ARTIFAKE. Liliana Zeic, Summer has arrived completely today, photo by Małgorzata Kujda
Interview

Where Art Confronts Propaganda. The Artifake Project

Political climate of the previous century makes the role of art in creating propaganda especially easy to detect. In totalitarian countries, works of art were widely used as means for sharing false information and imposing desired attitudes. The idea behind the ARTIFAKE project seemingly draws from this connection but approaches it very differently. Since, as the extension of the project’s name – Art Invades Propaganda – suggests, art is effective not only as a tool for spreading propaganda but also for debunking it. 

The ARTIFAKE project is an international initiative involving artists from Poland, Ukraine and Armenia, which aims to spread awareness about the impact of propaganda through transnational street art. The role of disinformation bears a special significance in this region as what all the involved countries share is their Eastern Bloc past reflected in still visible Russian influences and post-Soviet mentality. However, the communist past can be treated merely as a departure point since contemporary culture, shaped by the information overload, seems especially prone to the effects of fact manipulation. 

This year’s artistic realisations in Poland included the projects of Liliana Zeic (Piskorska), Paweł Kulczyński, and a collaborative work of Alicja Patanowska and Marcin Sawiński. 

Liliana Zeic
Liliana Zeic

Liliana Zeic is a visual artist, activist, and she has a PhD in fine arts. In her artistic practice, she analyses social issues from a feminist-queer perspective, deals with the topics of queerness and non-heteronormativity, and draws on her experiences of being brought up in the region of Central/Eastern Europe. “Summer Has Fully Come Today” is her seven-day-long performative action and intervention in public space that took place from 4 to 10 October 2021 as part of the ARTIFAKE project. 

The transformation of Iglica (the Needle) into a peculiar maypole became the core of the series of rituals dedicated to women and non-binary people affected by fake news, deliberate disinformation, and propaganda.

Katarzyna Boch: The title of your performance, “Summer has completely come today”, seems meaningful, especially since its execution takes place in October. What does such a name indicate? 

Liliana Zeic: I thought of summer as a time of plethora, a summer that is too strong, too intense, too hot, too violent. A summer like the ones we experience in our declining times. On the other hand, summer is a symbol of the perfect time, the time of rest, the time of reward for a job well done, the time that should be a promise of happiness.

In the text of the ritual itself, which I wrote on the basis of many sources (mainly ethnographic ones), I used the quotation from Ali Smith, which appears as the only reference to contemporary literature:

“We’re always looking for the full open leaf, the open warmth, the promise that we’ll one day soon surely be able to lie back and have summer done to us; one day soon we’ll be treated well by the world.”

I repeated the ritual 7 times, each time inviting a different person to make a creative home intention dedicated to a specific person who felt the effects of fake news and disinformation on their own body and in their everyday life. Each day, I read the textual part next to Iglica and it is where I developed the meaning and the source of the title of my performance, derived from one of the many games and traditions related to the dance and rituals around the May-tree. The text of one of the songs goes:

“Unite and unite, and let us all unite,
For summer is a-comen today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.” 

The phrase “summer is a-comen today” means exactly “summer has (completely) come today”. I was struck by this line – what does it mean that summer has come completely? On the one hand, it sounded to me like a promise but on the other, like a threat.

KB: Why did you make stories of women and non-binary people the main theme of your performance? 

LZ: Because this is the spectrum of stories and experiences that interests me the most. These are the stories which more easily disappear on the margins of history and memory, ones which more easily fade away. It is to such voices, narratives, and characters that I would like to and try to give space in all my artistic practice.

I am a non-heteronormative woman living in Poland myself, so I also experience the repercussions of the political situation happening before our eyes. I feel it in my body every day. That is why I wanted to redirect our gaze to the human and individual scale – the way in which the system and politics are reflected on and inscribed in our individual bodies.

KB: What is the meaning behind the choice of Iglica, the needle-like sculpture in Wrocław, as the spot of your performance? 

