ZUZANNA JANIN AT DEBATE “UVIA: RETHINKING UTOPIA”
The group exhibition “The Day is Not Enough (Some Autobiographical Stories)” has been opened at Wrocław Contemporary Museum (13.09-21.10.2013). One of the invited artists is Zuzanna Janin. One of the invited artists is Zuzanna Janin. In connection with the presentation of her video “Majka from the Movie” 2009-2012, Contemporary Lynx would like to present you a record of very interesting debate “Uvia: Rethinking Utopia”, which has never been published so far.
“Uvia: rethinking Utopia”
Record of a debate “Uvia: rethinking Utopia”, hosted by Erika Hoffmann, collector in a frame of the serie of art talks called “Im Dialog IV”, which took place on 20 September 2012 in Berlin at Sammlung Hoffmann. The event was organized by MOMENTUM represented by Rachel Rits-Volloch as part of the Kunst Salon series and accompanied the exhibition presenting the work by Polish artist Zuzanna Janin titled “The WAY: Majka from the Movie.”
Participants in the discussion with the artist included experts in the work of the Polish sculptor: British art historian and curator Mark Gisbourne, Serbian curator, art writer and critic Bojana Pejic and Polish film expert Jakub Majmurek. The debate was preceded by a performance “Majka and Majka” by Zuzanna Janin and Mel Baranowska.
If Thomas More were to write Utopia again, he would surely have not employed the category
of a place (topos), but that of a road which leads somewhere but we do not know where…
Erika Hoffmann: I wanted to greet all of you – you are very welcome here and I am pleased that you came to this talk, discussion, or dialogue. I am even more pleased because Zuzanna Janin is a long-time friend of mine. We have met about seventeen years ago, during my first trip to Poland, and since then we have stayed in contact. To many of the exhibition of my collection here, her work has added energy, was thought-provoking and heavily discussed. So, I hope this will happen again. She will introduce the speakers later, but first let us just play the video.
[performance Zuzanna Janin “Majka & Majka”]
Rachel Rits-Volloch: Before we begin with the talk, we would like to thank everyone for coming. Cassandra and I we are from the Gallery Momentum. We are lucky enough to host at this moment a solo exhibition by Zuzanna Janin – the world premiere of the completed series “Majka from the Movie.” Please come to the gallery, where you can see the entire work. I will keep this introduction brief. I just wanted to thank very much Erika for generously hosting us, and the speakers for agreeing to participate. There is a very fruitful discussion about to happen, for Zuzanna’s work contains many layers and approaches. Sitting around the table here are people who know her art very well and worked with her for a long time.
Bojana Pejic is a historian, art writer and curator, based here in Berlin. She was the head curator of the groundbreaking exhibition called “After the Wall” which opened in Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1999 and travelled, ending up here in Berlin, in Hamburger Bahnhof in 2001, with Zuzanna’s works.
Mark Gisbourne, whom many of you will know, is a key figure on Berlin’s cultural scene. He is a historian, art writer and curator, and has also written on Zuzanna’s works for many years, including the catalogue for this exhibition and a chapter on Zuzanna’s work in the POLISH publication by Hatje Cantz in Berlin.
Jakub Majmurek is a film theorist and art writer, member of Krytyka Polityczna.
Now I will let you speak for yourselves.
Mark Gisbourne: I think I have been elected to begin. I know that Zuzanna wants to bring up certain themes that we can engage with, but I think the best way to carry on – the epistemological way – is to begin from generality and move to specificity, i.e. to media and context. The generality of the concern comes out of an observation made by Zygmunt Bauman about utopia, which has a particular resonance for me, because it was an Englishman – Sir Thomas More – who invented the word. Worse than that, I am an English Catholic and he was a Catholic as well. When people talk about utopia, they have a certain perception of it. Most of them think about it as a place, but I would like to remind you that the word “utopia” means “nowhere.” However, the word “nowhere” can also be read “now here.” So, it has a very complicated potentiality. So, utopia is an element that we could talk about at the beginning, and then discuss the way, or the journey, because it is obviously also an integral part of this project. When we talk about journey, particularly in relation to film and location, we can extend this concept onto the area of identity, which is another important aspect of this film. It is about the formation of personal consciousness – how it shapes and develops a sense of a unique identity. When we talk about uniqueness, it is always an identity fashioned in relation to a certain otherness: “For me to be me there has to be somebody who is not me.”
