‘What did the famous existentialist Albert Camus wear in the French resistance? – Camuflage.’ This wordplay rounded off Kasia Fudakowski’s performance SMILE (2011), which took place in the context of her exhibition of the same name. Camuflage (2011) is a wallpaper-like enamel piece containing a laughing machine. The general aim of this exhibition soon became clear: it was supposed to make the visitor chuckle – contrary to typical exhibition-space behaviour. More precisely: Fudakowski’s ‘SMILE’ seemed to want to lead the viewer onto a stand-up comedy stage. While much of her past work has been dedicated to the philosophy of humour and its more subtle manifestations, a brutal ‘laugh on command’ took centre stage here.
Indeed, the performance consisted of Fudakowski telling jokes; it drew on all the exhibition works and was projected onto the wall as a video loop. One of these works, The elephant and the mouse (2011), stood on a platform that vaguely recalled a stage, including a microphone and a shirt with a brickwork pattern – a motif that crops up again and again throughout the exhibition. Together, they form an installation that the artist-performer could literally just ‘slip into’. Nothing is easy (2011), a framework made of steel, divided the space into two halves forming a passage from the upper to the lower level of the exhibition.
Here, one encountered unexpected combinations of materials, a mixture of figurative and abstract motifs, synthetic and organic forms, which made the repetitiveness of the exhibition obvious. One constantly found motifs that were repeated in other works, like the steel frame of Nothing is easy recurring in the hinge joints of Too heavy for a joke (2011). A stepladder – traditionally a standard comedy prop – stood among the works and literally formed the ‘climax’ of a humorous story: the artist climbed the ladder to give the punchline, only to ruin it in the same moment by deconstructing the elements of the joke and reconstructing them with constant references to her own works.
Fudakowski mimicked the ‘entertainer’ but without having really mastered the art of making the viewer laugh. One could appreciate the amateurish charm about a badly told joke, but one way or another ‘SMILE’ was incapable of using humour to create a playful distance from the objects in the exhibition. Instead their integration into the performance seemed completely forced. Less artificiality and more light-heartedness would have been better suited to the theme of the exhibition.
Translated by Jonathan Blower