenery of mountains and forests. The scene is inspired by fantasy aesthetics and the content of pseudo-historical books, such as Slavic Kings of Lechia, which are increasingly becoming bestsellers on the Polish publishing market
Featuring works by a group of accomplished, and mostly young, Polish artists who deal with current social issues, this exhibition is an attempt at analysing the current dispute over various signs and symbols and the associations they evoke. The viewer is exposed to the universal, though latent, conflict over the right to interpret history. The exhibition is curated by Ada Piekarska.
Wouldst thou go into isolation, my brother? Wouldst thou seek the way unto thyself? Tarry yet a little and hearken unto me.“He who seeketh may easily get lost himself. All isolation is wrong”: so say the herd. And long didst thou belong to the herd. The voice of the herd will still echo in thee. And when thou sayest, “I have no longer a conscience in common with you,” then will it be a plaint and a pain. Lo, that pain itself did the same conscience produce; and the last gleam of that conscience still gloweth on thine affliction.
But thou wouldst go the way of thine affliction, which is the way unto thyself? Then show me thine authority and thy strength to do so! Art thou a new strength and a new authority? A first motion? A self- rolling wheel? Canst thou also compel stars to revolve around thee? Alas! there is so much lusting for loftiness! There are so many convulsions of the ambitions! Show me that thou art not a lusting and ambitious one! Alas! there are so many great thoughts that do nothing more than the bellows: they inflate, and make emptier than ever. Free, dost thou call thyself? Thy ruling thought would I hear of, and not that thou hast escaped from a yoke. Art thou one entitled to escape from a yoke? Many a one hath cast away his final worth when he hath cast away his servitude. Free from what? What doth that matter to Zarathustra! Clearly, however, shall thine eye show unto me: free for what? Canst thou give unto thyself thy bad and thy good, and set up thy will as a law over thee? Canst thou be judge for thyself, and avenger of thy law? Terrible is aloneness with the judge and avenger of one’s own law. Thus is a star projected into desert space, and into the icy breath of aloneness.
To-day sufferest thou still from the multitude, thou individual; to-day hast thou still thy courage unabated, and thy hopes. But one day will the solitude weary thee; one day will thy pride yield, and thy courage quail. Thou wilt one day cry: “I am alone!”
One day wilt thou see no longer thy loftiness, and see too closely thy lowliness; thy sublimity itself will frighten thee as a phantom. Thou wilt one day cry: “All is false!” There are feelings which seek to slay the lonesome one; if they do not succeed, then must they themselves die! But art thou capable of it–to be a murderer? (…)
Thou lonesome one, thou goest the way to thyself! And past thyself and thy seven devils leadeth thy way! A heretic wilt thou be to thyself, and a wizard and a sooth-sayer, and a fool, and a doubter, and a reprobate, and a villain. Ready must thou be to burn thyself in thine own flame; how couldst thou become new if thou have not first become ashes! Thou lonesome one, thou goest the way of the creating one: a God wilt thou create for thyself out of thy seven devils!
Thou lonesome one, thou goest the way of the loving one: thou lovest thyself, and on that account despisest thou thyself, as only the loving ones despise. To create, desireth the loving one, because he despiseth! What knoweth he of love who hath not been obliged to despise just what he loved! With thy love, go into thine isolation, my brother, and with thy creating; and late only will justice limp after thee. With my tears, go into thine isolation, my brother. I love him who seeketh to create beyond himself, and thus succumbeth.
Thus spoke Zarathustra
fot. Paweł Baśnik
People like decennial dates and, for some inexplicable reason, they give them special meaning. It is no different with the hundredth anniversary of Poland regaining its independence. This milestone anniversary certainly had a significant impact also on the Polish art world, as evidenced by the intensification of projects focusing on national identity and, generally speaking, socio-political discourse.
At the invitation of the Krakow art society, Otwarta Pracownia, which asked me to create an individual exhibition concerning the aforementioned subject, I decided to create a series of works aimed at finding a counterweight to various types of patriotic symbolism, which is more and more clearly associated and appropriated by extremely nationalistic circles. Based mainly on old photographs, I painted a series of paintings that, by referring to historical events, would also be an attempt to balance some of the tendencies and tensions that currently occur in Polish society.
One of the effects of the work is a series of herstoric portraits depicting women who, by their actions, played an important role in Polish independence aspirations. They are: Wanda Gertz, Olga Stawecka, Aleksandra Zagórska, Aleksandra Szczerbińska and many others.