Then we might talk about the very sophisticated and complex aspect of the reference, which pertains to the fact that the film is not organized according to some chronological order, but is in fact asynchronic work. We live in a synchronic and horizontal universe, which has no centre but every centre, like the Internet. It can also be viewed as “rhizomatic,” to use Deleuze’s concept. I am interested in the whole notion of how the artist has chosen those cultural aspects, like films or popular music, and juxtaposed the two Majkas – the first one from the soap opera of the seventies and the second, contemporary Majka, her daughter, who also went on a journey but shared a different sense of a rebellion in a different age and context. There are whole layers of complex temporality going on in the film. This brings us right back to the modern age – the end of the diachronic universe and the development of asynchronicity, e.g. as in flitting from one television screen to another. Those are some of the themes that we can work with. I know that Zuzanna will have something to say about the concept of utopia to get us going.
Zuzanna Janin: I attended the lecture by Zygmunt Bauman in Krytyka Polityczna, an organization which Jakub represents, and he said – exactly as you mentioned – that if Thomas More lived today, he would not refer to the topos, a place, but the idea of a never-ending road. We do not know what is at the end of this road, but we are taking it, we are on it. My film – by its title and the main character, who is always on the road – is linked to this idea of never-ending travelling. I established – if I can say so in English—this new word: “Uvia,” which I associate with the Latin word via (“a road”). Moreover, in English and in Polish it does not only refer to a place but has much more meaning: f,ex. we can meet somebody via someone else, which also conotates a certain relation, movement. In Polish, “Uvia” also sounds like verb “uwijać się”, which means “to do many things quickly” or “run around” or “movement in different directions”, in order to achieve or grasp something. My video shows a girl who is constantly travelling, because I wanted to make a visualization of the concept of “Uvia”, the way to a certain imagined utopia, which it is never possible to achieve, referring also to something that almost never ends, and the formula of soap opera – a television series that has many episodes and may never finish, is a good format to refer to. Also, I would say the original series from 1975 tells the story of a teenage girl, who runs away from home as a result of a conflict with her father, who represents something like an established Party (Partia), or just the system itself. She, Majka, in turn, represents a rebellious part of society—rebellious young person, who believes in a “better world”, and idealist. However, it was done in a rather soft way, mostly because the totalitarian regime pretended at that time to be a friendly system. In reality in the seventies there were also many work’s uprisings, on which there was silence officially…It was after the events of March 1968 in Warsaw, which were connected with the intellectuals, Warsaw University, though not only. It all finished in a totally different way than in Paris, London or Tokyo, even Prague. It was a tragic period for many parts of the society, so the Polish background is much different. The consequences were really serious for “intelligentsia”, universities, students, professors. They had to leave the university like student-Adam Michnik, or country like professor Zygmunt Bauman, who is a special guest in my episode “The Journey”. It was strong anti-Semitic reactionary politics act. Maybe Jakub can tell us about it.
Jakub Majmurek: In Poland during the seventies we had a very specific form of communism. I would not call it totalitarian at all. It was a time of a partial liberalization of the system, there was some kind of openness, especially in cultural politics. Moreover, the ruling Party was renegotiating its position with the Polish nationalist tradition. We should always remember that the specificity of the Polish Party is that it never had a legitimization coming from any grassroots movement. It looked completely different in Czechoslovakia, where there actually existed some communist party, which used to have like twenty per cent of the population in its ranks. In Poland, however, the communist Party was a completely marginal organization, which did not have any grassroots support. After the war, the Party was always using double discourse in order to legitimize itself. First of all, there was of course the communist discourse, stemming from the international workers’ movement, revolution and Stalinism, but secondly there was the Polish nationalist tradition. The communists were always trying to present themselves as a movement that fulfils the Polish destiny and the old Polish national claims. In the seventies, this nationalist discourse almost completely pushed away the other one. What is also important is that there appeared another discourse legitimizing the mono-party rule, based on the idea of modernization, technocracy and Europeanization. This is confirmed by a lot of cultural artefacts, including to some degree this seventies’ series which Zuzanna appeared in, titled “Szaleństwo Majki Skowron” [“The Madness of Majka Skowron”]. It was a part of the cultural politics in the seventies – a time of liberalization and negotiation with both the Western mass culture and counterculture. But then this kind of negotiation would somehow accommodate into the ruling Polish consensus the petite bourgeoisie and bureaucrats – the new Polish establishment. When we look at this father whom Majka confronts, from the perspective of the post-communist era we see him as a representative of petite bourgeoisie, who represents the culture of the communist country.
