If you have ever tried spotting stick insects in a glass tank, you’ll know how I felt strolling through the twisting corridors and cavernous halls of the Museum Abteiberg on the lookout for pieces by Cezary Bodzianowski, an artist who has worked primarily in performance for more than two decades. This place is called the Hole was an apt title for a show in which the artist not only invites us into a game of mimicry and deceit, but to dig into the institution’s collection – spanning Expressionism, Conceptualism, Arte Povera to contemporary art.
Most of Bodzianowski’s work takes place outside of museums and institutions, limited to random onlookers and his wife Monika Chojnicka, who documents the events in photographs or on video. It is therefore surprising to see the artist’s work in the context of a museum. This exhibition curated by Jarosław Suchan, a collaboration between Abteiberg and Muzeum Sztuki in Łódz´, where the show will be on view from April, was the first museum survey of Bodzianowski’s impressive yet for the most part unseen output bringing together the artist’s videos, photographs, as well as newly commissioned installations.
To say that Bodzianowski’s works are low-key would be an understatement. A master of disguise – not just in his trademark appearance of black beret and characteristic moustache – camouflage is Bodzianowski’s modus operandi. A good case in point is Black Man Listening to Black Music against Black Background (1996) a photograph which presents the nearly-naked artist, covered in what appears to be shoe polish, lying huddled on a black sofa, clutching a black radio. Elsewhere, Bodzianowski plays along with the architecture of the museum space. One Way Ticket (2007) – a snapshot from a performance in a Paris hotel in which the artist is curled up under a spiral wooden staircase – was mounted on a first floor wall above a flight of stairs, giving the illusion that the stairs continue into the photograph. Birthday (2009), an installation of upturned chairs placed on a table, with glowing light bulbs fixed to the end of each leg, seemed surreally at home in the museum’s café. Whereas Back to Black (2012), displayed on the wall, a white undulating line painted on brown packing paper, didn’t so much echo as wittily mock the geometric pattern of the fluorescent lamps on the ceiling – a comment on Abteiberg’s Postmodern design by Hans Hollein.
The museum’s collection provided both the background and inspiration for Bodzianowski’s own quiet forays into the realm of the avant-garde. Myk (2010), shot in a city park in his hometown of Łódz´, sees the artist blend into the autumn scenery disguised as a yellow maple leaf. The video is presented inside a huge glass display case identical to one nearby encasing the Revolutionsklavier (Revolution Piano) by Joseph Beuys, an instrument used by the artist in a 1969 performance, then covered with a heap of red roses; now dried and pale-brown. In another nod to the German artist, Bodzianowski’s Smoke on the Water (2007) – polaroid photographs of Bodzianowski’s discreet activities which were originally sent one by one to an unnamed gallery in Basel and exhibited as a work that developed over time – was presented alongside another process-based piece – Beuys’ Poor House Door (1981) from Edinburgh’s Forrest Hill Poorhouse, comprising the remains of posters from Beuys’ own actions as well as those advertising Tadeusz Kantor’s Cricot 2 theatre.
In the Museum’s temporary exhibition space, once occupied by Hans Hollein’s Gym Class (Die Turnstunde) (1984), Bodzianowski presented Moon for Two (2012). The earlier piece by Abteiberg’s architect was conceived as a reflection on the relationship between man and machine, employing mannequins, fluorescent lighting and a gold colour scheme symbolizing the sun. In a witty revisit, Bodzianowski transformed the room into a basketball court with two hoops and two balls – one resting precariously inside the net, the other stuck to the opposing hoop’s backboard. Once approached, the balls lit up, illuminating the space. Bodzianowski thus converted a static installation based on looking, to one activated by movement.
‘To be an artist means to absorb’, Bodzianowski says in the catalogue accompanying the show. ‘Having absorbed everything they come across, artists reach a singular point. It turns out that this point may suck them in along with their insatiability. The place in question is called the Hole.’ If Bodzianowski’s practice has indeed produced a hole of its own, it’s not a black hole, but rather a wormhole – a shortcut through spacetime where different worlds meet.