Among the presented paintings there is also a thread related to the figure of Józef Bem, an eminent Polish general and a Muslim. His body was initially buried in 1850 in Aleppo, to be transferred seventy-seven years later to Tarnów, his home town. As it is not allowed to bury religious dissenters at Catholic cemeteries, the authorities decided to build a mausoleum with an erected tomb and of course – with the general’s body turned towards Mecca. However, the tomb was eventually placed in the middle of the park.
I also mentioned the figure of the Polish colonel of Jewish descent and the officer of the Polish Legions – Berek Joselewicz. Thanks to his appeal, a regiment was formed that took part in the Kościuszko Uprising. It was the first Jewish armed detachment since the ancient times. In addition to Joselewicz, the rabbi Dow Ber Meisels also appears among the works – a symbol of Polish-Jewish reconciliation and a common struggle against tsarist Russia.
On the basis of a not very successful eighteenth-century sketch, I also painted a portrait of Władysław Jabłonowski – the only dark-skinned general in the history of the Polish army, who, like the above-mentioned ones, distinguished himself in many important battles such as in the Battle of Szczekociny or defense of Saska Kępa.
General Jabłonowski died on Saint-Domingue fighting for Napoleon during the Haitian Revolution. Interestingly, along with him and hundreds of other Polish soldiers from the 113th demi-brigade of infantry, one of the most important symbols of Polishness – the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa – found its way to Haiti. This image was absorbed by the local culture and was incorporated into the pantheon of the deities of Voodoo religion as the goddess Erzulie – the guardian of mothers, lesbians and prostitutes – who takes revenge on everyone who harms women. In one hand she holds a female child, and a knife in the other. The sacrifice is usually made of strong cigarettes and rum.
There was also a narrative, specific to my creative works, from the borderline of science and mysticism. It is visible in a diptych consisting of a distorted portrait of the dead Józef Piłsudski and the image of his close co-participant in parapsychological experiments and a seer – Stefan Ossowiecki. Convinced of the psychic powers of his mind, Pitsudski decided that after death, his brain would be examined in order to discover these supernatural properties. The Marshal’s brain was located until the outbreak of World War II at the Polish Institute of Brain Research in Vilnius. Later, this preparation, along with all documents, has been lost and it is still missing.
The exhibition also features Neoslavic references to Stanisław Szukalski. Almost one hundred years after the birth of Stach from Warta, I came to the world exactly in the same town with only a few thousand inhabitants. Was it a coincidence?
fot. Paweł Baśnik
fot. Ala Savashevic
“The Tin Drum” is the story of a boy who – rebelling against the reality of adults – at the age of three decides not to grow up. Gunter Grass himself, at the age of fifteen, escaped from home and tried to enlist in the army – without success. It was not until two years later that he was drafted into the army, and at the end of his life he confessed that he was a Waffen-SS soldier. The disclosure of this fact caused a lot of controversy around the world, but the mitigating circumstances were the young age of the writer and his subsequent merits for German and world culture. Baśnik’s two symmetrical eels, painted in the format of a vertical rectangle, resemble the SS flag and directly correspond with the poster of the performance, depicting a child’s windmill disturbingly similar to the swastika.
The scene of catching eels – both described in the book by Grass and shown in the later, Oscar-winning film directed by Schlondorff – is as fascinating and memorable as it is repulsive. The head of a horse, wrenched out by a fisherman on the shore of a Baltic beach, whose mouth, nostrils and ears reveal eels feeding on the carcass, can be interpreted in many ways. An allegory of an impending catastrophe is being made of it: a worm penetrating once healthy tissue (a reference to the growing fascism), but also poverty, collapse, the inevitable end of a certain world. Perspective of a child who does not want to grow up, a child of many cultures (mother of the protagonist is Kashubian, his father is German, uncle and also mother’s lover is Polish, while the beach scene is still taking place in the free city of Gdansk), only completes the atmosphere of tearing, confusion and lack of belonging. After all, how to find one’s place in the world that has gone crazy? In a world that turns against itself.
Well, it seems that you should stay on the sidelines; instead of the language – use the cipher and, under the guise of child naivete, secretly look for what is good and true. Even refusing to grow up, however, you will not avoid painful spatter of the hostile adult reality plunged into chaos. Michał Bieniek
The tradition of the visual has often overlapped with the inexpressible, and the confrontation was sealed by the “anarrative” modernist art.
The title of the exhibition, which in Polish triggers association with dumbness or infant babble, refers to Tadeusz Miciński’s esoteric work from 1910 – Nietota. The Mystic Book of the Tatra Mountains. The author used a word which commonly described lepidodendrons, an extinct genus of tree-like plants from 300 million years ago. As folk superstition had it, especially in the Carpathian Mountains, they possessed magical powers.