ZJ: Yes, but as a person who remembers those times, I would say that the regime was ironically pretending to give us something which we could compare with the Western freedom. However, the real lack of freedom deeply affected us. We felt as if we were actually living on some other planet, in kind of prison. Once you had your passport and went to Switzerland, England or France, you suddenly realized you were in a new reality. Every detail, from paper to shoes and how people addressed and treated each other – all of that was completely different. For sensitive, fragile and thinking people this situation was unacceptable. Today, we understand that they were f.ex. using the television culture to make us calm and give us something that we can “swallow”, but which only pretended to be food.
MG: This is discernible in the filming of the series. The first version is very different from the second one. The former is almost sentimental, whereas the second is rather realistic.
ZJ: Possibly – Polish culture is very often addressed to sentiment, which I personally do not like. For example, today’s performance and the photographs presented here do not seem to show any sentimentalism, but rather a very direct, yet deepened relationship.
I would also say that the communism we had in Poland was not communism at all – it is just an easy word. In fact, when I want to express what actually happened in my country under that “communism,” I rather say it was a Soviet-like apparatchik-run bureaucratic occupation. That was the reality we grew up in – in between a total emptiness, deprived of all hope, and all those things that were “somewhere out there.” So, both the lack of freedom and the love for freedom were very strong. In my video (“Majka from the Movie”) I am trying to show that in different circumstances a deep and honest need for freedom is realized differently through this “Uvia” – kind of never ending road we constantly walk on.
MG: You brought up quite directly this notion of the no-place. What alarms me is the diachronic reading of this film. I rather see it as a very synchronic work – one that does not express itself in a linear way. The formation of personal identity is a very synchronic process in the modern world, too.
Bojana Pejic: When I think about utopia, I do not think at all about a place, or space. Somehow, my vision of this notion has more to do with time. Utopia is something that will come tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but we cannot catch it yet. It is about some time to come. If I am to follow this, also from the perspective of art history and theory, utopia is something that we think about today, which is probably like Benjamin’s concept of Jetztzeit.
Another impression is that I do not think about utopia from a personal perspective, bur rather see it as something that will one day belong to a collective, however we define it. In opposition to utopia there is one notion that is excessively exploited in post-communist literature – nostalgia, i.e. how we remember the past: history and historical events. I am a little bit careful about this concept of nostalgia, because in theoretical literature it is considered as a non-political relation to the past. Utopia, on the other hand, is when pain is removed – when one can finally remember something without pain, which I would say is political. I believe that utopia is a time-related notion, because in this work by Zuzanna, each episode ends with the phrase “to be continued.” For me it relates not so much to the fact that it will continue “there” but that it will continue “then.” This may illustrate my idea of time. Coming back to Poland, via Yugoslavia, I have to say that I come from a very different socialism. We had a lot more liberty than the other socialist countries. What is important for this film is that it is about the liberty of movement. In Yugoslavia we could travel individually since 1961, so whenever I had money I went abroad, because I had no pressure of non-movement, as many people in other socialist countries had. We had various international festivals and exhibitions in Belgrade, where I lived, or in other parts of Yugoslavia. Anyway, this film seems to me to be about freedom of movement. This, in turn, leads me to the question of identity, because we reach our identity in movement, e.g. we learn something or we hate something, but we always relate to certain places.
JM: Although utopia has a long history in film, cinema is better at imagining anti-utopias. It would be very hard to quote any interesting image of a utopia, but the art of cinema is very strongly connected to the utopian imagination. I would completely agree with the interpretation regarding the temporal dimension of utopia, which is connected to a very specific notion of time that was born somewhere at the beginning of the modernity.
BP: What do you mean by the beginning of modernity? St. Augustine and his idea of time?