LZ: The first time I saw Iglica was a few years ago, when it lied on its side while being cleaned, and it was an amazing sight, which occurred during one of my first visits to Wrocław. Since then, Iglica has been close to me but also, I have noticed how strong a symbol it is of Wrocław itself, and I wanted my action to take place in such a symbolically marked place. I wanted, for once, for Iglica not to become a carrier of national, state or macro-social narratives (which is how it has always been used when hanging various flags, e.g. the Solidarity flag or the Polish national flag). I wanted it to change shape, to become more delicate.

I thought that the gesture of symbolically and temporarily changing Iglica into a Maypole, a May-tree, accumulating and sending the energy of care and tenderness towards people affected by fake news and disinformation, would be simple yet visually strong.

I decided to combine this strong, visual symbol with a ritual that took place for 7 days and each day was dedicated to a different story. Therefore, the project is not only an intrusion into the public space but it is, above all, a polyvocal and symbolic act of sharing and transmitting care.


Paweł Kulczyński, photo by Alicja Kielan
Paweł Kulczyński, photo by Alicja Kielan

Paweł Kulczyński, known also as Wilhelm Bras or Lautbild, is a musician, sound artist, author of sound installations, and a theatre music composer. He collaborates with leading festivals and institutions both in Poland and abroad. He participated in festivals such as Unsound, Sacrum Profanum, or CTM Festival. 

“2+2=5” is Kulczyński’s sound installation prepared for the ARTIFAKE project. Located on the Tamka Island in Wrocław, his work imitates the public information sound system by broadcasting utterly false messages into the city space with the utmost seriousness. This tactic violates our belief in the truthfulness of media announcements from allegedly reliable sources.

KB: Why did you decide to focus on the role of audio messages in creating propaganda?

Paweł Kulczyński: Above all, because I’m a sound artist but, depending on circumstances, this area might significantly expand. Since the visual messages dominate in the public sphere, the space left for sound is usually less dense. It is easier to draw people’s attention by changing audiosphere when there are fewer competing stimuli. It is also impossible to “hear away” as we don’t have equivalents for eyelids in our ears and in a way, we are made to participate. Sound can therefore be used to act effectively over a large city area, even if such an action is non-invasive and intermittent. Thus, the effectiveness of promoting content through this medium is high. 

KB: What was the inspiration behind the fake statements coming from the speakers? 

PK: They were inspired by the history of totalitarian countries, where over the years, sound has been the cheapest vehicle for disseminating propaganda, and the speeches of communist secretary generals were rumbling at different times in many market squares on almost every continent. Radio broadcasting systems were widespread in the large workplaces in the Eastern Bloc after 1945 and some cities are still covered with megaphones, like the Czech Republic for example. The recent inspiration were dystopian-like messages emitted from the police LRAD systems during the epidemic, which were reminiscent of scenes from Blade Runner.

KB: What would you like to impress on the passers-by exposed to such statements? 

PK: Working on “2+2=5”, I hoped to reach the widest possible audience, using messages that do not require special competence. Thus, trivial non-truths clash here with simple logic, resulting in a reflexive opposition of the cognitive apparatus and undermining the acquired conviction of the veracity of media messages. Observing reactions of passers-by, I could convince myself of the effectiveness of such tactics. My messages evoke humorous comments but also grumbling or irritation.  


Alicja Patanowska
Alicja Patanowska

Alicja Patanowska is a potter, an artist and a designer. Her answer to the ever-increasing chaos of consumption is audience’s personal involvement in the creation of the artifact. She won numerous prestigious awards, including Mazda Design Award 2018, Młoda Polska 2018, British Glass Biennale 2015. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2014.

Marcin Sawiński
Marcin Sawiński

Marcin Sawiński works in the field of data engineering and machine learning. He is doing scientific research at the University of Economics in Poznań, focusing on artificial intelligence for fake news detection. He is particularly interested in applying modern technologies to protect common goods and non-profit activities.

