No 1 (65) 2006
January - March

The Museum Is Giving a Wink

To expose the museum itself, to present its mechanisms and conventions defining its operation, to shift slightly the stress, so as not only the piece of art is in focus but also the way of its perception. These seem to be objectives Kamil Kuskowski has posed in the project Museum/Museum.

Tomasz Załuski

Lecturer at the Łódź Academy of Fine Arts, he publishes texts on art, in “Kresy”, “Format”, “Sztuka i filozofia” and others.

Tomasz Załuski

This ironic/critical work - based on a witty amusing concept - containing strong ludic overtones – has been composed of two parts. The first, Łódź Maidens Portraits has been based on the 19th century portrait miniature convention. Kuskowski made the DVD installation personifying a specific phantasm of a “living portrait”. Contemporary models, dressed in the costumes resembling the 19th century fashion attires, are looking at viewers from the soft, oval “velvety” background, framed in gold. One moment of concentration is enough to notice that these sullen, bored “maidens” are breathing, moving their heads or yawning; occasionally they even stick out a tongue at a viewer or “give him a wink”. Simulating a static nature of a traditional painting representation, a digital medium is trying to hide away the passing quality and movement of images, permitting them discreetly – from time to time – to show up. Thus, a new, critical quality has been born, imposing a change of perceptive approach. “The Maidens” arte attempting to get in touch with audiences, to involve him in a game, and hold his attention for a longer moment. By means of this ludic exchange – at the very moment when there is a feedback from object-work on a viewer – the latter is sensing his own presence in the watching process. Thus, his attention has been drawn to the situation related mechanism of art perception, and to the opportunities to reshape it in a creative way. The second element of the work by Kuskowski covers a series of multicolored, monochromatic canvases, in decorative frames, traditionally used for modern painting. The pictures are entitled The Battle Scene, The Female Nude, The Abduction of Europe to suggest their figurative quality and to associate them with traditional genres of representative painting. All these have been complemented with the so called audio – guides, i.e., portable “earphones”. After selecting a proper number, one can listen (in Polish and English) to a detailed description of the “presented” scene and the “erudite” comments. The latter inform a viewer what he should see in a given picture, or to be more exact, what his imagination should project on the surface of a given monochromatic canvas. Introducing the museum “frameworks” for the existence of modern art into the area of the modernist art museum, Kuskowski has separated the monochromatic quality from its natural environment, so as to - by means of thus achieved visually “unattractive”, one color surfaces - shift a stress to the new context of their functioning; namely to the process of complementing the picture by the comments broadcast by the audio-guide. On one hand, this gesture is practically negating the modernistic (and to a considerable degree the contemporary) way of presentation which - having stripped pieces of art off multiple contexts that have been shaping them; including complementary discourse – shows them as autonomous objects speaking for themselves. On the other hand, distinct absurdity and discrepancies between the comments and the monochromatic pictures, as well as the irritating, detached tone of voice reciting the “erudite” comments from the audio-guide, can be interpreted as a protest against a common phenomenon of replacing the work with a formula of discursive “description”. The installation by Kuskowski has touched not merely upon the question of the actual space of the art existence but also upon the more “ethereal” space of the discourse that is surrounding art which – quite frequently from the power position – tells viewers what should be seen in art and how it should be understood (this is also a threat for the developed discourse). Nevertheless, Kuskowski has been far from negating the need of complementing the work of art with the discourse. His installation has been an attempt to formulate anew the question on the expected relations between a work of art and the unavoidably accompanying it discourse. The installation by Kuskowski leaves one unsatisfied to a certain extent. The interference into the Łódź Museum tissue has had a limited character, since the “monochromatic” pictures have not been mixed well enough with the standing examples of modern art collection. On top of that, one can get an impression that the artist has not undertaken a consistent attempt - which could be justifiably expected – to approach specific nature of the Łódź Art Museum, treating it as an example of a modernistic museum in general. Kamil Kuskowski, Museum/ Museum, the Łódź Art Museum, November – December 2005.