JM: Well, his De civitate Dei is a form of a modern utopia, but I was thinking rather about More and Campanella, so the sixteenth century – the beginning of a largely defined modernity. Utopia seems to be connected with a very specific notion of time, in which the future is something different from the present. Time was not always imagined like that. We are perhaps now in a historical moment when this notion of time – as part of which the future is or can be turned, due to collective action, into something radically different from the present – is actually collapsing. We have a profound crisis of the political imagination, which is visible on every level, starting from everyday politics.
BP: What about the Occupy movement?
JM: I do not think they have any positive notion of how the world should look like. You can argue that they are some kind of a utopia-in-action, or a heterotopia – a space which is created by them and between them, but they do not have any notion of how they would like the world to be, i.e. what they would do if they really were in the White House. They have a very big problem with that.
I also see it for example in contemporary popular cinema, particularly in various science-fiction blockbusters, like the new version of Total Recall – an adaptation of a story by Philip K. Dick. There are a lot of movies depicting a total collapse of the contemporary social and political system, or some kind of a revolution, but there is not a single one that would show what happens the day after, when we destroy the whole system.
There is an interesting anecdote illustrating this, regarding the film 2012 by Roland Emmerich – a group of great screenwriters was gathered, but they were actually unable to think about anything new, for example how this new world, built by people in a situation when there are no restraints of law and order. Finally, the producers abandoned this project as “too big for a small screen.” I think that we are living in a time of the small screens. The big ones, which are linked to the utopian imagination, are in a profound crisis, showing a problem with thinking about utopia, as well as utopian thinking today.
BP: What is the difference between utopia on the big screen and on the small screen?
JM: We need a big screen to think utopia and today we have only small screens.
MG: I would also like to take up the issue of time. At the beginning of cinema we had two times on our hands. We lived the tick-tock time – “three score years and ten, but if in the strong…” according to the Scripture – but we also experience time as duration, as we are a part of the shifting of the oceans, the changing of the planet and ecology. This is another time, in which me may be a little microcosm, but remain just a speck. This became very relevant because Bergsonism was brought back in the sixties by Deleuze, who then wrote two books on cinema and time. So, I think temporality in this film keeps driving us back to the synchronous contents of these things and how they must be seen synchronically in terms of formation. Maybe you could say something about how you felt, during the making of those films, about the time aspects of yourself and your daughter?
ZJ: This is actually a very interesting question. It was one of the main ideas that I was trying to keep in mind during the realization of this film. For me utopia is a movement – also “social movement” or “political movement,” because they are utopian, too. Every group of people who want to change something in order to better their lives, need to be on this uvia, if they want to work for a better future.
Time is very much present in each of my works: in this film or in the sculpture from cotton candy, which was disappearing on the eyes of the viewers and could also be consumed. So, once you think about time, you have to think about the future generations – the people who will come after us and follow the ideas that we or our grandparents started, developing them in new circumstances. I had the rare occasion to use the image of myself as a young person, then make an image of my daughter as a young person, and finally put them together as one personality. It was a totally unique situation, very uncommon, for both of us and the viewers, too. In fact I would say that in this film I sculpt time, because first of all I am a sculptor and think in these categories.
MG: But you fold times into each other and this takes us straight to science-fiction, where folding time is a central idea. It also picks up in the revival of the so-called postmodernism and refers to the notion of parallelism. My watch says the same time as your watch, but they do not need each other to do that right. This idea of folding is central to the whole development of the sequence of films. In very subtle ways the references in it are also polytemporal.
ZJ: When I was doing the first five episodes of this project – I was adding new ones with time – we met at an exhibition and you said that my work is like a palimpsest, which I agree with and often recall. So, there is one piece, or layer of art and then others one are being “written down” on top of it. Well, a similar phenomenon can be found in contemporary art, when artists are using an older piece and just make a contemporary gesture over it to create a new piece of art.
MG: I think we need to clarify what palimpsest is. Derrida talked about it quite a lot. The point of the palimpsest is not only that you write on top of each layer, but there is an erasure taking place. When you X-ray an old, mediaeval manuscript that has been used in this way, you cannot tell in which order the layers were added, so temporality is altered as well. You cannot pick out, as it were, the linear history in the palimpsest. That is why it is very relevant to this work.
