BY Vivien Trommer in Reviews | 05 NOV 13
Featured in
Issue 12

Agnieszka Polska

Salzburger Kunstverein

BY Vivien Trommer in Reviews | 05 NOV 13

Agnieszka Polska, The Kiss, 2012, C-type print, 50 × 70 cm

The camera moves searchingly through the room. It scans the bodies made of stuffed clothing that lie lifeless on the floor. Casually, it grazes several busts wrapped tightly in plastic before turning its gaze to a cluster of knives, saws and brushes which have been left behind after some kind of work. This video by Agnieszka Polska, How the Work Is Done (2011), re-enacts a student strike at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow in 1956. During the strike, students barricaded themselves in the sculpture studios, shutting down production, to protest against the Communist government’s labour standards. After just a few days, the strike ended in a violent crackdown. The studios were never used again, and the building was torn down a few years later.

This work is included in Polska’s solo exhibition Pseudoword Hazards which comprises digital photographic collages and videos from 2009–12. In most of the works, Polska engages with forms of commemoration and the idea that history is intangible in the present. Questions of the transmission of historical events are as central to these works as is curiosity about the past and the forgotten. How does present and future time relate to each other? Can historical knowledge alter the future? How do we fill the gaps that are formed when we reconstruct historical events?

The exhibition design at the Salzburger Kunstverein explicitly pushes the video works to the centre – and the photo collages to the periphery. Three of the videos play one after another on oversized projection screens propped slanting against the wall. Through a process of montage, Polska stages history as a subjective process of appropriation. In fragments she joins together found footage, photographed images from books and animated videos. She artificially ages the newer video material using digital effects. Showing minor and incidental things and focusing on the quality of the image, Polska underscores the movement of her camera in contrast to her inert subjects.

In the video Sensitization to Colour (2010) the voiceover narration highlights the importance of Włodzimierz Borowski, an artist who played a significant role in the development of Polish art in the 1960s but who has now fallen into obscurity. The story is at first accompanied by filmed portrait photographs of Borowski before a black screen and the words, ‘We are now visiting the place’, break the flow. A reconstruction of a Borowski exhibition is shown. The camera takes a seemingly documentary tour of the space, filming abandoned objects and sculptures, materials and work utensils. Set pieces from literature, research and Borowski’s own writings tie the film sequences so tightly together that by the end the images do little more than illustrate the voiceover narration.

Polska’s digitally collaged prints appear indistinguishable from photographs. In Levitating Egg (2011) and Haroun (2012) for example, the subjects – a hovering egg, smouldering stones or plants in motion – lead to more questions than they answer. A moment of uncertainty arises, in which the fictional no longer stands in opposition to reality. Do the images show something real or staged? Unlike the video works, the photographs thrive on this sneaking question.

On the whole, Pseudoword Hazards tells a coherent and almost unbroken story. Rather than addressing the ruptures that emerge when one seeks to reconstruct a historical event in the present, Polska connects her subjective conjectures and grounded historical knowledge with a poetic and sometimes nostalgic thread.
Translated by Jane Yager