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Issue 210

Agnieszka Brzeżańska’s Call to Protect the Planet

At Królikarnia, Warsaw, the artist imagines a world in which unique natural, cultural and recreational resources are protected instead of endangered

BY Dorian Batycka in EU Reviews , Reviews | 28 FEB 20

When it comes to planetary destruction, the angst many of us feel today is palpable. Environmental activism and calls to protect the planet have reached a near-fever pitch, sounded by Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and other groups. In light of these developments, Gdańsk-born artist Agnieszka Brzeżańska’s latest exhibition at Królikarnia in Warsaw imagines that the entire planet has been declared a national park – a delineated space that protects unique natural, cultural and recreational resources.

Situated above the entrance to the former palace-turned-museum, is James Cadle’s The Flag of Earth (1970), which sets the tone for Brzeżańska’s show. Designed by a rural farmer from Homer, Illinois, the flag consists of a black background with a yellow arc on the left illustrating the sun, a blue circle in the middle representing the earth and a small, white circle in the bottom right depicting the moon. A utopian call for planetary solidarity, designed shortly after the 1969 moon landing, the flag’s colours and composition have inspired Brzeżańska’s No Magic, Just Miracles (2014). For this three-dimensional collage, the artist zooms in on our planet’s environmental challenges, incorporating an inkjet print in the background that depicts washed-up garbage and plastic: man-made waste that will probably never be fully recycled.

Flag of Earth, 1970, installation based on a design by James Cadle. Courtesy: Xawery Dunikowski Sculpture Museum, Królikarnia, Warsaw; photograph: Szymon Rogiński

Moving further into the exhibition, the works unfold in a polyphony of forms and media, meditations on the environment and patriarchal paradigms. Untangling the deeply rooted pigeonholing of female artists as amateurs throughout history, Brzeżańska reclaims practices traditionally associated with women by including a carpet by the weaver Ludgarda Sieńko. Sieńko’s double-weave symmetrical textile, World National Park (2019), features bison, foxes, deer, people and flora. The ornate carpet depicts a seemingly ideal environment, in which nature thrives in peace. 

The exhibition’s most striking piece is a monumental fountain installed in the central rotunda of the museum. Surrounded by mustard-coloured Corinthian columns and opulent floral crown mouldings, The Source (2018) depicts a towering wellspring made of epoxy resin, sculpted in the shape of a naked woman squatting over a rock with her legs spread apart, a small stream of water trickling between them into a small, surrounding lake. The fountain is encircled by several melted candles placed on ceramic dishes. Atop mirrors, they seem to be the remains of a ritual that might have taken place here.  Installed in a Polish museum, The Source also seems to speak to the misogynistic language used in the country.  The Polish term ‘srom’, for instance, has a double meaning: it translates to ‘vulva’ and can also be used as a synonym for ‘shame’. Exposing her genitals with pride, the woman in Brzeżańska’s sculpture reclaims the term and challenges the limitations imposed on women by Polish society, which – at least at a governmental level – maintains regressive views on women’s social roles and reproductive rights. 

Agnieszka Brzeżańska, ‘World National Park’, installation view, 2020, Xawery Dunikowski Sculpture Museum, Królikarnia, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Szymon Rogiński

Leaving the exhibition, I was struck by its evocation of not only spiritual and feminist artists – including Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keeffe – but also of the plants, animals and spirits that belong to the non-anthropogenic world. As both a warning and reminder, Brzeżańska’s show seems to ask what would happen if our survival simply depended on reclassifying the world as a national park and expressing the same compassion that Cadle’s Flag of Earth stands for, blowing in the wind outside the gallery. 

Agnieszka Brzeżańska, ‘World National Park’ runs at Xawery Dunikowski Sculpture Museum, Królikarnia, Warsaw, from 26 November 2019 until 1 March 2020.

Main Image: Agnieszka Brzeżańska, ‘World National Park’, installation view, 2020, Xawery Dunikowski Sculpture Museum, Królikarnia, Warsaw. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Szymon Rogiński

Dorian Batycka is a writer and curator based in Berlin, Germany.