ZJ: Yes, memory brings back the original film, but the narration and its format is not used by me anymore. I also liked to address the cultural phenomenon that is the television series, which may not be interesting in certain context because it is not consider as a “high culture”. But here I mix it, or shall I say, put next to each other, erase parts and make another piece of work.
MG: I can say that in a way this is a class statement – for millions of people soap operas is culture, let us be honest about it.
ZJ: So why not think about this from the perspective of art? Of sculpture?
ZJ: I think more needs to be said about history. The original film from the seventies was based on a book for teenagers, which was in turn based on The Tempest by Shakespeare, so there are many relations with high literature.
MG: It is a play that plays around with time, too.
ZJ: Yes, and it also features an isolated island.
BP: This is why you had to have Kusturica?
ZJ: Exactly! The scene from “Underground”. And also, I have footage from 1968 Belgrade.
MG: But it also picks up on Shakespeare’s reference to utopia – the “brave new world” of Prospero, which has such beauty in it.
BP: Let me tell you an anecdote. On 3rd June 1968 the students were on the streets of Belgrade. There is one photo showing the art academy and you can see there portraits of Lenin, Tito and Marx. There is a joke about a policeman, who reported this event and wrote: “students put on the facade of the academy portraits of comrade Tito, comrade Lenin and an unknown hippie.”
ZJ: I started to work on this project in 2008, when I sketched it with my colleague Tomasz Kozak, who is a found footage artist. I never did found footage before but we decided to do it together. He did one episode – the pilot – and I did the other eight and “Epilogue” for CANAL+. We did not continue to work together, because his attitude to the film was different than mine. I had no intention to include any narration at all, but he was very fond of this idea of narration. So, we parted in a friendly atmosphere and from then I worked alone, because the work was really fascinating for me to do. In the beginning I also wanted to bring a part of history from behind the Iron Curtain to the Western art world. Now, in 2012, when I have finished the work we have a totally different situation. Back then there was no Occupy Wall Street yet, revolutions and protests against ACTA f.ex.. In 2008 Poland was a member of the European Union for just four years, now it is almost ten years! There is a big difference in the consciousness and knowledge of people. We can see that Europe have been mixing tradition of those two cultures into one, but I would claim that history is still not mixed so much. My idea was to make some links and blend the two in one in this project.
MG: Since the end of communism the whole of European cultural history has to be rewritten.
BP: We still wait for that to happen.
ZJ: We are on our “Uvia”…
MG: This is true from the perspective of art history, particularly if you take a look at how PhDs in America are being written on the so-called Eastern-European art. Anyway, certain processes take quite a bit of time.
BP: Let us talk about your procedure. You have those parallel layers, which are not chronologically arranged. You start from the original seventies’ soap opera, then there are quotations from the history of world cinema, e.g. from Japan, your re-enactments of the 1970s series and some documentary footage you did yourself. So, it adds up to a very complex structure.
MG: That is why I am interested in and concentrate on synchronicity issues. It seems to me a mirror reflection of much that is now going on in the world. Also, as I say in my essay – please correct me if I am wrong – you are dealing in your work with the formation of your own identity. These are the references you acquired in your life and, moreover, you are using your daughter by engaging her in this project. So, it definitely has a very personal dimension.
When I was writing the catalogue, I saw every film you refer to, except for some of the Polish material. The body of works that you use reflects the position, like mine, which is to the left of the centre, whatever we may call it: SPD or free-thinking. There are no peculiarities of the right wing, even in the form of critiques. This is also a question about the editing process, but I see it as a sort of classic, leftist-centre history of education in the last fifty or so years.
ZJ: It was self-education. My aim was to bring up in this particular project some knowledge about those forgotten things that I consider to be very important, for example Zabrieskie Point by Antonioni – a film which younger people, even some of my colleague-artists, had never seen. I view thus as a kind of a scandal.
BP: Could you see it in Poland? Was it released here?
JM: Actually it was. At the beginning of the seventies Michelangelo Antonioni visited Poland and met with the public in the student club Hybrydy. It was a very important cultural event. The policy of the ruling Party at that time was to encourage showing in Poland artful movies. The event was organized by a young apparatchik activist who later became a minister of culture.
