BY Unknown author in Reviews | 10 OCT 03
Featured in
Issue 78

Hidden in Daylight

Hotel pod Jeleniem, Cieszyn, Poland

BY Unknown author in Reviews | 10 OCT 03

From the grey industrial city of Katowice a graffiti-daubed train travels to Cieszyn, a town straddling the Czech border in the south of Poland. It's a surprisingly picturesque destination, with a welcoming market-place surrounded by buildings from the Habsburg era. But as soon as you cross the border via a small bridge to the Czech part of town, it's hard to believe the sad spectacle of empty streets and grey façades. On the first evening visitors to the annual film festival poured out of the enthusiastically received opening film, Lars von Trier's Dogville (2002), into an empty hotel on the main square to see the exhibition 'Hidden in Daylight'. The curators of Warsaw's Foksal Gallery Foundation had decided on an art exhibition as their response to the overheated economy of Hollywood-dominated film culture.

Although not the first venture of its kind, the dynamism of the show was convincing. Outside the hotel Christoph Büchel's life-size inflatable F-16 fighter jet dominated the scenic square with darkly brooding yet impotent aggressiveness. The hotel itself is an impressive building, stripped bare but with traces of bygone grandeur. Entering it was like entering a cinema, but a walk-through one. In the cool rooms, stripped of their original purpose, each piece of work was presented as a self-sufficient event.

In the lobby Mark Leckey and his band donAteller opened the show with the music video Londonatella (2002). Projected high over the visitors' heads, Bonnie Camplin and Edwin Laliq, as destruction-bringing dandies fuelled with nervous energy, danced their way through apocalyptic film scenes set in a London eventually reduced to rubble. This introduction to the exhibition was followed by an unclad concrete wall featuring a series of photos taken over the course of the last 50 years by the Mexican press photographer Enrique Metinides. The photos document real accidents and natural disasters and yet appear as staged as compositions by Jeff Wall or Cindy Sherman, a fact that made them the perfect complement to Pawel Althamer's sculpture of a life-size couple, Monika i Pawel (2002). The male figure is a self-portrait of Althamer, equipped with a camera and a mobile phone. Both figures are completely naked, apart from the layers of their decomposed skin, eaten away as if by the aftermath of a nuclear strike. This creates the impression of a curious disability, open to voyeurism, while the figures remain absurdly intact as observers of an unknown object.

Jerusalem-born Omar Fast went in search of the traces of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) in nearby Kraków. His film Spielberg's List (2003) reveals the secondary machinery of industry, bureaucracy and corruption that this Hollywood production created in Poland. Interviews with the Polish actors from Spielberg's film tell how the strictly manufactured authenticity on set caused them to identify more and more closely with the real victims.

The heart of the building is a weather-beaten ballroom. The upper windows of the balustrades were hung with swathes of golden cloth, while the apse of this fairytale room was used to project Antract (2003), by Paulina Olowska and Mathilde Rosier, whose colours blended in with the patina of the walls to form pale shades of yellow and bronze. The image, as static as a Baroque tableau, depicts the conservatory of a palace which opens on to a park. Rosier herself sits at a piano, immersed in playing seemingly unrelated tones. A young man poses beside her, stretched out motionless in an armchair as if deep in sleep. From time to time the outline of a figure wanders through the semi-darkness outside. The video piece communicates the elegiac vision of an independent sense of time that barely conforms to the laws of motion pictures.

The last part of the tour took the show's labyrinthine guiding principle to surreal extremes. Monika Sosnowska's installation Untitled (2003) blocked the direct exit with a narrow passage filled with an unending succession of doors, through which visitors passed with a mounting sense of panic. There seemed to be no real outside anymore, until the last door finally discharged you into the idyll of the city in summertime.