No 1 (93) 2013
January - March


Between the Theater of Gestures and Search for Authentic Relations

The art by Agata Zbylut has been most frequently viewed within the context of female dreams, criticism of the ideals imposed on women, femininity in everyday life dimension and an analysis of her own identity. As Aleksandra Gieczys-Jurszo wrote: „Zbylut shows how experiencing oneself has been filtered through culture, tradition, history, and to what degree women are held hostage to these stereotypes and readymade patterns through which they have been indoctrinated to see themselves and the world"1).

Izabela Kowalczyk

Art historian, culture expert, Professor at the Higher School Of Humanities and Journalism in Poznań, editor of the “Artmix” magazine and the http;//strasznasztuka. blogg.

Izabela Kowalczyk

WHILE I DO NOT UNDERMINE THESE INTERPRETATIONS, let me propose to look at the works by Agata Zbylut in different context; to focus on the meaning of transformations, diagnosis on how the field of art functions, an approach to relative aesthetics and departure from anthropocentrism.

Transformations Agata Zbylut has excellently fitted into new artistic trends, defined by Nicolas Bourriaud as postproduction2). These practices appropriate exis-ting works, pictures or culture elements which, as though in DJ sampling, get remixed. As a result, one is faced with new artistic quality. These methods - typical of the Internet era and ever present transfor-mations therein - borrow from dadaists, in particular from Marcel Duchamp who has been regarded as a founder of the postmodern art. Bourriaud points out the art that has been developed in the process of imports and transformations that simultaneously aims at democratization of the points of view. He said: "the art, following video recorders, approaches form in a nomad like way and gets rid off this. It allows analogical reconstruction of aesthetic objects from the past, yet another "filling in" of historical forms"3). The author predicts, after Daney, that only what can be processed is to remain in art. It seems that this attitude has been close to Agata Zbylut, who is a master of sampling ready-made fragments of culture. She has been applying various components: stereotypes referring to women, family snapshots, history, anecdotes, photographs.

An Analysis of the Field of Art Photographs, seen in this work, have been taken - according to the information published on the artist's home page - "based on the file material borrowed from galleries and the Internet"4). During the presentation there was a swing, while the room sounded with cheerful tunes "mumble". All photographs feature the author under the spotlight, while she is receiving artistic awards and medals, opening her exhibitions at the most prestigious galleries. She is surrounded with politicians and celebrities from the world of art. She is granting interviews and receiving a nomination, could be a professorship, from Lech Kaczyński, the former president. She is posing for a photo next to Bogdan Zdrojewski, the Minister of Culture, who admires her medal. "During all these - Gieczys-Jurszo says - the artist is an extremely attractive woman, forever young, well-groomed, neat and trim, happy and smiling"5). In fact, one should add that at times she is also decadent and blasé, since constant artistic success has been her daily bread. The only thing is that this is not authentic, merely a Photoshop manipulation. The issue is the truth of photography and how easy it is to manipulate this. On the majority of pictures the artist is in the spotlight; respected, admired, adored. At the same time one is offered an excellent analysis on what today is considered an artistic success. It is not works and exhibitions that matter; it is rather more important where and who with a given artist is seen, and how he is treated. This is the area of art in a nutshell, inhabited, first of all, by artists, curators and critics who - as Pierre Bourdieu noticed - are in the field of power, of potential force that can impact all objects within this field, the field of combat and games to take the best position6). Strategic positions guarantee both success and financial gratification. Thus, a role of all middlemen between the art and economic field is of utmost importance, if only to mention gallery manager7). If one gets a good position, one should direct all efforts at self-presentation. This has been illustrated by Agata Zbylut in the ironic Self-Portrait in the Atelier (2009) where she is busy painting ... her fingernails. Another piece that refers to the nonexistent splendor and fame is the Queen of Life (3 photographs) from 2010, featuring the delighted artist against the black background with fireworks (most likely a tribute to her).

The position in the field of art substantially depends upon location; where one is from, what academy one graduated from, where one works, what gallery one is connected with, and what gender one is. For the Polish art scene, Warsaw is an unquestionable center, to be more exact, some significant establishments there (the most nasty even speak about connections). Let us not harbor illusions, Poland is a marginal country as far as the great world of art is concerned. What can Polish artists do to achieve a success? Especially Polish provincial artists, not to mention lady artists who have been in the less favorable position on the art market. They are doomed to the fact that their works will be approached as backward, imitative, or simply not interesting enough. Perhaps it could be better to apply a mimicry rule described by Homi K. Bhabha in The Location of Culture8), the book considered classical for postcolonial studies. It could be that the putative figure is Katarzyna Kozyra, thus a reference to her latest works series made with panache, by the same token involving considerable financial investment. Zbylut has revealed that "in art dreams come true but not for all", and someone who occupies marginal position is doomed to mimicry and pretending.