ZJ: I was very often in Hybrydy Club and Stodoła Club that time as a teenage of hight school and later as a student of Academy of Fine arts, of course. It was our student’s club, sometimes controlled, but sometimes somehow not, because during a Gierek’s period it was suppose to be more “open” policy. After 68 students’ protest and then 70 the workers’ protests, they pretended to give us more freedom and “normality”, so you could see in such clubs the best world’s films f.ex. listen the newest music, go to concerts, festivals.
BP: I am definitely a television addict – I watch German TV and it is always on, like the radio in some homes. If you pay close attention, there are very rarely films referring to the 1968 rebellions, both on the private and public channels, which would mean that it is a worldwide process, not just limited to the post-communist part of the world. It seems that in this way this history is being sentenced to oblivion. It was of course a trouble-maker’s period, but if you interview them today, it turns out that they have all sold themselves to business. But what was the real role of ultra-leftist people like Rudi Dutschke?
JM: Actually in the history of the European cinema you have a whole wave of movies about 1968 and even about leftist terrorists, like The Baader-Meinhof Complex, or If Not Us, Who? about RAF, which was active in the seventies. Back then German theatres would not stage Antigone by Sophocles, because the image of a young woman, who is throwing down the gauntlet to the social order, was reminding the public of RAF. Today, this leftist history is depicted not only in German cinema, but also in Italian, as in Marco Bellocchio’s Buongiorno, notte, and in the French-German mini-series Carlos about the terrorist “Jackal.” These productions show that that the events of 1968 are not so much repressed as in some way tamed, pacified and commodified.
MG: The whole point of Zabrieski Point, when I saw it in 1970, was not just the contents, but the fact that people who played their parts really lived their lives. They were not actors employed to play their parts – it was seen as the extension of their lives in the Hippieland.
ZJ: It was very similar to story of the amateur actors in original series about Majka. In Zabrieski Point there was also a girl from a ballet school, who never was an actress. I was also from the ballet school, one of my colleagues was taken from the children’s home, and has a kind of criminal record, and as far as I know – he went back to his life and we lost all trace of him.
MG: Patty Hearst was another such phenomenon. She was kidnapped and then decided to join the people who held her. Together they robbed a bank, which you do not see that often anymore. When I lived in New York in the years 1972-1974, you could hear the guns going off at the street, we had a bank robbery every day or every week. In a sense, culture shifts have taken place, but the important point about Zabrieskie Point was that these people lived that kind of life.
BP: What came first: your love for film or the original series? How have you made the selection?
MG: Let us be honest – you were a child, a celebrity at the age of fifteen!
ZJ: I must tell you that it was terribly unpleasant. I was really doing everything not to be a celebrity. If someone asked me for my autograph on the street, I was just pretending that this is not me. It was a great burden to be a celebrity. People think I was older, but in this film I was thirteen, just finishing the primary school. And then in high school I spent all my free time in the cinema club “Iluzjon” in Warsaw. I almost never went home after school but used to watch film after film, if they did not throw me out.
In “Majka from the Movie” I preferred to choose certain iconic films, because they made better fragments for my “film sculpture.” Why are they iconic? There is a certain reason – they bring ideas which perhaps are not getting old. Maybe I would do another thing if I did not start with found footage. I am currently working on a real sculpture in my studio.
MG: I brought up this issue of personal identity, because in your other work – this thing about walking on the exactly same route to school (“Streets”, 2004 – ZJ) and a lot of other projects – you relate to a much more intimate personal formation, so this notion of identity seems to be quite strong in your work. Perhaps you could say something about that.
BP: I find this greatly intimate and not sentimental at all. After all, it is about a mother and a daughter.
MG: Yes, but its tableau is huge. In her work she always raises the question of how identity is formed, whether it is a group of musicians, or when we see it as a sculpture or journey, as was the case in the Momentum exhibition, or as in the thing you did about walking to school. All these things are in a sense about the question “What is it that makes me me?” asked of course in relation to some otherness.
