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Gdańsk: C.T. Jasper & Joanna Malinowska
December 6, 2019 - February 29, 2020
C.T. JASPER & JOANNA MALINOWSKA
„IN SAVAGE SOCIETY”
The exhibition of the works of C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska under the subversive title In Savage Society (referencing Bronisław Malinowski) focuses on the problem of personal and collective mythologies and the need to create and seek bridges, fragile as they may be, between historical truths and the individual or collective longing to mediate one’s own subjectivity against the context of larger and broadly understood historical narratives.
By making reference to the works of Malinowski, the legendary anthropologist and explorer of non-western cultures, whose scientific objectivity was somewhat shaken by the posthumous publication of his controversial A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, the artists give up the aspiration to talk about irrefutable truths as they actually focus on the hint of potential falsehood.
The center of the exhibition is two seemingly historical but in fact contemporary paintings depicting the meeting of Tadeusz Kościuszko with Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa), the chief of the Native American Miami people and a famous military leader. Like a distorted mirror image, the repeated genre scene showing an exchange of gifts between the legendary leaders differs in detail in historical accounts. Not only are we uncertain whether the meeting actually took place; we also lack definite evidence that Mihšihkinaahkwa indeed received from Kościuszko two pistols (with a suggestion to use them against the first person who would try to take his freedom), or perhaps a pair of glasses or binoculars that were supposed to open Mihšihkinaahkwa’s eyes. We are also unsure whether Kościuszko, depicted in his signature yet inapt attire, received in exchange a pipe or a tomahawk.
The two paintings, almost identical yet differing in detail, are not the only doubleness here as Jasper and Malinowska are toying with the idea of repetition. The exhibition features two fictional reconstructions of old cathode-ray tube television sets display two parallel videos: the first one is an extended interview with members of the Polish American Indian Friends Movement (PAIFM) talking about the origins of their unique fascination with indigenous North American cultures and the alleged evidence of kinship between Poles and the native American peoples; the other one shows an episode of the Winnetou film series inspired by the famous eponymous novel by Karl May, who might be called a godfather of the Polish-Native American affair. The adventures of the famous Apache chief shown on the CRT television-sculpture are in fact impossible to watch as the image trembles mercilessly or turns into analog snow, a condition typical of old TV models but also a symptom of intentional jamming characteristic for the times when new things from behind the Iron Curtain were a danger; these were also the times when the Polish American Indian Friends Movement was founded as a form of escapism from the depressing reality of the collapsing system. The interviews with members of PAIFM shown in the first video are fragments of Jasper and Malinowska’s larger project – a full-length documentary about the Movement If one were only an Indian, currently in progress.
A photo wallpaper showing a campfire serves as the background for the first CRT TV set; the background for the other TV set is a manually recreated wallpaper pattern copied from the house of an anonymous European gold miner and American pioneer at a Canadian open-air museum visited by the artists during their travel to the Yukon Territory.
The motif of the primordial fire is repeated in the installation/sculpture created from artificial fires powered by blinking bicycle lamps – a (veiled) allusion to the recent incident in Poland where books, African masks, Hello Kitty umbrellas and other artefacts were burned by Catholic priests in a gesture of defending their congregation members against superstitious influence of pop culture and the culture of the Other in the broad sense of the term.
Another important piece of the exhibition is a video documenting the story of the Arctic Elvis, a singer and guitarist from the Baffin Island, Canada, and a member of the Inuit people (often misnamed as Eskimo), who was fascinated by Elvis Presley. The Artic Elvis is a seeming proof that the urge to dress up and pretend to be the Other is a universal rather than local disposition.
The interior of the gallery is immersed in cold light of fluorescent lamps mixed with the blood red aura of the light entering through the stained-glass filters on numerous windows.
C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska are Tricity-born visual artists, who share their lives between New York and Gdynia. Having worked individually for many years, during which they took part in a number of individual and collective exhibits in the United States and Europe, they now collaborate on numerous projects. Their work explores themes of national identity and its paradoxes, filtered through the lenses of ‘experimental anthropology.’ In 2015, the duo represented Poland at the Venice Biennale with the project Halka/Haiti 18°48’05”N 72°23’01”W, which was later shown at the Göteborg Biennial for Contemporary Art, Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, the Krasnoyarsk International Museum Biennale, and many other exhibitions around the world, from Japan to Australia. The project Mother Earth Sister Moon was commissioned by the Performa 09 Biennial in New York and later shown at Nottingham Contemporary and Warsaw’s Zachęta National Art Gallery. In 2015, Jasper and Malinowska showed Relations Disrelations in the Łódź Museum of Art, an exhibition which summed up their individual and joint works. One of their latest projects is The Emperor’s Canary, a sound art installation commissioned and presented by the High Line in New York City, and currently on view at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France.
The works of the artistic duo can be found in many private and state museum collections in Poland and around the world, including the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Vehbi Koç Foundation in Istanbul, the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw and the Museum of Art in Łódź. Both are recipients of the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Award.