Their project is an installation printing fake news in real-time. The system will also allow the passers-by to verify whether they have recently read some fake information by checking against a vast archive of fake news detected and reviewed by fact-checking organisations around the globe. The installation will appear in public space in mid-October. 

KB: Together with Marcin Sawiński, you created the printer producing fake news. What was your collaboration on this project like?

Alicja Patanowska: And here comes the first fake news! We did not make a printer producing false information but an installation which, in real-time, visualises actual fake news that can be found online. On the technical note, the installation (or rather a movable sculpture) is an industrial printer with the casing removed to reveal mechanical parts operated with a credit card-sized computer. It prints out the fake news verified by fact-checking organisations from all over the world in front of the recipient’s eyes. We are exposing the insides of the printer along with the moving parts on purpose. In order to talk about fake news with a language reflecting their nature, we decided to create a project of installation, which would be “technological”, connected to the network, unpredictable, and reactive towards new false information emerging in the digital space. A number of verified fake news is petrifying. At the moment of launching the installation, a complete printout would take 27 km of A1 paper rolls, and a few dozen metres of new prints emerge every day. Fake news which we managed to track down and verify is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of all fake news, multiplied by the number of their shares in social networks and the number of views is difficult to estimate but, undoubtedly, their scale makes them have a real influence on public opinion.

Coming back to the question about the collaboration between an artist and a scientist, we must admit that it was erratic but instructive. Combining the world of science and art is a challenge. We operate with completely different sensibilities, types of knowledge, and ways of working. However, we hope that the final effect will capture the imagination of the recipients. 

KB: What is the purpose of your installation? 

AP: Nowadays, information is an extremely valuable resource. You can hear that “data is the new oil”. Our work is a reflection on the quality of information, which reaches us, shapes our opinions, and influence our decisions. We wanted our work to demonstrate the overload of our cognitive processes and our inability to cope with the flood of digital information alone. The main tool in the fight against fake news is building awareness and critical thinking but an important element of our work is to draw attention to the activities of fact-checking organisations, which verify the credibility of content appearing on the Internet. It is worth noting that living in a world dependent on technology, politics, and large social structures, we are dependent on the knowledge of experts. When it comes to verifying the veracity of information, we are unable to function without trusted guides – journalists and, more recently, specialised fact-checkers. In our project, we decided to show their activities as a possible starting point for rebuilding trust and raising awareness. We would also like to sensitise the audience to the individual responsibility of each of us in relation to the propagation of false information. Fake news is alive only when you share it. Without the active participation of the recipient, its reach and harmfulness will be very limited.

KB: Your installation includes a manual that would allow the recipients to get familiar with the rules which help to recognise fake news on the Internet. Do you believe that art is an effective method for spreading knowledge? 

AP: We are implementing this project as an artistic-scientific collective in order to combine the language of art, which influences the imagination, with the scientific and technological workshop. Science operates on the “hard” knowledge, like facts, but as we know, tables and charts are not always sexy. Science needs both soft distribution channels and broadening cognitive perspective in the form of artistic intuition. It is art that has the tools and skills to capture the audience’s attention, to tell about important issues in an intriguing way, and to juxtapose incompatible orders.

ART INVADES PROPAGANDA – artistic realizations in Poland:

15.08-15.11.2021 WROCŁAW

Liliana Zeic (Piskorska)Summer Has Completely Come Today | 04.10-10.10

Paweł Kulczyński, 2+2=5 | 01.09-15.10

Alicja Patanowska i Marcin Sawińśki, FAKE NEWS. ARCHIVE | 15.10-15.11

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About The Author

Katarzyna
Boch

Katarzyna Boch is an English Studies graduate (BA) currently pursuing her master’s degree in Warsaw. Interested in psychology, translation, and Victorian and modernist literature especially from the perspective of feminist studies.

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