From Brooklyn to Queens, from Manhattan to Bronx, from Williamsburg to Harlem. Contemporary Lynx explored the most cutting-edge art venues on New York map following the art programme of Performa13.
This is the second part of our report from this festival, which had Poland and Polish artists at its centre. First part of the report is available here. We previously wrote about Radek Szlaga and Konrad Smolenski’s performance and Katarzyna Krakowiak’s sound-installation. The second part focuses on works by Paweł Althamer. Performa ran between 1-24 November. It presented performances across a range of disciplines: visual arts, music, dance, theatre, poetry, fashion, architecture and graphic design. More than one 100 events were presented at over forty different venues.
Queen Mother of Reality is a monumental statue by Paweł Althamer, situated next to the local bar called Biba, on the eastern waterfront of the fashionable Williamsburg district. The impressive view of Manhattan skyscrapers provides an amazing background for this location. At night, their marvellous flickering lights are reflected in the waters of the Hudson river.
Queen Mother is a result of Althamer’s cooperation with several artists: Noah Fischer, Roman Stanczak, Szymon & Bruno Althamer, Rafal Zwirek and the Aaron Burr, as well as volunteers. The members of the local community, including Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans, Poles from the nearby Green Point and Hipsters from the trendy district of Williamsburg were also invited to participate in this project. As it often happens with Althamer‘s artistic activities, the collective work on the statue turned out to be the crucial aspect of the whole project. For a few days, everyone willing and wishing to contribute brought various materials and props, mainly the ones found in scrap yards and rubbish bins. That is how Queen Mother of Reality, the statue for the times we live in, was created.
The enormous Queen Mother of Reality is a woman lying on her side and resting her head on her hand. The sculpture is actually a structure made of steel, wood and junk, but it is solid enough to allow people inside. Its charming decorations are composed of discarded items, which, in this way, undergo their revival. The woman’s elbow is in fact a dilapidated umbrella, the chain of joined computer keyboards acts as jewellery and the headdress is a huge hat made of smaller hats. The woman is resting on one elbow, just like the Thai Buddha at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok. The Queen Mother’s facial expression is kind, which bears a close resemblance to the Buddha’s facial features. However, there are some obvious differences between both statues, namely their skin colour and gender.
As we can learn from the press, Queen Mother of Reality is a tribute to all the displaced mothers and single women made to leave their households. Similarly to the sleeping Buddha, the sculpture personifies the oasis of peace, which was created by the local community as a tribute to those, who cannot protect their own homes anymore. Buddhists believe that sleep is a manifestation of the state of tranquillity and spiritual emancipation. Sleep is also a process which leads us to awakening. The sleeping Buddha from Wat Pho personifies calmness, which is one of the most important virtues. Buddha teaches us how to accept profit and loss, how to handle success and failure taking them into perspective. He proves the importance of the neutral state of mind, which should be resistant to external stimuli. Queen Mother seems to encourage local communities to enter the comfort zone and feel mentally free from everyday concerns and mundane issues.
The project manifests Althamer’s inspiration with the real figure, the former nun, Dr. Delois Blakely. She is the famous heroine of the Occupy movement, a New York social activist and an active facebook user. She is actively protecting oppressed women, fighting for the rights of the poor and against economic inequality around the world. What is more, she is a supporter of microcredits and a proponent of entrepreneurial attitude among corrupt youth. She is often seen walking in the 125th street in Harlem.
Obviously, Althamer’s project has to be compared with his other famous project entitled Brodno 2000 (Warsaw). The idea was to make the inhabitants of Bródno – one of the Warsaw’s huge and squalid housing estates, to simultaneously turn the lights in their apartments off and on in such a way that the windows with the lights on were arranged in the shape of 2000 number. This project served as another form of encouragement for the people to step outside of their apartments. Neighbours had the opportunity to get to know each other and make a collective effort for the sake of a common goal. The whole action evolved into a kind of festival within the estate. The atmosphere of Althamer’s performance in Brooklyn resembled the one from Warsaw. The artist organised a barbecue and invited everyone for a common feast at Biba. Spending time together constituted an integral part of the project and may even be considered as its key aspect.
A curator Claire Bishop refers to this kind of artistic activity as delegated performance (C.Bishop, Delegated Performance). Althamer invites local communities to participate in the artistic activities and, in this way, he creates works of art through their hands. He divides the tasks and the final effect is the artwork created by collective effort. However, the significantly more important aspect is reaching out to the people and promoting inclusion of the communities which are considered marginal, closed within their own diasporas for many years. Althamer is mainly a social activist, while his art serves as an impulse for meeting and getting to know other people.
Manhattan has its Statue of Liberty, while Brooklyn has the Queen Mother of Reality. The Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants like the gate to the promised land. It seems to be calling from the distance “Bring me the ill, the crippled and the rejected”. In contrast, Queen Mother of Reality takes care of those who are already there, who came from far away and who are forgotten by others. In this respect, the Queen Mother resembles the New York activist Dr. Delois Blakely.
Althamer’s works are multidimensional. They tackle the local problems, as well as universal issues. Queen Mother of Reality is a multi-layered work in formal as well as conceptual terms. Just like each of the volunteers and local community members contributed by bringing some piece of material for the monumental sculpture, each of us can contribute with his/her own interpretation of the figure of the Queen Mother, while meeting her face to face.