Where did the idea for the title of the exhibition come from: “A Man’s World No More”? Can we boldly say that the modern world is already friendly to women, or do we still have to fight for our rights?
Małgorzata Markiewicz: The exhibition was initially titled “Body, Stone, and Power” as my work mainly revolves around these relationships. It was a mix of the titles of two books, “Body and Power” by Izabela Kowalczyk and “Flesh and Stone” by Richard Sennett. In his book, Sennett analyzes the development of cities since antiquity. He considers this in parallel with how the perception of the body influenced the shaping of urban spaces; which bodies were invisible, disciplined in the city. For example, after the French Revolution, narrow streets in Paris were demolished to create wide routes. Of course, it was about hygiene and air circulation, but it was also about making it difficult to incite revolts and to put up barricades. In wide streets, it is much more difficult to build something like this and it is much easier to supervise, observe and discipline the crowd. An interesting issue for me is the fact that women were excluded from designing buildings for a long time, they simply could not be architects. They were locked in houses and had to stay in them, and at the same time, they could not influence their shape. These buildings, which are beautiful, symmetrical, spacious, were cold, underheated, and the kitchens were somewhere far away or even were separate buildings. Such choreography of the houses was not designed for those who stayed in them – after all, men mostly went out somewhere.
The final title, “A Man’s World No More”, was suggested to me, and I accepted it because it attracts attention and arouses emotions. I take it as a spell for the future, wishful thinking because we still live in the male world. An example is what is happening beyond our eastern border, where a white, heterosexual man, posing as a macho, ruins the neighbouring country and human life on all levels. If we are to have a future on this planet, the world definitely cannot be male anymore. Meanwhile, the amount of help and solidarity shown to those in need promises that the change may have already begun.
We can treat “Medusa” as the main point of your exhibition. Why did you choose her from all Greek mythology, and what caught your attention in her?
MM: Often, in my work, I intuitively navigate through various areas, checking my intuitions and leads in literature, or, in this case, in mythology. This time, the texts of Hélène Cixous and Donna J. Haraway also became my reference point. I called the figure “Medusa” because when I thought about her, it was like a figure with tentacles twisting like snakes. However, there are many meanings behind her character – the fact that she is terrifying and was considered ugly, and the punishment she suffered was unfair. As we know, she was punished by Athena, because the rape of Poseidon on Medusa took place in the temple of the goddess Athena. Therefore, the rape victim was punished, not the rapist himself. I chose her as a representative of those who has been wronged, unfairly punished, silenced and denied the presence in mainstream of history.
What does “Medusa” symbolize, and what does she mean for you?
MM: She is the epitome of creativity and aggression, and this is closely related. I had the idea for this sculpture in 2004, as part of my diploma thesis. I needed time to mature, to properly talk about the right to create, about this aggression that is badly perceived in women. Culture educates us in such a way that we should be nice, compliant, supportive, and all outbursts of anger, enthusiasm, or anything that is not formatted and goes beyond the scheme, is suppressed and punished. Every creature has an aggressive element in it, and if properly hugged and tame, it can become a source of inspiration to create, and when suppressed, it explodes or comes out in mental disorders.
There is this beautiful text “Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is the story of a woman, the wife of a doctor, of high society, and she suffers from not being allowed to do anything. Her condition worsens more and more, because the more she feels unwell, the more she is not allowed to do anything. She is sent to the countryside, and her husband, as a doctor, recommends resting. She doesn’t need rest but more activity. When lying closed in her room, she looks at the yellow wallpaper with a pattern of creepers, she begins to see bars on it, behind which women are trapped, and from behind which they constantly try to get out into the world. It somehow reflects her mood.
Your “Medusa” has several meters long tentacles instead of hands, which contradicts the traditional representation of the mythical Medusa, who had snakes on her head instead of hair. Is there any reason for this? Or maybe you wanted to make it look more like jellyfish?
MM: No, not at all. When I thought about “Medusa”, I had in mind that she is scary and that she is somehow rejected, that she causes fear that people, mostly men, are afraid to look at her. She was supposed to be dangerous, which is why she is dressed in a red balaclava, a bit like Pussy Riot members, who are iconoclasts and rebels. Her tentacles were supposed to indicate her unclear species affiliation, it is not known who she is, whether she is a human, whether she is an animal, whether her tentacles are grippers and they can grow into the ground. This boundary between the plant, the fungus and the figure is blurred. Tactfulness is a way of being different in the world, based on touch, not only based on sight and understanding but rather on compassion, reaching and braiding, which is what its tentacles are for.