ZJ: While working on this project, I decided to meet several people, which was a big lesson for me. I invited Slavoj Žižek, Zygmunt Bauman, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Henryka Krzywonos to participate in the quasi-documentary part of this project, which is also a symbolic, metaphoric meeting of ideas. For example, Majka – who represents something poetic, or dreamy; in the same time a rebel thought, the idea as symbolic herself – meets the stern realist Bauman, who gives her “a lecture”, telling her clearly what is what. However, when she asks him about dreaming, he tells her that “dreaming may be important or not”, but then goes on to say his part, very realistic, very reasonable. We deal here with a completely different attitude towards seeing and describing oneself, from Majka poit of view – even critical. Then Majka meets Henryka Krzywonos, who became an inspiration for today’s performance (Majka & Majka of hugs). She was a heroine of the Solidarity movement, who participated in the 1980 strike in Gdańsk. She used to work as an ordinary tram driver and when the shipyard went on strike with Wałęsa as leader, she stopped the tram in the middle of the city and told the people that this tram will not go any further. Later on, when Wałęsa wanted to sign an agreement with the authorities only for shipyard, she approached him – a young but stout lady – and told him not to leave the shipyard because they should continue the strike for the sake of whole Poland. And they stayed. She was this hidden heroine, but no one was talking about her for years. She was one of the signatories of that August Agreement, which actually made the communism collapse. However, she was beaten by the Security Office when she was pregnant, lost her baby and never had any babies afterwards. During the marshal law – when I was a student and member of the strike committee at the Academy of Arts – there were many stories like this one among people I knew in the underground. Two or three of my friends also lost their babies, but it is not mentioned in the history of changing the system and the Solidarity. When I tried to write about it officially in Gazeta Wyborcza, they said to me that this is a “story of menstruation”, so not to be recorded. It is a history of Lech Wałęsa and mostly other men…
BP: …and Gary Cooper on the poster! There was this famous election day poster of the Solidarity with Gary Cooper and the slogan “high noon.”
ZJ: The artist Sanja Iveković made a woman’s version of this poster a couple of years ago. So, I wanted Henryka to appear in my film. You can see on the photographs that Majka visited her in her house and they hugged just like we did today. The film excerpt I prepared for today shows her sitting with Majka. Henryka said that when she was a child she used to watch this television series and always wanted to meet Majka, the main character. Majka, in turn, tells her that she always wanted to meet someone who actually changed Poland. This also tells a lot about my project…there’s a lot about the meetings not only people but scene, music, heroes in it, but we do not have to be necessarily conscious of all the meetings that take place in the film. Even if I use some small quotations from rock, hip-hop, rasta music or gangsta rap, I always fit them to a certain moment or image. It is never only music.
MG: Perhaps we should say something about that. You have already brought up the issue of dreaming and music is often a dreaming phenomenon when we travel in our heads. Certainly the history of rock music in the last fifty years is central to all of this?
ZJ: For me, music is always something special, since it functions for me somehow like a sculpture. If we listened to music in this space, we could have only one musical piece at a time because it is a three-dimensional, like my first sculpture Covers, which are here in Erika Hoffmann Sammlung – it takes up the whole of the three-dimensional space, each square millimetre is a music, a vibration in air. Bringing music at a certain moment in the film is also a sort of a sculpting technique.
BP: Tell us how much time did you spend in the editing room? Days and days, right?
ZJ: In the beginning I was working with my colleague, who is a film-maker and editor Aleksandra Panisko. She has done most of the work in the beggining, but then it was very complicated process and I was unhappy with the details that someone else did for me. It is like working with an assistant in the studio – they make something for you, some elements, but then you have to come and make it with your hands because it has to be your sculpture. I spent a lot of time editing myself. The most problematic episode was the one about the revolution, where there are many quotations from 1968, as well as the seventies and eighties, mostly linked with the Solidarity. I found incredible footage in the Internet, showing Henryka Krzywonos signing the agreement with Lech Wałęsa, or that tram from 1980 from the Warsaw streets. There were so many things in the film that I had a big problem with throwing them out, so as to avoid making it too long. The first version that I showed at the Venice Biennale 2011 (in official Romanian presentation at Palazzo Correr), was longer and the current one is shorter by a couple of minutes, but I’m happy about it very much. Finally, I meant to say how big a lesson it was for me to invite such great people to the project. Hans-Ulrich Obrist said very interesting things about mapping in art and indeed my film could be treated as a certain art-map of memory, consciousness, knowledge and choices – a record of my “Uvia”.
