“The Night Will Drive a Heart” is the title of a group exhibition that inaugurates this year’s series of events organized by Wrocław Contemporary Museum. David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was an American artist who worked within various fields of art. We used to know him not only as a painter, photographer, performer, and writer but also as a social activist fighting for the rights of sexual minorities and AIDS prevention. He was a figure known by the East Village community, namely the punk rock circles, and in the nearby Greenwich Village – the New York district popular among the local LGBT+ community. In recent years, the Whitney Museum in New York, Loewe Gallery in Madrid, and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin organised three big retrospective exhibitions of works by the artist. Piotr Lisowski, the curator of “The Night Will Drive a Heart” exhibition, decided to refer to Wojnarowicz as a central figure around whom the narrative is constructed. His works are exhibited several times, among other works. They provide the context for those other presented objects and introduce Wojnarowicz to the audience through the phenomena of love, rebellion, homosexualism, and disease.
The first piece which the audience sees is the work created in 1989. It serves as an introduction, defining the axiological and ontological sense of all that is presented. The questions asked in “What is This Little Guy’s Job” are:
“[…] Do people speak language differently if this bug dies? Does the world get a little lighter in the rotation? […]”
address the questionable nature of the sense of living and uncertain relationships with other “bugs”.
When Piotr Lisowski was asked why he decided to choose David Wojnarowicz as a central figure, he said he had been thinking about this artist for many years. Both the areas that the artist used to address and his aesthetics as well as his social and political involvement are equally important for the curator. He attaches particular importance to the 1980s and the artist’s involvement in the New York’s underground culture community.
Another symbolic figure that needs to be mentioned when discussing this exhibition is Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet who lived in the late 19th century. He was a gay homosexual who was well-known for his rebellious attitude towards social norms and representatives of the establishment. He challenged moral categories and restrictions in his poems, emphasizing the importance of feelings and emotions taking advantage over intellect.
Arthur Rimbaud was frequently referred to in the works by David Wojnarowicz. In the series “Arthur Rimbaud in New York”, Wojnarowicz depicts a figure of an artist-agitator or a person whose art is socially engaged and relational, which means that it represents a reaction to the activities of someone else, mainly politics and in relation to morality. In 2001, Every Ocean Hughes (Emily Roysdon, an American artist, curator, and writer) started her project related to the series of works by Wojnarowicz, which I just mentioned. Her works presented at the exhibition in Wrocław called “Untitled (David Wojnarowicz project)” show the longing and the desire to have our “Rimbaud” who would fit the present times.Hungry for more?
“The Night Will Drive a Heart” is a romantic manifesto of very different invited artists who work with various media and come from different parts of the world. They take part in a relational art project which is the reaction to the reality of the times in which we live. In the beginning, the visitor sees a work by Mirosław Bałka, one of the Polish artists most beloved and respected abroad, juxtaposed with a piece by Ada Zielińska – a young photographer who took a famous photo that went viral online in 2018. This juxtaposition is by no means deceptive. In the photo, we can see a scene where a cosy and homey atmosphere, as in the scenes which Edward Hopper painted, is combined with a scene of a battle or a rebellion taking place behind the window. Everything out there is blood-red because of rockets being launched by those “celebrating” Polish Independence Day. This picture contrasts with the white colour present in the piece by Mirosław Bałka entitled “Tanz” (“Dance”). The contrast clearly shows us where we are. We are in Poland in 2021.
Ada Zielińska, “Independence Day”, 2018, photography, digital print, 100 x 70 cm, ed. 8 + 2 AP, courtesy of the artist and the Propaganda Gallery in Warsaw. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
Every Ocean Hughes, “Untitled (David Wojnarowicz Project)”, 2001–2007, six from a series of 12 black and white photographs, 27 x 35 cm each [exhibition copies], courtesy of the artist. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
Mirosław Bałka, “Tanz”, 2002, video installation; salt, metal cassette, 10 x 250 x 190 cm, video, 1’40”, ed. 1/2, property of the Zachęta Lower Silesian Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in the deposit of Wrocław Contemporary Museum. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
Daniel Knorr, “Stolen History”, 2008, colour photography, 22.5 x 32 cm each, collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
Natalia LL, “Natalia LL at a demonstration in defence of the rights of sexual minorities, 1977, New York”, 1977, colour photography, 14.4 x 14.5 cm each, courtesy of the artist and the lokal_30 gallery in Warsaw. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
David Wojnarowicz, “What is this Little Guy’s Job”, 1989, 8mm video, transferred in Beta and digitalized, 2’05”, courtesy of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W, New York. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
Exhibition view. On the right: Karol Radziszewski, “Detention of Margot”, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 160 cm, courtesy of the artist and BWA Warszawa Gallery. On the left: Karol Radziszewski, “Maria Janion” from the “Poczet” series, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Photo Alicja Kielan, © Wrocław Contemporary Museum, 2021.
This very country at these times is being tormented with political crises, and art is the possible tool for expression that reflects the public feeling. It is also the field that inspires us for reflection and the sphere which gives us hope. The appetite for power presented, e.g., in the video installation by Kościół Nihilistów (Justyna Baśnik Andrzejewska, Paweł Baśnik, and Jędrzej Sierpiński) emphasizes the need for reaction even more. “Orędzie” (“Address Given”, 2021) refers to the speech delivered by Jarosław Kaczyński in which he discussed the public reaction to the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland that led to the tightening of abortion law in this country. “To nie są ludzie” (“These Are Not People Either”,2020) by Hubert Kielan refers in its form to the “Arbeit macht frei” inscription, which hangs over the gate of the former Nazi concentration camp in Oświęcim. The title directly references to what the Polish president Andrzej Duda said, “LGBT community are not people, it is an ideology.”
