'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Paradoks – at the edge of documentary exhibition

One week prior to the closing of ‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, I reached out to Dagmara Domagała (member of the WRO Art Center, author, researcher and art guide), Kathrin Lemcke (artist, filmmaker, one of the initiators of Paradoks and an active member of Filmische Initiative Leipzig FILZ) and Amos Borchert (curator, one of the initiators of Paradoks and GEGENkino festival in Leipzig) to speak in detail about the Paradoks festival and their collaboration with the WRO Art Center in Wrocław, Poland. Together, we talked about experimental forms of video art, non-linear film narrations, different approaches to the idea of truth; we spoke in depth about the many great art practitioners who explore the above.

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: We are here to speak about the exhibition ‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ that is currently on view at the WRO Art Center in Wrocław. Please introduce the project shortly and tell us about your collaboration. 

Kathrin Lemcke: Paradoks can be seen as something between an exhibition and a festival that explores several forms of video art, deriving from the documentary film and expanding the traditional linear form of storytelling in cinema. We show pieces that interact with several different exhibition spaces. We work on the edges of the documentary in a sense that the video works can be placed between art journalism, research and documentary. 

Amos Borchert: For example in our first edition, back in 2019 we collaborated with Cinémathèque in Leipzig which also curated the program of feature films for the cinema; it included both fiction and non-fiction. Back then we really thought: how far can the unconventional documentary approach be taken and how? From the beginning, our idea was to give platform to local artists while simultaneously we aimed at combining them with international artists. We wanted to build a platform parallel to the DOK Leipzig film festival – one of the biggest festivals in Europe for documentary films. Apart from the exhibition we organise lectures, screenings and artist talks in order to contextualise the artworks and to give platform to discuss the themes and also the forms of the pieces. 

Dagmara Domagała: WRO Art Center has the strongest archive of video art in Poland and so, there were a lot of parallels between our initiatives. The first part of our cooperation was to prepare a special screening program for Paradoks festival: ‘Interspaces.’ The second part was the idea of bringing Ginan Seidl’s work ‘SPIN’ to Wrocław. The exhibition continues till March 17th. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: Can you reveal what is behind the name of the festival? Or should we understand it as a self-explanatory title?

Amos Borchert: First of all, it is parallel to the DOK Leipzig film festival and the name itself derives from para, like parallel and DOK, the name of the DOK festival. In a wider context it of course refers to documentary film or documentary video art. Additionally it plays with the word paradox and the ambiguities and contradictions that can be found at the edges of documentary. We thought it’s a good name, a catchy name.

Patrycja Rozwora: Two of the important aspects of Paradoks are form and space. When I think of a traditional documentary film festival, I imagine a cinema room where the audience can watch a bunch of movies in a rather passive way. What are the different ways of thinking about the usage of space when building up the Paradoks exhibition?

Kathrin Lemcke: Our general idea is to think about documentary in different ways. Having video installations already offers the spectator a different experience to a traditional cinema. Your body plays a more intense role in perceiving the work. So, for our first edition in 2019 we built the exhibition in a shopping mall in the centre of Leipzig. It was located very close to the DOK festival, in order to encourage the audience of the DOK festival to also visit us. On the other hand, we wanted to explore places that are not the usual art spaces or cinema spaces. For the last edition we worked mostly with art spaces, like GFZK Gallery, the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig and the Spinnerei. 

Amos Borchert: With the shopping mall idea, we wanted to break out from the art world bubble and attract people who rarely or never visit traditional art spaces. The exhibition was free of charge and confronted the regular shopping mall visitor with something edgy, different and unexpected. I remember there were some homeless people in the mall, hanging out. They were really interested in the exhibition and spent a lot of time with the artworks; their discussions with our team were great. On the other hand, there were also people with a tunnel shopping vision who were not even noticing the artworks. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: I think it’s really great to show art in public space instead of a closed, often elitists gallery or cinema space. I really liked the fact that you made your exhibition open to people who would usually never dare to visit a white cube exhibition space. 

Can you speak about the topics or areas of interests that you care to bring forward through the format of the festival? 