Which works at the exhibition “A Man’s World No More” are you most proud of?
MM: I am very happy that we have managed to make “Market Woman”, it seems to me that it is my favourite project. This is the second monument that has been implemented somewhat outside the official circulation of monuments in the city.
You have made the space within your exhibition available to other female artists. Why is it important that we women help each other instead of competing?
MM: If it is not to be a male world, then it has to be a world in which we help each other, regardless of gender and origin. By sharing the space of the exhibition, I also wanted to show the women who were before me and those who would come after me, reach into the past, but also the future. Just as “Medusa” reaches somewhere in the past and into the future [with her tentacles], this presentation shows a network of support. This gesture was to show my gratitude to all wonderful women, because in my work and in my life I have wonderful women around me who are not always artists, do not live in Poland and are scattered around the world somewhere, giving me a lot of support and inspiration. It is this relationship of ours that is a complete contradiction to competition with each other. Together we are stronger.
Why did you choose these works to include them in the appendix to your exhibition?
MM: Monika Kozioł, who made the first selection of works, helped me a lot, and I choose those presented at the exhibition. It was very important for me to show Valie Export because I found out that MOCAK has her works in its collection. It seemed to be a great opportunity to extract her projects from the depths of the digital magazine, even such projects known from art history like TAPP und TASTKINO.
The compilation of Hollywood films (by Debora Hirsch and Iaia Filiberti, “Framed 2”), in which we have an actor and an actress, and later we have their biographies presented, is certainly an important work. It is striking how unequal chances are for men and women. This is starting to change in Hollywood, women are starting to talk about it, but in the past, it was often the case that a woman ended her career at the age of 30 for various reasons, or had a problem with addictions or committed suicide, and it is very, very sad and unfair.
I wanted to show Maria Pinińska-Bereś, because the exhibition in this interior [Bunkier Sztuki] in some way refers to the cellars of Kraków, even to the Krzysztofory, where mainly men presented their works, and the only woman there was Pinińska-Bereś, a pioneer of soft sculpture.
The work of Jadwiga Sawicka (“Protest Reflexes”) is very strong and meaningful. Do our actions have enough power? Can weakness be a weapon?
We also have these lips that speak of female pleasure in a direct way [Valentina Miorandi, “Momenti di Piacere”].
And last but not least, the work “Selvedge” by Maria Mytrofanova referring the matriarchal line of her family. Maria reached into the past and, together with her grandmother, found the family names of women who lost them while getting married.
Maria Pinińska-Bereś – Breaking Social Conventions Her projects were deeply individual, outside of the mainstream and full of irony.
Works by Maria Pinińska-Bereś (1931-1999) are among the pioneering ones due to many reasons. Her projects were deeply individual, outside of the mainstream and full of irony. They remained detached from the pursuit of artistic greatness and did not aspire to be recognised as flagship representations of the feminist movement. Her art was truly multidimensional, which she managed to achieve thanks to her elaborate personal story.
You are an experienced artist, which is confirmed by the fact that the exhibition presents your works from the last two decades. Was it difficult for you to get to the point where you are now? Is it difficult for women to fight for their place in the art world?
MM: Yes, very difficult. It seems to me that you have to have a lot of determination as a woman, especially if you have children. I have two children. Even recently, a man who considers himself a leftist and a feminist (we talked about cooking and I told him that I don’t cook) accused me of not taking care of my children. He said, “Why do you do art when you don’t have time for cooking.” I suggested that the children also have fathers, so why should I be judged for it? I was surprised that someone who supposedly supports me and understands what I do and is a very progressive person, at least that’s how he appears, can say something like that.
It is still expected that a woman should sacrifice herself, that this is like our role, our duty, and if I give up on something (like cooking) or put myself first, I am disciplined that as a woman I am not allowed to do so.
It is often the case that when we create something and look at it again after a while, we feel embarrassed because we know that we would do it much better now than we did then. The exhibition presents your works created over the last two decades, some of them were created during your studies. Do you feel embarrassed when you see your first works, or are you proud of them, because they show what you had to go through to become who you are today?
MM: No, frankly speaking, I do not have such projects that I would be ashamed of and that is why the “Portable Place Marker”, the “Spider’s Web”, or 2004’s “The Warm and The Cold” project, all these works were and still are very important for me. Previously, I did them intuitively, and now I can talk about many contexts in which they can be discussed.
