Well, what have we got here this time? The obvious answer would be “the usual.” However, such answer doesn’t reveal much when it comes to an exhibition, does it? Should we give you more? All right. Our subject is violence and all forms of radicalism.
For years, Irena Kalicka has been resolutely standing up to various types of fanaticism eroding Polish society, be it nationalism, intolerance, religious fundamentalism, political propaganda or football hooliganism. These boogeymen are no longer content with hiding in dark corners; nowadays, more and more often they come out to play in broad daylight, with increasing confidence. Instead of fighting them with deadly seriousness, the artist tackles these issues in a way that is firmly tongue-in-cheek. She looks at them through the prism of grotesquerie, ambiguity and humour. Harvest Festival is a time for fun, but keep in mind that these ceremonial scythes and sickles can be just as easily put into action, turning a carefree feast into a slaughter.
The two photo series presented at the exhibition serve as a crooked mirror reflecting the whole spectrum of obscurantism and parochialism. Nowe Ateny [New Athens] (2015–2016) is inspired by the first Polish-language encyclopedia, published in 1745–1746, which was written by the Catholic priest Benedykt Joachim Chmielowski. To this day, this book is regarded as a prime example of pre-Enlightenment ignorance and superstition. The subjects of the collages in the artist’s second, quite recent series, bring to mind the characters in a folktale: Baba Yaga, the priest, the village chief, the Grim Reaper, the Devil, the lady of the house, the village idiot. Their connection to the present day notwithstanding, they are characters in a morality play: identified by their transgressions more often than by their virtues. Neither frenetic nor dramatic, they fit into Polish folklore perfectly. The folklore, which, in the words of Maria Janion: “[…] generally contains very few demonic elements. It lacks true horror. Polish demonology is strikingly meagre. Our witches are not deleterious enough; the things with which they occupy themselves are insignificant, mere ‘trifles.’ On Łysa Góra they drink sweet vodka and eat white bread rolls: there’s a Polish orgy for you!” (Maria Janion, Gorączka romantyczna [Romantic fever], Gdańsk 2007, 307).
Kalicka’s photographs also offer a glimpse into the milieu of other artists, haunted by their own nightmares. In her photo series, she captures herself, her friends and relatives – a generation of thirty-year-olds struggling with their corporeality, identity and sensitivity. Together, they wear symbolic clown masks (Co się stało, to się nie odstanie [What has happened, will not go away], 2013–2014). As is the case with circus costumes in the works of Paul McCarthy and Cindy Sherman, they are trying to create a distance – with the world, the daily life, themselves. They are no strangers to the disturbing atmosphere straight from the minds of Fellini, Kubrick and Lynch; they partake in drug use and go to parties where they go wild, turning themselves into bizarre, half-animal figures, like the Three Graces or the Young Ladies of Avignon (Fototeatrzyk [Little Photo Theater], 2013; Totalizator, 2012). They are the present-day incarnations of tricksters, the holy jesters, the masters of metamorphoses.
Harvest Festival illustrates the transformation of the artist’s method, technique and style. The exhibition is composed of photographs from various series, both previously exhibited and more recent. Interwoven with this elaborate collage are certain visual motifs, masks (animal masks, clown masks, masks of witches or even those of figures made out of sandwiches), layouts and symbols gleaned from ancient art, religion, film and pop culture. It should be noted, however, that Kalicka is gradually gravitating from her usual multi-element, half-improvised records of spontaneous social situations and scenographic, artistically arranged tableaux vivants towards more personal studio work. From the overblown, baroque juxtapositions, she carves out single objects, details, colourful splashes, and condenses them into stories she used to need a multitude of scenes and characters to tell.
This is where we could have ended our description of the Harvest Festival exhibit, but perhaps to you it will reveal many more other nightmares.
For there are more wonders in heaven and earth.
Irena Kalicka (born in 1986) is a filmmaker, a photographer and creator of collages, many of which are inspired by literary or anthropological texts. She is a graduate of the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź, where she majored in photography. She defended her master’s thesis in 2013, under the tutelage of Prof. Józef Robakowski. Her solo exhibitions include Sztuczki i rzezie [Tricks and massacres] (National Gallery of Art, Sopot, 2018, in cooperation with Tomasz Partyka), Smoka pokonać trudno, ale starać się trzeba [It’s hard to defeat a dragon, but you must try] (Profile Foundation, Warsaw, 2016), Koń jaki jest, każdy widzi [Horse is as everyone can see] (Gallery F.A.I.T., Krakow, 2015), Gęsia skórka [Goosebumps] (Profile Foundation, Warsaw, 2014), I did not have sexual relations with that woman (Gallery SKI, Krakow, 2014, as part of the Krakow Photomonth Festival), Autoportret negatywny [Self-portrait in negative] (Pauza Gallery, Krakow, 2012), Totalizator (AS Gallery, Krakow, 2012). As a contributing artist, she has participated, among others, in such exhibitions as Slav Squatting and Its Discontents (MeetFactory, Prague, 2018), Szczurołap [The Rat-catcher] (Wroclaw Contemporary Museum, Wroclaw, 2018), Bestiarium [Bestiary] (Gdańsk City Gallery, Gdańsk, 2018), Polki, Patriotki, Rebeliantki [Polish women, Patriots, Rebels] (Municipal Gallery Arsenal, Poznań, 2017), Późna polskość. Formy narodowej tożsamości po 1989 roku [Late Polishness. Forms of national identity after 1989] (Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, 2016), Artyści z Krakowa. Pokolenie 1980–1990 [Artists from Krakow. Generation 1980–1990] (MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, 2015), The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (City Surfer Office, Prague, 2015), Wyborny trup polskiej fotografii [Exquisite corpse of Polish photography] (BWA Wroclaw Galleries of Contemporary Art, Wroclaw, 2015, as part of the TIFF Festival), Future Condition – from reality to algorithm (Photokina Academy, Cologne, 2014), Ruja i porubstwo [Rutting and debauchery] (Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, 2013). She is also a member of the Strupek Art Group. Irena Kalicka lives and works in Krakow.