Amos Borchert: We don’t have any curatorial direction. When we start thinking about an exhibition, we meet up and brainstorm. It usually starts with highlighting local artists. In general, we are interested in works that challenge the form of what it means to be a documentary video art. We are also definitely interested in works that are politically engaging. Back in 2019, we had two thematic clusters. ‘Arrival’ dealt with flight and displacement, the situation of refugees in Germany and discussed e.g. their employment situation, problems with racism and violence. The other – ‘Precarious Bodies’ – dealt with; the precarious situations of artists. This year we had a cluster called ‘Empowerment’ – which showed projects that derive from different communities; it is something that interests us a lot. We practice non-hierarchical ways of curating. 

Patrycja Rozwora: Now, I would like you to tell a little more about one of the works, ‘SPIN’ by Ginan Seidl, that is also part of the current exhibition in WRO.

Kathrin Lemcke: It is a big installation encompassing a three-channel video installation, with the addition of two interviews and a couple of free-standing objects.

Dagmara Domagała: The title ‘SPIN’ refers to a term used in quantum mechanics, describing the spinning movement of a particle.

Kathrin Lemcke: The work portrays both science and religion as a base of gaining knowledge and perceiving the world. On the one hand we have the movement of the particles while on the other, the religious meditation of Sufi whirling. In-between, you see different objects that are spinning as well. In the background you can hear interviews with quantum physicists and Sufi practitioners. 

Amos Borchert: The installation also shows architectural models created by Ginan, using a 3D printer.

Kathrin Lemcke: Both in science and during the Sufi dance the centre is not moving, but the movement is happening around the very centre. This is also happening in the installation itself. The viewer is located in the centre of the piece and the work is moving around them. You can experience the spin physically while being there. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: What is the theoretical and/or symbolic idea of the piece? What does the artist want to communicate by using those spinning models? 

Amos Borchert: I think it talks about how knowledge is being generated and how relative it may be. Physicists use terms and reject them later on. Thinking about science as something fluid instead of solid. 

Dagmara Domagała: Maybe it’s just my interpretation, but for me this work also talks about searching for patterns of the universe. I think what Ginan is trying to communicate is that this kind of spinning movement, both in the spiritual and in scientific world, is a universal way of searching for a kind of higher energy and for possibilities to find the essence of the universe.

Amos Borchert: Also, science and religion are often seen as antagonistic entities. However, Ginan’s work breaks this separation. She shows that you can find a lot of interesting ideas from combining those fields. Asking religious question within the framework of science and the other way around. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: Yes, intersectionality can open a lot of conversations and ways of thinking. Dagmara, could you tell why you decided to bring this particular work to the exhibition at WRO and how you connected it with the archival materials of the Art Center? 

Dagmara Domagała: When Dominik Kluszczyk (the second curator of WRO) and I received the proposal to collaborate with the Paradoks festival, we had a couple of options to choose from. In the end, we thought of Ginan’s work because it resonates best with the ideas we work with in the Art Center. We were intrigued by the intersectionality between science, art and spirituality. Contemporary media art and science go hand in hand as well. Ginan’s work is totally on the edge of all those fields same as the title of this exhibition itself: at the edge of documentary. We really like that Ginan is not making any statement with her piece, she leaves that to the viewer. The universality of this work offers space for conversation and opens up our audience – which is so important for us. 

Other than that, the work itself is very beautiful. It’s so interesting to be a part of this experience, to stand in the middle of the screens and suck the energy of the piece. Our idea from the very beginning was to combine Ginan’s work with something from our archives. During the process of getting to know Ginan’s work, we found some aspects that were resonating with us and links to works that we have shown in the past editions of the Biennale, as well as during other exhibitions here at WRO. We came up with a couple of linking topics. 