For example, “Portable Place Marker”, which was made in response to my expansive partner who criticized me because he was an artist too, and I was only in my freshman year, so I had to mark my own space to keep a distance from him. This work can also be more universally related to Virginia Woolf, who wrote about a woman who wants to be a creator, and that she must have independence in the form of a place to create, and some small income, otherwise she will not be able to develop, so this is the minimum she must have – her own room.
As for the installation from 2004, which is in the atrium [“The Warm and The Cold”], located in the atrium of the Potocki Palace, I made it intuitively at that time. Looking at the cold Renaissance palace, according to which I was invited to do some realization, it turned out that you can’t do anything with it because it’s a monument. I figured I’d intervene so softly and weave, warm this cold palace for the winter. Something that is low and undesirable, used clothes, has been elevated to the rank of art by making a colourful mosaic of them. This realization is an ideal manifestation of weak resistance, as there is a danger that these cloths can stain this sandstone from which the balusters of the first-floor balustrade are made. This soft intervention may endanger this stone monument, a typical example of cold architecture, designed for the eye rather than to feel comfortable in this space. On the other hand, another interpretation is that it has to do with the fact that women for centuries were not allowed to design buildings. It is worth mentioning here that even the Bauhaus denied them this possibility, allocating for women directions that were not high art (i.e. painting, sculpture, architecture) but only applied arts, decorative arts, ceramics, fabrics, interior design. In short, we were allowed to soften what men created.
What are your inspirations when creating your works? What can you not imagine your creative work without? What rituals accompany you at work?
MM: Without my own room I cannot imagine work, I mean both physical space and the granting of the right to have it. I work like a woman, i.e. I am multitasking. I do a lot of things at the same time. For example, walking helps me think about my projects. Literature and text are also important to me, and it inspires me, and in some way, I find confirmation, not in watching other people’s art, but in literature. I always read something. I like Herta Müller very much, her writing is to me as if every sentence was a work of art.
Nowadays, creating works that somehow deal with the subject of sexism, feminism, etc., still evokes a lot of emotions, even though theoretically, according to the law, women are equal to men. It may also seem that female sexuality evokes more emotions than male sexuality. What do you think about that?
MM: I think that some men still have not come to terms with the fact that women have the same visibility, and discipline us, belittling us only serves to exercise power, nothing more. For example, to develop, capitalism had to prey on the unpaid labour of a multitude of people, women in their homes, slaves in plantations, and later workers in factories. All this is a tool for exercising power, and if we object to it, we are reaching for the fact that we will no longer agree to unequal wages, or to having two jobs, one at home, other in the company, it is a threat to capitalism, so it seems very simple to me. It’s about money and power. After all, a woman should be quiet and submissive, she should not say what she wants or what she does not like, both in professional and private life, this fear of female sexuality is the same fear of our strength and the fact that we started reaching for what it has been unavailable to us for centuries.
In these troubled times in which we live, we hear more and more voices that art is a field unnecessary to survive, more practical professions are preferred, and young people are advised against studying arts. What do you think about it? Do you have any words of encouragement for young artists?
MM: Recently, when I talked with Maria Mytrofanova about the war in Ukraine and about the actions we can and should take, she said that she had concluded that she must continue to create art and promote Ukrainian culture. She thinks that, for now, this is the only way in which Ukraine will be able to survive, in art, language, literature, and artefacts.
At the same time, I know, because I work at the Institute of Art and Design, that there is a lot of interest in art academies, it seems to me that young people want to develop tools for a critical look at the times in which they live. They are interested in the political situation, ecology, and pressing social issues. Art studies allow them to actively comment on reality, and at the same time teach creativity and coping in various fields with the use of diverse media. They do not want to be slaves to money, their parents, jobs. Here is a very interesting example, from my son’s class, who went to excellent elementary school, then to middle school, and together with his friends all went to the best high schools in Krakow. They studied and worked hard, but most of them, when they had the freedom to decide (after graduation), went to artistic academies, a complete opposite of what their parents had hoped for, mostly doctors, lawyers, CEOs… Nowadays, being an artist is not about creating alone in the studio, we have so many tools as artists that it seems to me that it is no longer such a profession doomed to failure.
Date of the exhibition: 19.02 – 15.05.2022
Exhibition venue: Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, Rynek Główny 20, Kraków
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12 PM – 7 PM