Relative Aesthetics In her photographs Agata has paid great attention to details. In Art Dreams Come True but not for All photo series she has offered a whole spectrum of humble gestures, expressing respect and admiration. The most interesting is the gesture of Hania Wróblewska, who points her hand at the artist, and lowers her head with respect. I believe that each gala opening is a good opportunity to observe this theater of symbolic power. Contrasting with the above, there is the body language of indifference, boredom, apparent superiority. All these can be expressed by a posture, a way of speaking, turning one's back on an interlocutor or even pretending that one does not see certain persons who are not worth talking to...In this piece Zbylut has not only exposed the field of art, but turned into a keen observer of human relations. Thus, her oeuvre, or at least this particular work, can be set in the perspective of relative aesthetics, the second most important theoretical project by already mentioned Bourriaud. He pointed out transformations of the 90's when social utopias were replaced with micro utopias of everyday life, and mimetic strategies9). Art proposed actions referring, first of all, to complex and versatile relations with others: "People and animals were passing one another in the galleries that served as test tubes for experiments on social and individual behavior"10). The main thesis of Relative Aesthetics says: "for our postindustrial societies the most urgent issues is not the emancipation of an individual but interpersonal communication and liberation of the relative dimension of existence"11). Thus, there are being created numerous pieces of art dealing with joint presence, celebrations, community and shared participation; various types of relations with others being their subject matter. Further, this project carries a political meaning, while its objective is to bring back the significance of human relations, since "an absolute failure of the modernity is that interpersonal relations are reduced to business level (...)"12) which in a sense has been reflected in the photographs by Agata Zbylut. Bourriaud states that subjectivity is at stake here, and indicates - referring to Guattari - that one should "learn anew to 'grasp, enrich and invent' subjectivity, otherwise one would have become a witness how it turned into a ruthless, collective tool at authorities' service."13).

The artist has followed the ruling system in the field of art by means of showing interrelations between individual players. Nevertheless, she looks at the theater of gestures - that reflects power relations - with considerable detachment, she invites audiences to join her observation. Instead of the compulsion to achieve success, she suggest sharing and fun.

Beyond Anthropocentrism Agata Zbylut has indicated what is expected of women and artists. She has showed the necessity to follow defined roles, to mimic a whole spectrum of gestures and behaviors. Women are believed to be emotional, as in the work Secondhand Memories (2004) where the artist rendered herself crying and unhappy. The opposite has been presented in a well known series of photographs Yes or No? (2007) which have been taken as typical wedding photos. She is smiling in every picture, since it is not becoming for a bride to be sad. Is it not so that one's authentic "self" has been lost in this identity spectacle? The I Can All (2012) seems to refer to this. The photographs feature an attractive woman wearing a red dress and high heel shoes. Her gestures - bends - seem to express freedom and a lack of limitations, however one cannot see her face which is the obvious evidence of one's identity.

One can wonder, if the artist reveals, if only a fraction, her own "self"? It could be that it has been most visible in the Still Life with Fruits (2005). Here Agata is presented at home; at the table, in bed, with her dog. Dogs have frequently appeared in her works. The We Are Cute photograph, going back to 2000, features the artist and a she dog in a similar, submissive and ingratiating pose. The Fern Flower (2007) installation with swirling First Communion robes has also contained snapshots of little mongrels. The Layka (2011) shows a she dog dressed in a jumpsuit watching the sky and falling stars, unaware of the fate people have in store for her, i.e., death in cosmos, when on November 3rd 1957 she was put on board of the Soviet spacecraft launched into orbit around the Earth. Further, Agata has displayed dog models lying or sitting down on the floor during such exhibitions as In Art Dreams Come True but not for All (Warsaw 2010), Nothing Is as They Say (Bielsko-Biała 2012). Though the artist is convinced that nothing is as they say, it seems that she sees something true and real in the figure of a dog. On one hand, a dog is a symbol of loyalty and devotion, on the other - of weakness and vulnerability (especially that most frequently dogs presented by Zbylut are she dogs, mongrels, not too large in size and not pretty enough). Monika Bakke, writing about closeness of men and dogs, notices that dogs are often treated in our culture as "shaggy children", and underlines - after Donna Haraway - the need to remember that dogs are not human. The bond between these two species is quite difficult: "it contains a lot of waste, violence, indifference, ignorance and loss, but also inventiveness, effort, intelligence and fun"14). These ties are risky for dogs, too. "When animals do not meet emotional expectations or follow human fantasies about close-ness and devotion, they can be rejected, since it is exclusively people, not dogs, who define conditions of the relation."15). The problem is not to think about dogs in terms of unconditional love, or to focus solely on their training. Instead, one should respect their identity and try to communicate16) with them. This is what Agata certainly does in her works.

