Alex Urso: First of all, would you tell me something about your work? What are your interests as an artist?
Maria Wasilewska: Since I have my roots in sculpture, the experience of space, while searching for a concept, is very important to me. Through art I try to understand nature and myself, as an immanent element of this nature. For me, the reality is a continuous source of inspiration. I receive it intuitively and sensorily. While creating my models of space I try to make a coherent physical and mental unity, which may contain a piece of information about the world, but it doesn’t give simple clear-cut answers. I rediscover my intuitions in science: physics and maths, and lately in psychology, sociology, and politics.
AU: Your project Game Over, exhibited earlier this season at the Amy-d space in Milan, is an attempt to investigate the rise of nationalisms in today’s politics. Are you meaning it as a reflection on the European situation, or you’re rather referring to the Polish national context?
MW: The project Game Over concerns the situation we are facing now, not only in Poland but in Europe and in the whole world. In many countries conservative parties are being in charge now. The nationalist tendencies are as if the awaken demons of modern times, whom we should be afraid of and oppose them. As humanists we have to be aware of dangers brought by such behaviour. Our indifference means a consent. We shouldn’t be surprised if one day, we’ll wake up in a completely different world where there wouldn’t be a trace of our comfortable and ‘domesticated’ everyday life.
AU: The exhibition presents a selection of sculptures and a video. Could you tell me something about these works?
MW: The project Game Over #2 is my idée fixe: an attempt to awake us from dullness; to draw attention to the recurrent dangerous events, and as a consequence, may be taking ‘the weapon’ away and thus changing the destructive behaviour into a constructive one.
The main elements of the project are a video and six steel forms. The video explains the shapes of abstract steel forms. These are the symbols (chosen by me) of present nationalists from different countries, which appeal to fascist symbols from Germany and Italy. There is also a celtic cross which is used by nationalist fractions on the British Isles, in Italy, Greece, or in the USA; the falange of national Polish groups, or the Wolfsangel rune, which is a sign of the Ukrainian party ”Svoboda”, and some symbols from other parts of the world.
In my video, these symbols of aggression are uniting and spreading into abstract puddles, which next are changed into steel forms filled with toxic, burnt engine oil creating mirror surfaces, in which the scene and we ourselves are reflected. The important elements of the installation, which predict the danger, are two guns situated in the entrance and pointed at visitors arriving at the exhibition. In other rooms I have installed two red warning neon signs, ON and OFF.
AU: This is not the first time that you are presenting the project. When did you start working on Game Over, and what are the stages through which the work has been developed over the years?
MW: I made the project in 2018 and presented it in June in MOS gallery in Gorzów Wielkopolski. For the exhibition in Milan I added two new elements: two neon signs ON and OFF to underline our attitude towards aggressive trends. We could either participate in this or not. This is our choice.
AU: When you say “Game Over” what do you mean? Who are the losers and who are the winners of this game?
MW: I think it’s high time we put an end to this game. If we still continue to play games with ‘weapons’, (I mean the demons of modern times such as aggressive nationalistic trends, quite often kind of fascist, with religious dips, the growing racist behaviour and antisemitism) we all can lose. The use of these behaviours by political authorities is unacceptable as well as our indifference. In Poland, however, as in many other countries, we still have the right to vote and we can decide in what reality we want to live.
AU: Your works are a reflection on the legitimization of aggressiveness, fascism and racism by our political authorities. Do you believe that art can (still) be an active stimulus to animate the debate on contemporary politics?
MW: I must believe in this! I must believe that culture and art are able to renew the humanism in a human being and help to rediscover the good in her/him, and make people reflect deeply and maybe, in consequence, activate people constructively.
That is why I realized this project. I decided, as an artist, I have to react to reality which now frightens me the most. And I must have hope that it’s the art that builds our consciousness – for sure, mine! Not the newspapers, which are the tools of authority.
AU: A few months ago the National Museum of Warsaw decided to remove from its walls three works of three artists considered offensive to the sensibility of the audience. Could you explain to me better what happened?
MW: It’s really hard to explain that phenomenon which is an incredible absurd. The removed works, acknowledged by the history of modern art, refer to woman’s position in the world. This is an important voice of women artists. Are we supposed to belt up and return to the woman’s role as an inferior individual?
Recently I have visited Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan and I’ve seen the works of Paint Masters with the images of women presented either as a mother of God or as a woman serving men. Those pictures, above all, presented biblical scenes and were created between the 15th and the 19th century. Now, it’s the 21st century!
AU: Yet something similar happened even before your exhibition opening in Milan. Apparently the Polish Consulate did not appreciate the theme of the project – asking for censorship of some passages of the press release and threatening to suspend the collaboration…
MW: I think, without going into details, that these two situations are incomparable. The incoherent reactions to the exhibition were the results of individual interpretations, that everyone has the right to, of course. The Polish Consulate is interested in the project and I hope it appreciated its universal form.
AU: Such kind of situations are unfortunately very frequent in Poland nowadays. In which direction is the culture of your country going?
MW: I’m not a politician but an artist. It’s hard to foresee the future of culture. The situation in today’s Poland is a result of transformation of 1989, when Poland regained its independence (from the communist regime). Having restored the freedom, we wanted to catch up on the economy and that was the main purpose of the political activities. The issues of culture were neglected back then. The sphere of “spirit” and public space weren’t developed by the state but by the Church only. The subject of religion was introduced into public schools. The social consciousness is a result of those actions, among others. The so-called critical art has defined this problem insufficiently. Culture has overlooked the important moment in the recent history of Poland, so it is now in a trap.
interviewed by Alex Urso