What really sets this exhibition apart is its contemporary character. The exhibition is thoroughly contemporary. It discusses issues that were recently vital or are vital right now, and which we are still not sure how to approach. These issues and events have not yet been evaluated from a historical perspective. History itself also turns out to be one of the topics discussed at the exhibition. The work by Daniel Knorr from Romania entitled “Stolen History” asks the very question of how history is being constructed. The artist puts balaclavas on the heads of monuments in Copenhagen to inspire us to reflect on this issue.
At first sight,the exhibition seems to be a reaction to current events and also refers to some historical figures of artists, socially engaged artistic activities and some romantic attitudes. It shows how relevant such activities are today and how much need there is to continuously engage in them to show our objection to restricting certain rights and freedoms.
Artists have been expressing their opposition against imposed norms and principles unwaveringly since the late 19th century. This was when the first prominent figures from the artistic circles started to break ranks and separated from the Academy. It was the new path which male and, later, female artists followed – to be anti-, to delve into what was new and forbidden rather than known and recommended. Freedom became the value superior to all other values.
On the one hand, we have the abuse of power, manipulation, and attempts to control the society. On the other hand, there is the need for closeness, developing relationships, and love. We need to be able to express our love with no fear.
The most important topic discussed at the exhibition is the rights of sexual minorities. It is present, for example, in the work by Natalia LL who documented her participation in the demonstration against violation of the rights of minorities, which took place in New York in 1977. It was almost ten years after the disturbances in Stonewall and right before the AIDS epidemic broke out in the USA…
The exhibition of works from Antoine de Galbert’s collection will be open only until 10 January at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. Shortly before the closing of cultural institutions in November, I had the opportunity to see works by Kader Attia, Christian Boltanski, Miriam Cahn, David Goldblatt and Roman Signer. The exhibition left a burden of responsibility for what we are doing to others, dealing with the historical impact and heritage we are bound to leave to future generations. The Burning House exhibition poses important questions about the role art, including critical art, can play in shaping our attitudes. Is the influence and impact of art real, or is it rather a barometer pointing to specific phenomena and attitudes?
I had the opportunity to talk about the exhibition with the curator, Maria Morzuch. For those who missed the chance to see the exhibition live, we have a photo report of all of the works.
“Detention of Margot” by Karol Radziszewski refers to the events of September 2020 when Margot Szutowicz, an LGBT+ activist, was detained by the police and arrested for destroying one of the vans of the Pro – prawo do życia Foundation and for attacking the driver. The picture by Karol Radziszewski presents a dynamic scene which is depicted in colours that resemble Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”. Both pictures also share similar composition. Radziszewski’s work, however, is not as monumental as the great piece by Picasso, and its surface is merely 160 x 160 cm. Nevertheless, the primary focus for both artists is chaos and fear. In his works, Karol Radziszewski has referred to events vital for the LGBT+ community on multiple occasions. His painting “Hyacinth” can be mentioned as an example. This piece refers to the police force collecting documentation on Polish homosexuals in the years 1985–1987 to use it as justification for later repressive measures.
Liliana Piskorska (Zeic), whose works are presented further at the exhibition, focuses on female members of the LGBT+ community. Like Karol Radziszewski, she searches through archives and collects stories of the forgotten, concealed facts related to the life of this community. In his “Poczet” painting series, Radziszewski presents historical female figures. Liliana does the same showing women who played a role in emancipation of females, including in the sphere of their sexuality: Maria Konopnicka, Maria Dulębianka, Narcyza Żmichowska, Sławomira Walczewska, Józefa Bojanowska, and Maria Rodziewiczówna. Her works presented at the “Sourcebook” exhibition, which is an archive of non-normative Polish women’s history and her “Strong Sisters Told the Brothers” manifesto are a significant voice in the public domain, and it is being listened to more and more attentively.
The explosion of corporeality, breaking a sex taboo are the topics shown by Carolee Schneemann, the performance queen, in her three videos. Already in the 1960s the artist was active in the field of body art, which in its nature is the art of overcoming boundaries, examining limitations, possibilities, and dependencies of human body in different configurations. The videos, so full of expressive movements and shots, belong to the canon of so-called feminist art.
Leszek Knaflewski is an artist who stands on the other side of the spectrum. He used to focus frequently on relationships, closeness, and bodies in a very different way than Carolee Schneemann. In his 1989 installation entitled “A Couple”, we notice his interest in the forms resembling roots. The title of this work implies a relationship and assigning anthropomorphic meanings to such forms. Similar attempts are visible in the artist’s later works from the same period, such as “The Nude” and “The Sitting Woman”. Root-like forms were a recurring element in Leszek Knaflewski’s works as part of the natural environment, which is not visible to us most frequently. Roots are hidden under the ground, and from there, they make it possible for the entire living organism to grow. They keep it alive. Knaflewski often arranged roots in the form of a cross. In this way, he obviously referred to religious symbols, which, thereby, became an element of his installations. The artist shows us in a very literal sense that we are part of the natural world. It is justified to make an association between his works and the calling to get back to our roots.
The last work presented at the exhibition is the diploma project of Paweł Althamer entitled “Forest”. The artist graduated the famous “Kowalnia”, i.e., the studio of Professor Grzegorz Kowalski, which boasts a very respected group of graduates who represent critical art. For many years, Paweł has been showing in his works that “one of the main tasks for the artist is to break thinking patterns.” On many occasions, he used self-portrait. In his diploma project presented at the exhibition in Wrocław, Paweł beautifully addresses the idea of forming an identity. He presentsroman our dependence on the world surrounding us, our own ‘self’, and rejection of everything to fully express ourselves and/or move to a totally different reality.