Magda Buczek stays currently in Mexico City and takes part in the SOMA Summer program. Before that she was an art resident upstate New York. For a while now, she has been working on the project revolving around mysterious Justina. The interview below explores the issues of art, travel and the identity of a girl who resembles an anti-hero from picaresque novels.
Marta Kudelska: Who exactly is Justyna and why are you fascinated with her?
Magda Buczek: There is no Justyna, only Justina /dʒastɪna/, a modern version of characters from picaresque novels. We are cousins, so we spent many summer holidays together as kids and became friends in the meantime. More importantly, we have established an extremely strong and personal connection. Justina reminds me of Marco Polo in “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. Every time she comes back from her travels, she brings me stories about the cities she visited and various incredible adventures she had. Her image as a night-clubber, dancer, hostess, producer, a perfect mistress and world’s explorer is created intentionally with the use of commonplace tools, chiefly Facebook. She throws in her e-mails, postcards from the trips, skype, phone calls and diaries just for me. As a natural storyteller she unwinds those narratives before me; the narratives that may or may not have happened. This situation reminds me of a theatre play involving one actor and one person in the audience. My job is to chronicle the events voyeuristically and transform them into another version of the Justina fantasy, into my own personal tribute.
MK: We view Justina as someone who balances on the edge of life exhibitionism and artistic creation. Do you believe she reflects the time we live in?
MB: On my last exhibition “Justina &co.uk” I placed her in the context of her literary predecessors from picaresque novels, such as the heroines of the 18th and 19th century works: Moll Flanders, Frank Wedekind’s Lulu and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill. The persona of Justina is nothing new. The reference to this genre is clearly visible in the title of “Justina &co.uk” book – “JUSTINA &CO.UK Who hath ridden wild horses, oft four-in-hand, driven by adventure, amore, sex, business and danger, portrayed by her dearest cousin and boon companion for your entertainment and inspiration” – and in the
out-of-context fragments of Lulu and Moll’s stories that correspond perfectly with the narration built around contemporary adventures of my own character. The texts are featured on digital readers, which is a kind of nod to the modern times. Consequently, they become more “co.uk”, whereas the text itself becomes an image hence integral part of the photo album about Justina. The most contemporary part of Justina is that ultimately she defies this particular genre’s rules. Her story does not have any didactic undertones. On the other hand, Moll is thrown into jail and atones for her deeds; Fanny follows the righteous path in the end; and Lulu pays for her wrongdoings by becoming the victim of Jack the Ripper (the Ripper cuts out her vagina). Justina has ups and downs without moral dilemmas and a grand time by the way. The “co.uk” (meaning “and company”) invokes the abovementioned literary figures, because they all have London in common. Moreover, it is the label for the English internet domains which hints at digital nature of our relationship and Justina’s image on the Internet. Coming back to your question, I believe the tools we surround ourselves with – social media and smartphones, or the fact that we seem to be constantly online and capable of attracting our own audience – all those elements make us the narrators of stories with ourselves as the leads. Selfie is a separate genre of photography. Obviously, my heroine knows it inside out.
MK: You are quite a traveler yourself. In what way does travelling impact your artistic creations?
MB: It takes me outside my comfort zone and helps me to curb self-censorship in the creative process which is always in the air when you are bound closely to a given artistic community. Furthermore, it mirrors the online world where an enormous amount of stimuli is thrown at us all at once. Travelling allows me to keep a balance between those impulses and real 3D images. I can unceasingly juxtapose the intensity of the two realities against each other. In my work, I communicate with visuals we see day in, day out in the popular, consumerist culture or the press. I deal with common packaging and well-known everyday products, for instance nail polish and band-aids. The change in environment means experiencing brand-new visual lexicon.
MK: What were the stages in the creation of the Justina project?