However, it is difficult to explain Miciński’s motivations when using the tradition of witchcraft in his visionary novel. Given the author’s personality, whose literary rendition can be found in one of the novels by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, he was not driven solely by ethnographic fascinations. The use of the neologism in the title of the book referred to a state of “non-sense” and infirmity, and to the habit of not using proper names, which is reflected in the strong belief in sympathetic magic, and indirectly – in the supernatural power of representation.
As the French philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin claimed, in the old days there was no distinction between technology, magic, religion and art. While drawing on the relationship between art and the inexpressible, and the connections between artistic and magical practices, the exhibition simultaneously raises the problem of the persecution of antisocial individuals, and indirectly – the aestheticisation of violence, which is present in the theatre-like setting of witch trials.
The belief in the existence of secret knowledge and invisible powers is still widespread, irrespective of the technological advancement of civilisation. By modelling and representing reality, transmuting matter, the mystic aspect of the abstract, the performative character of gesture and the intertwining of mimesis and hermetic symbolism, the artistic practice penetrates many spheres of human spirituality. The exhibition feature paintings, videos, objects and installations referring to those matters. Łukasz Huculak
fot. Małgorzata Kujda, © Muzeum Współczesne Wrocław, 2018
Everything that is alive must die sooner or later. This obvious conclusion can be easily made by observing the world around us. The fact that every life stretches in time towards death is a universally known truth. So I will also die, just like everyone else who lived before me. I know this and, at the same time, I cannot believe it – me, who is watching this world, me who breathes and thinks, will soon leave for emptiness and nothingness. Should I be afraid of this black hole, which I am inevitably approaching?
meditating on one’s death is associated mainly with a traumatic premonition of the end of one’s individuality. If consciousness is nothing more than the biological function of the brain, all my subjective, first-person and qualitative world of experience will eventually pop like a soap bubble. The psychic continuity which builds the sense of self will vanish forever with the last breath.
Is it possible, then, to find a way to cancel the sentence that biology has given us? The scientific community is boldly proclaiming that the “Promethean dream of medicine” will soon be fulfilled. According to some predictions, the first man who reaches immortality has probably already come into the world. Genetics is the area of research in which the greatest hope is placed, but parallel solutions are being sought based on the latest digital technologies, which is explained by the installation made with a steam projector presented below. Transhumanists like Ray Kurzwail make bold predictions that the twenty-first century will be a century in which successive scientific discoveries and technological inventions will lead humanity to the so-called singularity which will force us to redefine everything that is included in the concept of humanity. Human evolution will accelerate in every possible aspect, but it will not be a biological evolution but a technological one. It is a man who will control its course using his own tools. Indeed, we are already witnessing this phenomenon. Paweł Baśnik
fot. Grzegorz Stadnik, 2018
fot. Grzegorz Stadnik, 2018
Paweł Baśnik, a Painting as a relic of personal consciouseness (excerpt)
,,Consciousness seems to be an absolute condition by which ‘something’ changes into ‘someone’. It makes a given piece of matter become a person who knows about his existence and differentiates himself from the rest of the universe. In turn, the relic, in the cultural context is understood as a product of bygone eras, which has retained its form, changing the initial functions over time. In the biogeographical context, however, it means small groups of organisms that have survived in a small area, maintaining continuity with species that became extinct in previous epochs. The painting understood as an artifact, although it belongs to the inanimate world, is a product that in a special way reflects many aspects of mind and corporeality. Consciousness disappears with the death of the body, but the painting becomes a kind of remnant of the creative mind, and indirectly also of other people, places, objects that were in the field of its consciousness and were included in the work. However, the extent to which the painting can save us is subject to various mechanisms and verifications, from the physical survival of the work to the power of cultural and social influence.”
The exhibition presented paintings that are vanitative not so much in the presented motif and illustrative layer, but in the paint and the painting method itself, which does not try to cover up, but even more emphasize the organicity and corporeality of the medium which is painting. Paweł Baśnik
Łukasz Huculak, Ktoś Inny. Thoughts on the works of Paweł Baśnik
Jerzy Nowosielski, making no secret of his fascination with the art of Francis Bacon, has repeatedly found the emanation of evil (Satan) in his paintings. Many people have a similar perception of death or black metal – and that’s what Baśnik is listening to.