The Still Life with Fruits seems to be a female equivalent of the Family of the Future photograph (1997) by Oleg Kulik. The latter has a close contact with his dog; the artist is lying in bed and reading to him a book by Johan Huizing, entitled Homo Ludens. Agata also spends her free time with her she dog. She is lying in bed and reading a newspaper. She looks at her dog from time to time, possibly telling her what she has read. The second photograph shows the artist sharing a cake with the doggy. To stress the intimacy of the situation, as is the case of Oleg Kulig, the artist has posed nude. Monika Bakke commented the piece by Kulik: "it has broken a strong tradition to present a woman (not a man) in a sexual relation with an animal, secondly - it has placed an inter species relationship within a social context of a family, by the same token, theoretically it is distanced from forbidden sexuality and remains within the sphere of positive emotional relations"17). Further, the author of the book on post humanistic art and aesthetics observes that Kulik presented a man and a dog as equal partners, breaking a stereotype of a master and slavishly submitted animal. Zbylut has adopted a similar approach, since this is a female presentation, it contains more decorative elements, details and tenderness. The artist hopes to develop positive relations not in the human world dominated by empty and artificial behaviors and gestures, but in the world of interspecies friendship between people and animals. Thus, her art can be interpreted as a departure from anthropocentrism, directed at new post humanistic aesthetics. Post humanism has postulated, among others, the need to reject central position of man, to turn towards the other, and focus on interrelations between humans and other beings, animals included. The works by Agata refer to dogs in subject oriented manner. She observes their experiences and fate (the already mentioned Layka), occasionally she identifies with them (We Are Cute), and develops strong ties with them. In this world the strive for success seems inessential, masks are redundant, one can give up pretending strategies.


1) Aleksandra Gieczys-Jurszo, "Body Is Not Enough", [in:] Agata Zbylut. Catalogue, the Artistic Exhibitions Bureau Gallery, Bielsko-Biała 20121, p. 50.
2) Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay; How Art Re-programs the World, translated by Jeanine Herman, Lukas and Sternberg, New York 2002.
3) Nicolas Bourriaud, Relative Aesthetics, translated by Ł. Białkowski, Cracow 2012, p.113
5) Gieczys-Jursz, op. cit., p. 94.
6) Pierre Bourdieu, Art. Rules. Genesis and Structure of Literary Field, translated by A. Zawadzki, Cracow 2001, p.28.
7) Ibidem, p. 109.
8) Homi K. Bhaba, The Location of Culture, Routledge, London-New York 2004.
9) Bourriaud, Relative Aesthetics, op. cit., p.61
10) Ibidem, p. 70.
11) Ibidem, p. 94.
12) Ibidem, p. 122.
13) Ibidem, p. 127.
14) Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago 2003, after: Monika Bakke, Biotransfigurations.Post Humanism Art and Aesthetics, Poznań 2010, p.54.
15) Bakke, op. cit., p. 55.
16) Monika Bakke "Non- anthropocentric Identity?", [in:] Media, Body, Memory, edited by Andrzej Gwóźdź and Agnieszka Nieradzka-Ćwikiel, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Warsaw 2006, p.58.
17) Bakke, Bio-transfiguracje. op. cit., p. 124.

Agata Zbylut

B. in 1974. In 1993-1999 she studied at the Fine Arts and Culture Institute of the Higher School of Pedagogy in Zielona Góra (today Zielonogórski University). Diploma at the faculty of Drawing and Inter Media. In 2008 she gained a doctorate in applied arts at the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts Multimedia Communication Department. In 2012 she gained a post-doctoral degree at the State Film and Theater Academy in Łódź.  As of 1995 she has acted as an artist, participating in collective and one-man exhibitions in Poland, Germany, Belarus, Russia, France and the USA. In 2000-2005 she was a curator of the Amfilada Gallery. In 2004 she coordinated the "Signs of Time" National Culture Program in the Western Pomerania region. In 2005 she won the Gloria Artis Cultural Distinction bronze medal. As of 2004 she has held the post of the Zachęta Contemporary Art Association President in Szczecin. A founder of the concept, and curator of the Draft Young Art Festival (2007, 2009, 2011). Since 2008 she has worked at the Landscape Design Faculty of the West Pomeranian University of Technology. In 2010 she became an Associate Professor, and in 2012 a Professor at the Art Academy in Szczecin.