No 4 (88) 2011
October - December

In Venice, as Anywhere Else

In Venice, as nowhere else, the tradition has been combined with vanguard introduced to this city by contemporary art. Every two years the biennial has brought in new stimuli which provide a living reference system to what has been rescued from the history of Venice.

Ewa Latkowska-Żychska

Visual artist, lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź.

Ewa Latkowska-Żychska

THE PALAZZO DONA, an exhibition headquarters of the Polish Signum Foundation, has been the location that has similarly linked the traditional and the contemporary. The atmosphere owes much to the typical Venice architecture being the salt of this city.

The "Particolare" exhibition, mounted in the Foundation gallery, accompanied the 54th Art Biennial in Venice. Andrzej Turowski and Grzegorz Musiał have been the curators of the event. Palazzo Dona showed mostly works by Polish artists. All focused on the issue of democracy. It is of vital importance that the problem of democracy has been a central theme of the Polish participation in the biennial, a "national specialty", so to speak. In a certain sense, pieces by Yael Bartana, an Israeli artist representing Poland on this year biennial, has also dealt with democracy. The "Particolare" exhibition has succeeded to show what remains current within the surroundings firmly established by history. The presented works cover a group of artists whose dates of birth span a long period of 80 years, considering our contemporary times; the eldest being Jonasz Stern (1904) and Franciszek and Stefan Themerson (1907, 1910), the youngest - Anna Molska (1983).

The piece by the Themersons goes back to 1937. Their film, "Adventures of Good Man" tells about a lack of tolerance, about easy to provoke social stupidity voicing its narrow-mindedness through public demonstrations. The film cut, dadaistic construction, a sense of humor and innovative formal solutions are its main characteristics. In spite of the fact that this has been an example of the Polish interwar film vanguard, the delivered message has been visionary - considering that it is still very current - while the content seems to be borrowed from our everyday life. Anna Molska, the youngest participant of the exhibition, focused her camera on the life of ordinary people who have not always found easy solutions in the democracy, in a popular sense of the term.

Video and photography are the means of expression that have visually dominated our contemporary times. Nevertheless, thus delivered statements have not lost the strength of their impact. The work by Zofia Kulik - that shows an ornamental set of configured photographic relations - has been quite disturbing. The "From Siberia to Cyberia", originally 21 meters long, has been presented only as a part specially prepared for this year exhibition.

The painting section introduces the climate of anxiety through the characters - as always motionlessly frozen - depicted on the canvases by Andrzej Wróblewski. Further, classical technique has been visible in graphic works by Jonasz Stern. Intolerance has taken up a realistic form here, terrifying with literal Ghetto scenes. Other artist speak about democracy using the language more typical of the vanguard spirit. Concern for the form of an artistic statement has accompanied here all presentations. All participants aspire to be vanguard, what is more, all wish to deliver a coherent and legible statement.

Krzysztof Wodiczko has interpreted the exhibition topic as a collection of advanced technology communication gadgets. The collection of emotional surrogates touches upon a painful problem of emigration. In a number of civilizations visitors used to enjoy special rights. In the fast moving world of today, fear of the unknown, stereotype opinions on national features made an emigrant lose his special status.

Since we have turned into experts on fighting for democracy, the exhibition has illustrated a fragment of this struggle. Ewa Partum has sealed love for freedom giving each letter of the word "Solidarity" a lipstick kiss. The material nature of this 1982 kiss, framed and put behind glass, has been pleasing to the eye.

Further, one had a chance to see the 1989 video by Józef Robakowski who has extremely subtly addressed the right to human feelings, since democracy is also about love. All these have been summed up by the message by Stefan Themerson: "In the society ruled by the minority an issue of Democracy is to defend the rights of the majority. While in the society ruled by the majority, Democracy remains Democracy, when it stands for the rights of the minority".

"Particolare", Fundacja Signum, Palazzo Donna, Venice, June-November 2011.