MG: Thomas More’s Utopia was written in the great century of mapping, when many geographical discoveries were made.
ZJ: So it seems to be a very good intuition to talk about mapping with Hans Ulrich. Majka also asked Obrist about a thesis he formulated in one of his interviews. He said in explicit terms that artist is the most important in art, which people do not say that often. We wanted him to tell us more about this, but instead he began talking about art and making maps, making the exhibition, talking to artists, which was in a way a good, interesting long conversation with Majka.
BP: I think that this is very abstract, although after the fall of the Berlin Wall new maps were all over the place.
MG: I got a wonderful map when I was in East Berlin. When you opened it, the Wall popped up. It might be worth a fortune now.
JM: There was a lot of remapping in Eastern European cities when suddenly, after the fall of the previous system, street names were often, especially if they had names of people associated with the former regime, like Lenin, Dzierżyński or the Red Army. It may seem ironic today that in Italy, in a city like Bologna there are Via Stalinia and Via Leninia, but in Eastern Europe there is no trace of Lenin in the public space, although these countries adopted a form of government invented by that man.
Coming back to the notion that your found footage movies are like a map, I think they are not only maps, but also your private archives, where you have put all your memories connected with making movies as a teenage star, your experiences of a cinema fan, as well as forming your own history of European cinema, especially the highly artistic and moralistic one. Moreover, it is an archive of utopian aspirations. From the perspective of film theory, the areas of film and visual arts are overlapping. This is a very strong current among contemporary film artists, who often act like archivists and incorporate found footage material into their films. What is really exceptional in your work, however, is that you actually deal with your own image, which was produced in the television series by some other artists. We can look at the whole series as a process of reclaiming your own image, which was produced by someone else, or – from a gender context – by some men, because I think no women were involved in the production of the original series.
ZJ: This image of me as a teenager was really constructed by the operators of the system.
MG: But there is a paradox in this, because you are reclaiming your image by appropriating the image of your daughter.
BP: I am glad you have said it, because I did not want to!
MG: I think the interesting thing about the film is the tone. Obviously your daughter lives in an infinitely more sophisticated world than the Majka of the seventies. This is evident in the film – in her body language and movement. The two of you are very different.
BP: Is she studying acting?
ZJ: No and I have not studied acting myself.
MG: When your images are cut together, it is very evident in the film that we are looking at two very different worlds. She has grown up in a very sophisticated and international reality.
ZJ: This is very interesting, because this film is also working on the image of woman and girl. Visualisation of sophisticated reality means also a visualisation of a state of awareness, a state of knowledge and also possibilities of creating different circumstances, which can be the same place but functioning under different political systems. At the beginning I was always stating it clearly that I wanted to make a film about a missing heroine – somebody who is not in here and there. So, using the old series and preparing its continuation, clashing a feature film with a documentary one, as well as professional and amateur material which can be simple and trashy – all of this has as its aim the reworking of the image of women, a heroine in our culture.
EH: I think we have already heard some wonderful things – let’s can continue upstairs with a glass of wine.
transcribed and edited by Grzegorz Czemiel
“Im Dialog IV” at Collection Hoffmann, Berlin, 20.09.2012
in collaboration with Momentum Berlin and lokal_30, Warsaw
“Uvia: Rethining Utopia”
a panel debate with participation of the artist Zuzanna Janin (PL), curator Bojana Pejic (SRB/DE), art writer and curator Mark Gisbourne (GB/DE), film writer Jakub Majmurek (PL)
word introduction: by Erika Hoffmann, Rachel Rits-Volloch, Cassandra Bird
performative introduction “MAJKA & MAJKA”: by “Majka” Zuzanna Janin with “Majka” Mel Baranowska,
(video-stills from the video record)
in the relation of the exhibition: Zuzanna Janin “THE WAY. Majka from the Movie” at Momentum Berlin, September-October 2012.
the debate is published in connection with the presentation of “Majka from the Movie” 2009-2012 at the group show “The Day is Not Enough. (Some autobiographical Stories)”
at Wrocław Contemporary Museum
opening: 13.09.2013 at 6 p.m.
exhibition will be on from 14.09.2013 until 21.10.2013