"I am You but Stronger", exhibition, photo: Alicja Kielan
review

What a Beautiful Catastrophe

As the pandemic stormed into our lives and nothing but dead silence can be heard in museums and galleries, the meaningful context of this situation was used by Barbara Żłobińska and Mariusz Maślanka as the background for their latest exhibition. Their voice is loud and can be clearly heard by making the audience feel shivers going up and down their spines.

In the artistic declaration by the exhibition curator, Hubert Kielan, which we can find in the introduction to the exhibition, it states that with their I am You, But Stronger exhibition Barbara Żłobińska and Mariusz Maślanka voice their opinions in a discussion on economic and gender privileges, especially in the context of capitalism as a way of organising a broadly understood concept of nature. Indeed, striving for domination seems to be the primary concept which organises the exhibition by these young artists presented at the SIC! BWA Wrocław Gallery. Many of the presented works, especially the ones that belong to the “Frozen Estate” series by Mariusz Maślanka, can be perceived as artefacts from the world which came into being following skirmish and friction between what is organic and what is synthetic, between wild nature and human nature and between defence and attack.

At first sight, the constituent parts of the “White Winter” installation look like soaring white flowers, but from close up they turn out to be rails from steel antiburglary railing. After some time, we can see that this fence tightens itself threateningly around the whole exposition. Cylindrical objects lying on the floor bring tumbleweed to mind, which we associate with melancholic movie scenes. Contrary to this assumption, these are actually structures made of sub-assemblies from the Raptor system, which is a modern equivalent of barbed wire (“Passcode”). Mimicry, used by weaker species to help them survive in the natural environment by deceiving the aggressors, is apparently ominous here. Adaptation for the sake of protection is being transformed into a military strategy.

The rhetoric of fight is also present in one of the most aesthetically pleasing objects presented at the exhibition – a heavy necklace entitled “Ego”, designed by Barbara Żłobińska. A few pearls of irregular shape are threaded onto a silver chain; however, they disappear under the burden of dozens of dog tags. Contrary to what the precise and pure form of this work may suggest, this piece seems to refer to old or tribal traditions of proudly displaying trophies collected after having beaten an enemy. Thanks to its sophisticated form, the necklace normalizes and even glorifies brutal symbolism that is inherent in the object. Similar strategies used to sanctify the insignia of bloody tyrants for centuries. Opposite the spoils of war collection, we can see the sculpture entitled “Fantasy Flora” by Barbara Żłobińska – a spreading white bough suspended at the BWA Wrocław Gallery space. This is presumably the most lyrical component of I am You, But Stronger exhibition, which at first glance triggers vague nostalgia. The object that we instinctively take for a branch – just an ordinary one, like hundreds we saw in our lives – turns out to be yet another copy of animate matter. Although it is much more detailed than other pieces. In fact, this is a work made of polymer modified gypsum and the process of creation involved imitation of the way animate matter is formed, such as: sprouts, roots of plants, maybe even blood vessels. 

Every single presented work can be analysed individually, each carries certain underlying idea and emotions. I am You, But Stronger can certainly be perceived as a whole, which is something more significant than the sum of its constituent parts. Maybe the crowds during the vernissage would influence perception of the exhibition and other motives would take centre stage. Today’s experience of watching it alone due to the requirements to maintain social distance, maybe only through the window of the closed SiC! Gallery, makes you pay close attention to the way in which the two artists and the curator display their works. The exhibition is very economical when it comes to embellishment. The works, all in monochrome, are loosely placed in the bright gallery space. Seemingly it is a classic white cube, but it does not act as a transparent background against which works are presented (this is a typical role of such kind of presentation space). It is the opposite. Minimalistic, bland surrounding space and emptiness around create another narrative thread. This unique concept transforms the exhibition of Barbara Żłobińska and Mariusz Maślanka into a futurist freeze-frame, part of the tale on possible future or a postcard from a dead planet. 

read also Keep Your Distance, Illustration by Nicolas Ménard for the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Art Is not Cancelled: 2020 Roundup

Wojciech Delikta Dec 23, 2020

„I find it so lamentable, the alarming, unwonted ordeal that has come upon us” – wrote Yayoi Kusama in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, the passing year has been a true time of trial for the whole world, including the artworld…

I am You, But Stronger can be perceived as a post humanist presentation. However, this presentation is not the kind promoted by popular modern discourse but should be interpreted on a more basic level of language. This is a spectacle on post-human world where no trace of humans can be found anymore, who used to live there. What brought this apocalypse? We can only take a guess, although there are a few hypotheses that can be inferred from works of this artistic duo. Perhaps it was a result of ecological catastrophe (the “Untitled” digital fountain can be seen as an altar for shrinking water reserves after all)? Maybe it was caused by plague decimating all species on the planet (synthetic echoes of potentially lost natural environment can be heard and seen in “Fantasy Flora”, also in the “Capture” installation made of steel talons)? We could have brought the Armageddon by simply immersing ourselves in egoism (“Frozen Estate” series) and cruelty (“Ego”)? No matter what the answers are to these questions for every viewer, there is no doubt that Barbara Żłobińska and Mariusz Maślanka managed to create a truly original, hypnotic vision of a post-apocalyptic wasteland at the SIC! BWA Wrocław Gallery. There is no smoking site of the fire as in Mad Max, but there is an apocalyptic emptiness where… we exist no more. I am You, But Stronger exhibition appears to paraphrase the motto repeated during climate strikes: art can and will remain on a dead planet, but there will be nobody to see and experience it.

I am you, But Stronger exhibition of works by Barbara Żłobińska and Mariusz Maślanka SIC! BWA Wrocław Gallery 25/09-18/12/2020 Curator: Hubert Kielan Curator of the gallery programme: Dominika Drozdowska Producer: Iwona Kałuża More Return to the homepage

About The Author

Kuba
Żary

Journalist, curator, communication specialist based, spokesman for numerous cultural events, and a long-time radio host in Wrocław. Creator of artistic projects devoted to the urban space and the identity issues that come with it.

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