Fake Films and a Few Frames More, the exhibition of video works not seen previously in the UK by Laura Pawela, took place at IMT gallery in London 21-23 November 2014. The show featured important early videos like Untitled/Friedrich (2008) and Sugar (2010), alongside Past Present Continuous (2010), Songs of Insatiability and Ztrulla (both 2011) and the most recent projects: Frames (ongoing from 2008) and a trailer for Pink Horizon (work in progress). Laura Pawela is represented by IMT and this was her third show at the gallery.
On my visit to IMT gallery, I had a pleasure of chatting to Laura Pawela, who is as passionate about editing her own work as she is about making it. She told me how she had prepared custom cuts of the works shown here, specifically with the gallery’s space in mind.
‘Presenting of video art tends to be difficult, always tricky because of technical issues cropping up and the limitations of space,’ she said. ‘The gallery doesn’t have conditions to show all my works in the way I feel they should be shown so we [curator Mark Jackson and Laura] selected a set, representative of the subjects I’m interested in and providing an insight into the way I work.’
In the first room, Laura transformed her impressive six-channel installation Songs of Insatiability into one-channel video, in which the audience see, one after another, videos meant to be shown shown on adjacent screens at the same time. The work was shot on the revolving scene at the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole and it features the artist whispering in the ears of two vocalists, one at a time, short sentences of revolutionary/transformative nature (quotations from artists and philosophers), that they immediately sing. The original six-channel setup has the ability to truly immerse the viewer in the scene but the work was already shown as one-channel projection, earlier this year at CSW Toruń. Interestingly, Songs… can currently be seen in its full six-channel glory as part of group exhibition Głos (Voice) at CSW in Warsaw. ‘At CSW it’s shown almost the way I meant it,’ laughed Laura; ideally, the screens would be even bigger than at CSW, so that the protagonists appear life-size.
On another screen there was an angry man with tears in his eyes, swearing at the audience in a language impossible to identify. It was Ztrulla, made in 2011 when Laura felt she wanted to break out of stifling conventions, find a different language, speak with a strong voice that would make her audience slightly uncomfortable, perhaps offended. ‘During the private view here at IMT, people asked whether he was speaking Polish,’ shares Laura, ‘but he isn’t. I asked the actor to swear at the audience in a made-up language, to exude hatred in a language that doesn’t exist. I originally scripted it but as learning it by heart proved to be a pain, he ended up improvising and it worked out really well’. Ztrulla here was on the loop with an originally three-channel video, edited to one channel, Untitled (Friedrich) from 2008: ‘There is similarity between the close-up of my face from Friedrich and the face of the Ztrulla actor,’ said Laura.
‘A Few Frames More’ of the exhibition’s title turned out to be ‘Frames’, the ongoing project Laura has been working on since 2008. In her occasional work for TVP Kultura (Polish TV cultural channel), as a video editor she goes through a multitude of film material, both archival and contemporary, frame by frame. She often finds surprising, visually intriguing images on single frames glued between two ‘meaningful’ frames, things you wouldn’t notice watching the footage on TV. She is fascinated by these ‘odd one outs’: the frames that exist physically on the film, but it is as if they didn’t, being imperceptible to regular audience. At IMT she showed a one-minute loop of these frames, an edited selection from her enormous archive, held together by a certain narrative. Laura is not sure she’d like to make a stand-alone video using these: ‘They seem better as a conceptual, never-ending project, a process of assembling these “unseen” frames.’ Even when they are striking enough to make her think they might have been put there on purpose, she’s more interested in their randomness.
Talking about her current interests and inspirations, Laura reflected on how only recently was she able to look back at her early projects, like 2001-03 RealLaura or 2004 REALITY_LP, and appreciate them as a sign of their times. Invited by Szum magazine, she took part in their debate at Warsaw MSN about the influence of Internet on Polish art and cultural environment, as an artist who used to be concerned with these issues: a description she likes.
RealLaura might have presaged Facebook (‘I was sending off constant banal updates about my life from a now ancient Nokia phone, and that’s what everyone does today on social media’), but Laura Pawela is currently drawn to ‘fake films’, shown in the gallery’s other room. Past Present Continuous (2010) is a video collage comprising a series of photographs, photomontages and vibrating videos of ‘forgotten’ urban structures, abandoned and no longer useful, transformed into the ruins of a city that never was.
For past two years Laura has been working on the mockumentary Pink Horizon: a project creatively transforming a never written script of the same title by Polish director Kazimierz Kutz. It is revolving around a true story of the 19th century migration of an almost entire Silesian village, inspired and led by their parish priest, to Texas, where they established Panna Maria: the first Polish settlement in the US. Medium-length film will tell the story of a search for a better organised world, of rebellion and madness, and will be assembled from Polish TV archives, interviews with artists working with Kutz and fabricated footage imitating found archival films. ‘We want to make this story darker than how it is currently remembered,’ said Laura. The trailer includes the material shot and manipulated by the artist during her research trips in the US, especially Bloodbuzz Ohio in 2011.
written by Ania Ostrowska
Laura Pawela was born in Rybnik, Poland in 1977. She studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts, Wroclaw and at the Institute of Art, University of Opole. She has exhibited extensively in Poland and abroad including Pump House Gallery, London; the Centre of Contemporary Art, Toruń; Manchester Contemporary 2013; BWA, Wroclaw; Gallery of Contemporary Arts, Opole; the National Museum, Warsaw; Centre Européen d’Actions Artistiques Contemporaines, Strasbourg; Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin; the National Brukenthal Museum, Sibiu and the Centre of Contemporary Arts, Moscow, and undertook a residency at the Triangle Arts Association in New York. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Silesian Voivodeship Artistic Award for achievements in the field of the visual art. She lives and works in Warsaw, Poland.
Ania Ostrowska is an intersectional feminist editor and writer. She has lived in London since 2005, when she moved from Poland after its EU accession and got an MA in gender studies from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Ania divides her time between working part-time at the Wellcome Library and being a film editor for The F-Word, UK biggest feminist blog. She writes about film and contemporary art and tweets at @ostrutka