Similarly sinister atmosphere has a long tradition in painting – from medieval purgatories, through Bosch, Monsu Desiderio, to the black paintings in the Quinta del Sordo. Bacon himself could patronize last year’s exhibition of the Krakow group Wprost, and not only in the direct references of Zbylut Grzywacz. Note the splitting of Waltos’ bodies, Bieniasz’s distortions or Sobocki’s bold textures. Just before their exhibition at the Manggha Museum, in the nearby MOCAK, we could also see Medicine in Art. Both exhibitions boldly reveal the affinity of impastos and meat, spongings and skin so close to Bacon, and also known to Rembrandt (portrait of de Lairesse).
Generally: paint and body. The paint materials owe their mimetic properties primarily to the oil technique. However, the mimetic potential of pigments was already used in the ancient epoch of Fayum coffin portraits, painted with the encaustic technique, which is considered a prototype of a modern portrait (in Manggha one can see the “coffin” portraits of Sobocki). From the moment when art dealt a bit more with existential questions, since it complemented its symbolic functions with the ability to recall absentees, the imitative potential of organic binders became priceless.
These properties are explored by Baśnik, first evoking the presence of his characters, and then revealing their physical impermanence. This is not a purely formal procedure, it is not just about a visual effect. Like with Bacon, Sobocki, and earlier anonymous Fayum painters, Ghirlandaio portraying the old man’s wart-studded face, Giorgione painting his “old lady” or Viennese secessionists, it is about capturing a certain flaw, for some its beauty, for others: the drama. The questions of those painters are coming back today in the mainstream of new painting, in the bold use of paint and the painting destruction of Alexander Tinei, Adrian Ghenie, Michael Borremans and Markus Schinwald. They and Baśnik have one accessory in common: photo (presence) and the belief that there is a difference between a paint that expresses something directly and the paint that expresses it by illustration. Photography is a phantom, and paint reveals the truth, affecting the nervous system directly. Bacon painted, always using his photos and mirror simultaneously. There are not one Bacon on his self-portraits – there are many, multiplied, touched, blurry and fuzzy: I’m someone else. What do we see in Paweł Baśnik’s works? The eye is caught by the contrast between the solemn, noble poise, calmness and stiffness of the poses, and the dramatic nature of the damages revealing the inside of the body, the bottom of the face, someone else there – underneath. Baśnik began with painting, sometimes “aged” portraits and drawing studies, in which he experimented with the physiology of perception, splitting the picture into several overlapping and disorienting figures. In both these practices, on the one hand, the painterly tendency to emphasize materiality, and, on the other, the need to disturb the image – the dematerialisation of the presented object – permeated each other. Recent paintings intrigue the viewers with the combination of these searches; the power of their expression is built on the opposition of presence and absence, and perceptual flaws and destruction reveal the paradoxicality of visibility treated as a testimony. In The Trouble With Being Born, Cioran notes: if we could truly see ourselves the way others see us we’d disappear on the spot. Łukasz Huculak
fot. Miron Mattoszko, 2017
Karolina Jaklewicz, Etyka przemocy. About the works of Paweł Baśnik:
The need to inflict pain upon paintings is puzzling. Willingness to cut, destroy, hurt. Willingness to spoil what has been created with painter’s inquisitiveness before. Is it a blow to the category of beauty? Is it a rebellion against the ideal? Brutality destroys the danger of superficial aestheticization. But isn’t it an alternative version of beauty itself? Hasn’t destruction become just as aestheticizing? We are used to the image of destruction. The media shows dramas to us in an acceptable version. Images of suffering become icons of the present. We have grown accustomed to suffering. Photographs of children from Aleppo next to the photo of an athlete, over a pop star, under a politician. Somehow, equally. Dangerous democracy on the main page of the portal. “The image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence” writes Susan Sontag. Destruction as pain and destruction as beauty are two images of bipolar contemporary perception. We become equally insensitive to beauty and pain. Sontag believes that photography has tame the suffering: Being a spectator of calamities taking place in an other countryis a quintessential modern experience”. Paweł Baśnik begins his paintings with photography. These retro-photos are the starting point for further painting stories. Stories about passing, disappearing, dying. Baśnik’s art fits in two trends of young art – work with photography and deconstruction of the painting structure. Photography in its smooth carnality takes away tangible dimension from suffering. Grasping the suffering on the basis of photography, means knowing it from experience. Because photography gives the suffering the dimension of optical illusion. Painting is tangible. The materiality of the painting surface destruction is real, it is here and now. The destruction of the painted photograph is a double game of Baśnik. It is an attack made on an illusion that “this” suffering does not apply to us, that “this” suffering is safely captured by photography. The destruction of the painting concerns us directly. Because we face ourselves in the face of the painting. Because looking at the torn-off face of a portrayed woman, we automatically check whether our skin is in place. Karolina Jaklewicz