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Joanna Rajkowska

My Father Never Touched Me Like That

February 24,2022 - May 29,2022
Joanna Rajkowska, My Father Never Touched Me Like That, 2014, single channel video, colour, silent, 10"52'

February 24, 2022 May 29, 2022

Human 7 Questions – travelling group exhibition from Leeum Museum to Jeonnam Art Museum South Korea

If only I could touch my father, I would not have done this film. But I can’t. This inability doesn’t have any specific cause. Simply, it is not proper. My father sometimes waves his hand and says “Hi”, sometimes pats me on the shoulder. A casual greeting kiss is somehow not enough. His tone will change when some tragedy has happened. It becomes warm, deep-felt, his voice changes colour, my father is close. Then I want a tragedy to last, unfold, so my father’s proximity does not inevitably end with the end of the state of emergency.

My father did not touch me either in my childhood – not the childhood I remember. He did not change my nappies, did not come to school for my first day at Primary School no. 38 in Bydgoszcz. He was not there when I was in hospital with septicaemia. He left my mother.

He turned up for the first time when I left my husband. He stood in the doorway of my attic in Praga, at Strzelecka 3. He looked around and went off to buy a folding bed in Obi. He stayed with me for a week. We started the day with wine. Father would put on his beautiful pre-war coat and go down to the shop to buy a bottle. He would queue with the local bums. The lady at the counter would glance at him and say: “For you, sir, something better perhaps?” After a week I felt much better. Maybe it’s because my father had three wives.

And then he did something extraordinary. When my mother died, he told me – you can bury her in the family tomb in Warsaw, you just have to cremate the body, because there is not enough space there. He did not want to be with her in life, but apparently it would not be too painful after death.

My mother, even when she lost her memory, when she could not utter complete sentences, when she didn’t quite know who she was any more, was still able to ask: “But where is Andrzej?” She loved him madly, and to the end.

Some time later he told me, by chance, the story of his and his mother’s deportation to Auschwitz. When he spoke of corpses thrown out of the carriage, his face did not flinch. Nor when he talked about the bricked-up attic, where he and his mother were hidden by the Popławski family in Krzeszowice, whom he sought unsuccessfully for years after the war. Nor when he talked about two days hiding in the swamp.

When my father talks about car accidents, he revels in descriptions of atrocities, saying, for example: “…and this head rolled and rolled and rolled on the asphalt…”, even though everyone begs him to stop. The death of others is usually a fete. Because my father celebrates life, second by second.

~ Joanna Rajkowska

Cinematography: Andrew Dixon
Editor: Joanna Rajkowska

The burgeoning antagonism to patriarchy which underlays the deconstructive strategies of Louise Bourgeois’ work such as The Destruction of the Father (1974) underpins the iconography of Joanna Rajkowska’s video work My Father Never Touched Me Like That (2014). Abstracted from their bodies, the two oval forms of their calm faces are further mirrored by their touch, exploring each other’s form, alone yet intertwined in an inversed double portrait. Their relationship severed in Rajkowska’s early life, the emotion feels equally abstract — woven and plucked from the folds of their faces, it plays itself in fleeting illusions of expressions moulded and creased into smile, discomfort, frown. As her fingers search for familiarity and comfort with almost musical symmetry, they simultaneously disperse and deconstruct, reducing soft form to malleable tissue: a condensed learning and memorising, teasing and releasing. Regression, desublimation, abjectness: her subject absent yet forever present in echo of their features, stamped in bodily loss, in imaginaire of entwined and conflicting emotions just below the surface of soft living tissue — connecting us again to Bourgeois’ soft and stuffed forms or Hepworth’s maternal ovals — but with gentle urgency of this moment, present time above all else.
~ Alexandra Lazar, curator and writer based in London and Belgrade