First of all, it was ‘Machine Organisms.’ In ‘SPIN’ we perceive the body shown in the videos as a kind of machine organism – the Sufi dance, for example. In reaction to that, we found works titled ‘Space-in-between’ by Ya-Wen Fu and ‘Pendulum Choir’ by Cod that explored that idea, but in a totally different way to Ginan. Another linking cluster was called ‘Catch Your Balance,’ featuring the performance by Kuba Borkowicz called ‘Endurance,’ and the installation ‘Balance from within’ by Jacob Tonsky. Both explore the idea of keeping yourself in balance, a strong connection to the ground – just like the Sufi dancers. We have also thought about the link to quantum mechanics. We have chosen ‘Tele-present water’ by David Bowen and ‘AC’ by Szymon Wojtyła, both of which are talking about the energies that are mostly invisible for the eye, but are happening in the world. Additionally, we are showing the works ‘Furnished Fluid’ by Akira Wakita and ‘Captives’ by Quayola in relation to the cluster ‘Revolutions of the Body.

All of the works from our archive show a connection in the approach to documenting itself. Ginan’s work documents a world that is impossible to capture on camera. The divine forces of the Sufis and the particles in quantum mechanics cannot be recorded by any means, and the same can be applied to media art. In WRO, we are constantly exploring how to document media art and make it comprehensible to the viewer.

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: Personally, I am a big fan of documentary films. I think they are a great way of showing the complex world we live in. What are the benefits of working with documentary video art in an unconventional way? 

Amos Borchert: I think in general, artists working with documentary forms are already very aware of what kind of reality they are showing. They problematise the concept of truth. Even traditional documentaries do not show the entire truth but a certain perspective towards a subject. I personally like the method of reenactment: finding people that experienced a certain history, certain situation and documenting their way of reenact it. 

Documentary art has the potential to make films not about something, but created with people that are dealing with a certain situation or phenomenon. As I said earlier, we like working with artists and setting up their works together. This is the idea of creating something as a collaboration between the filmmakers and the subjects. Also, exploring the idea of leaving certain things unclear in terms of narration, leaving blind spots in the story: I think a lot of conventional films are still trying to explain and interpret a lot and present the story in a linear format. However, breaking that linear thinking is interesting and important, I think. 

Kathrin Lemcke: ‘SPIN’ is a great example of a documentary piece that works with things that are not perceivable with the eye. So, the artist had to invent different ways of talking about things that are part of our world, but can’t be shown in a classical film way. 

Dagmara Domagała: I can see the potential in the intersection between the conventional documentary film format and art – as a field that invites the viewer to consider different interpretations. The form of the conventional cinema is always closed. Right now, working in an art gallery space proves that the narrations of an artwork can be very open.

Amos Borchert: And just to add, there are also great documentaries that are made for TV or cinema that challenge the idea of linear narration. There are very interesting experimental films that greatly challenge our pre-defined ideas about conventional cinema formats.

Kathrin Lemcke: Yes, that’s why films with linear narration are also always part of the Paradoks program. For example, last autumn in Leipzig we showed ‘Purple Sea’ by Amel Alzakout and Khaled Abdulwahed were they show a portrait of the journey from Syria to Europe. It’s a very lyrical film. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center

Patrycja Rozwora: I think it’s also very relevant to speak about documenting and filming in relation to the war in Ukraine and situation in Russia. The visuals can be and are being manipulated and therefore, they are showing the opposite narrative and are used as propaganda. We are living in an age where everyone has a phone and is constantly filming.

Dagmara Domagała: Yes and on the other hand, we have these manipulative AI devices that can turn your video into anything. We are in a very scary situation right now. 

Patrycja Rozwora: Yes, indeed. Let’s finish here. Thank you for the conversation. The exhibition can be still viewed in Wrocław till March 17th. Stay safe and let’s pray for peace. 

'Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center
‘Paradoks – at the edge of documentary’ exhibition, WRO Art Center


Feb 26 – Mar 17, 2022

Organisers: WRO Art Center, the Filmische Initiative Leipzig (FILZ) and the GEGENkino Festival


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About The Author


Artist and writer. Studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Critical Studies Department at the Sandberg Institute. Her ongoing research relates the post-Soviet countries. In 2020, she launched a podcast series called ‘Kitchen Conversations.’

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