BY Goska Charylo in Reviews | 01 JAN 10
Featured in
Issue 128

Anabasis: Rituals of Homecoming

Ludwik Grohman Villa and Book Art Museum, Łódź, Poland

BY Goska Charylo in Reviews | 01 JAN 10

Mathilde Rosier, Reserve of the Eagles, 2007, mixed media, 4x3x2 m

For ‘Anabasis: Rituals of Homecoming’ curator Adam Budak turned to the industrial architecture of Łódź – a soot-covered city that was once a lively, cosmopolitan 19th-century metropolis. Melancholic, decadent and sophisticated, Budak’s exhibition was staged in the gorgeous yet derelict neo-Renaissance villa previously owned by industrial tycoon Ludwik Grohman and the small private museum inside it which was once owned by Grohman’s son Henryk, a patron and collector. Carefully selected and mounted, these works came together to build a palpable aura out of uncertain layers. In the Ludwik Grohman Villa, Pedro Cabrita Reis created a startling light piece, Learning From A Wall (2009), which emphasized the multiple coats of paint that have covered the interiors over time and thus highlighted the history of the place itself. In the nearby park, the artist also made a brick version of sculptor Katarzyna Kobro’s 1928 Spatial Composition 2, a reminder that, in Kobro’s time, the city was a centre of the Polish Constructivist movement. Following the work of Alain Badiou, Budak explains that the Greek word anabasein means: ‘both “to embark” and “to return”, and seems to aptly describe the [20th] century, which ceaselessly oscillated between its own beginning and end’. This century, according to Budak, ‘is marked by the urge for, and the necessity of, movement – homecoming, a search for roots, a desperate need to construct a “new order”’.

Along with Badiou, Andrei Tarkovsky was the show’s second ideological godfather. His 1975 film The Mirror and his series of 80 Polaroid images entitled ‘Instant Light’ (1979–84), which depicts the mythical house of his youth in Russia and his home in Italy, where he spent his last days, generated an air of nostalgia while providing a specific point of reference for works by contemporary artists. The motifs of mirroring and reflection reappeared in the exhibition time and again, particularly in Adrian Paci’s 2006 film Per Speculum, which includes scenes reflected in shards of a broken mirror held by children sitting in a tree. Jarosław Flicin´ski approached the reflection in a more abstract way, as a trace of someone’s existence. His Indeed, All The More Because Of That (2009) was a subtle intervention in the architecture of the villa: the artist exposed sections of plaster on one of the walls, and these, along with painted fragments, formed a geometric pattern of white and grey diagonal stripes that blended with rays of sunlight pouring into the room.

In an aesthetic move that served as an accurate representation of Palestine’s history, Yael Bartana’s video Summer Camp (2007) was presented on a double-sided screen with Helmar Lerski’s 1935 propaganda film Awodah (Palestine). Like two sides of a coin, Summer Camp documented the recent reconstruction of a Palestinian house by volunteers from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, while Lerski’s film presented a Modernist Zionist Utopia. In Lida Abdul’s What We Saw Upon Awakening (2006), homecoming is presented as a traumatic discovery of ruins – those of the artist’s own house in Kabul – which are then shown being buried as if part of a funeral ceremony. Jonas Dahlberg’s video installation Three Rooms (2008) presents black and white scenes of three domestic interiors slowly falling to pieces, materiality dissolving almost imperceptibly until a wisp of smoke dissipates in the wind.

The grey yards of Łódź also provided the setting for a specially commissioned film by Sharon Lockhart, Courtyards (2009), which follows local street children. Images of boys jumping over gaps between garage roofs, or of a child dipping his bicycle in a puddle, offer a contemporary contrast to the fetishization of homes in Tarkovsky’s Polaroid series, which shows his childhood home among green blossoms, and his equally idyllic house in Italy fashioned after it. The native landscape for which Tarkovsky longed seems to be treated with less idealism and romanticism by artists born in the late 20th century. The tranquil landscape and sounds of nature in Agnieszka Polska’s animated film The Calendar (2008) are constantly disrupted by the buzzing of flies, while the landscape in Mathilde Rosier’s installation Reserve of the Eagles (2007) is surreal, with a mountain river pouring into a bed, and birds appearing as dead props in glass cases.

The all-night opening of ‘Anabasis’ concluded with Rosier’s performance Morgenrock, in which a man in a dressing gown emerged from the darkness of the park and danced to the sound of a harp, his movements becoming more and more energetic with the rising sun. The insomniac opening night was directed as carefully as the exhibition itself, and in the morning the visitors completed the Anabasis ritual naturally, heading towards their homes.

Translated by Krzysztof Kosciuczuk