MB: I have collaborated with Justina since 2009. I managed to display her in the gallery’s darkroom (“Justina is,” Lodz Art Centre, Fotofestival Lodz 2010) and in a white space overexposed to light
(“Justina &co.uk,” Art Agenda Nova Gallery, Krakow 2013). The artbook “Justina &co.uk” was also published this year. Justina has recently moved from Florence back to London to start a new chapter in life. During the latest project’s stages, I have led the life of a kind of voyeuristic middle-class settler in a city. Not anymore. I have not been in Warsaw for 6 months now because of my residencies. My status is shifting and the relationship between Justina and I will naturally change too. Our relationship was previously based upon our differences and the fascination they triggered. Currently, we become more alike.
MK: You are a resident in New York right now. What are you working on?
MB: During my time as an art resident I examined the theme I mentioned before, namely the common lexicon of the American visual communication. “American landmarks and ghosts” is the project I made at that time, which incorporates appropriated materials: images and objects I found on site, pictures of the legendary American hotspots, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or the White House. I combine them with local tales about ghosts and superheroes and turn into nonexistent surreal sceneries inhabited by animals made of cheap confetti purchased at the infamous Yankee Dollar Shop:) I stay currently in Mexico City and take part in the SOMA Summer program which focuses on the idea of cooperation and participation in the artistic practices. Gradually, I come back to Justina and other long-term projects I do together with my characters.
MK: Let us go back to Justina for a moment. The book plays significant role in the whole project. Could you tell us more about that?
MB: In the book, Justina is always featured on the gutter of its pages, covered with brocade and distinguishable only through colorful filters which stand for the motifs of her story: love, sex, business, danger and especially adventure. The book constituted a part of the exhibition in the Nova Gallery. It had to be translated into English after I received the nomination for the MACK First Artbook Award which provided me with an opportunity for redesign. It needed to function well without the exhibition accompanying it. I redesigned the book in collaboration with Emilia Obrzut from Obszar Roboczy. She brought fresh perspective to the story I wanted to tell. Anyway, we worked together on this project before; she lent her voice to audio version of Justina’s e-mails. The book was meant to convey the intimacy in the relationship between Justina and I, to be, to some degree, Justina’s diary as well as her itinerary. The pages somewhere in the middle are embellished with brocade which sticks to your fingers. It is like watching porn online – it always leaves its mark on your drive:)
MK: Some of your projects, such as Justina’s story, run for years. Does your perception of art alter in the meantime?
MB: The time and change are equal characters in my work. Its shape, my perception of art and everything else blatantly depends on them. Every single ensuing experience has an ability to undermine my previous work. Long-term projects and series’ creation is a risky business due to the fact that you can’t predict the end result and the issues of artistic collaboration not necessarily with other artists, but actually with the version of yourself at the beginning of a project.
MK: Let’s talk about the future. You are coming back to Poland soon. What are your plans?
MB: I am going to make a film about Grateful Dead and the wacky piece of stage equipment they built in the 80’s at the edge of a jungle. Justina and I also think about a new collaborative piece.
Interviewed by Marta Kudelska
Translated by Karolina Jasińska
Magda Buczek – Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, a winner of the Young Talent Prize and the Audience’s Choice Prize at Fotofestival Łódź 2009. Shortlisted for the MACK First Book Award in London in 2014. A winner of the Polish Photobook of the Year (self publishing category) in 2014. Lives and works in Warsaw. Buczek works mainly with photography, video, drawings, collages and found footage, which she uses as mapping elements of her personal narratives. She is interested in the issue of representation in the context of human body, identity and popular culture. Recurring themes of her works are girlhood and adolescent rituals. Her projects are often made in a long-term perspective and involve family relatives, friends and volunteers.
Marta Kudelska – Independent Curator, author of texts about art. She has published her texts in, among others Szum, Obieg, artPapier, Obieg, Opcje, Punkt, Art&Business and Hiro. She graduated from culture studies – contemporary culture (within the scope of theory and critique of contemporary culture) and art history at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She is interested in memory, institutional critique, museums and the issue of archives and commemoration in photography. She is currently a PhD student of art studies at Jagiellonian University where she researches the issue of memory policies in museum collections. Often collaborating with the gallery Czytelnia Sztuki in Gliwice.