Portret Taty w krematorium
[Portrait of Dad in crematorium]
Pencil on paper, 2015
Reclaimed wood, chalk, ash, 2018 - 2023
Soap (lard, lye, rose essence), 2021 - 2022
Wood, wool, candle 2018 - 2022
[Based on Matthew Berka's 'under the palms']
Carving in a bar of soap, 2021
Raw clay, 2023
The exhibition programme included an artist talk, in it I freely pulled together pieces of writing that influenced me as well as my own thoughts. The text below is a record of this talk, with minor edits.
I will try to talk to you following in some fashion the way my mind works.
It is to hold certain images, texts, situations up in space in my mind, around my mind, at the back of it. Perhaps all minds work that way. Sometimes an image appears and then another flashes somewhere else. Sometimes a sentence appears, and then, as if my mind was arguing with itself, a situation, a memory, a flash back appears, as if to say 'yes, but...'.
I like thinking about it, because it makes me pay attention to what happens in my mind, and it makes me develop those thoughts and observe them in more detail.
To have two or more images, sentences, scenarios, memories, ideas and shift attention from one to another, or look at them together, out of focus. Where various compositions or links arise, but nothing is necessarily resolved.
It is not to avoid resolution, rather to avoid a rush and shallow categorisation of things.
Of course, it must be a usual thing: 'at the back of one's mind', 'keep it in mind' and Quentin said recently: 'It became a part of my mental furniture'. Something along those lines. That feels like home, mind - a place where one can spend time, explore, rest.
* * *
A while ago I worked out a way to distinguish between ideas worth developing and those which are fine to let go of.
I realised that if something is finished in my mind and I just need to physically execute it, it probably is not worth my time.
Worthy things are those that are in some way obscure, but stay with me, or keep coming back, not really words, but dream like sensations, images, visions appearing from the graphite space.
When I was a small child I loved rubbing my eyes very hard before going to sleep. I would see this evolving grey space with diamonds and crystals and all sorts of colourful jewels springing out of the grey.
Then, one time, in Kraków, about seventeen years ago, I stood by the side of the river at night, right by Wawel Castle, and the mist was so thick that I could not see the other side of the river. But it wasn't totally dark because of the city lights; it was dark grey. I could not see wether the space was deep or shallow, I thought I could fall into it, and, I thought, this must be what death is.
Dark graphite mist.
Something that I don't understand, but that resonates with me, like echo, I think I know it, but I don't know what it is and why.
When I moved to the UK I missed the closeness to death.
'The cockerel must not be seen without his feathers'
'Dreams can awaken us...'
There is not much time for death and grieving here. It is erased and it comes back in sort of an ethnographic or medical way. Knowledge - looking with distance at various rituals.
One treats them as something functional, clothes that are being put on, not something that is born from us deeply and is a part of us, like a branch is a part of a tree.
'A work of art should be as mysterious in its simplicity or its complication, as every living being is mysterious, of itself and of none other.
Like a flower that grows out of a given plant, so naturally should an artwork come from a human.'
'When my father's father's father had a difficult task to accomplish
he went to a certain place in the forrest, lit a fire and immersed himself in silent prayer.
And what he had to do, was done.
When later my father's father was confronted with the same task,
he went to the same place in the forrest and said:
"We no longer know how to lit the fire, but we still know the prayer."
And what he had to do was done.
Later, I too went to the forrest and said:
"We no longer know how to light the fire,
we no longer know the mysteries of prayer,
but we still know the exact place in the forrest where it occurred, and that should do.
And that did do'
'Why am I not home? Everything is arranged as though this was home. Why would somebody do it?' - said my beautiful grandma after coming home from hospital, after a stroke.
All respect and love to her.
She felt alien in her own home.
Is this how I feel about my traditions, rituals? Eating at a table. Going to church. Yoga, TV, galleries, work.
What is the world, tradition, culture, if it lacks faith?
I don't necessarily mean faith in a religious context.
Faith understood as intimacy with some inner reality of things.
Or faith as intimacy with some inner source of our common life.
'Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.'
If hope is the certainty that something makes sense, then faith is the intimacy with that sense.
Culture without faith, without this contact with our common inner life is like a dead skin on a snake.
A nuisance, a curiosity.
'While you are away
My heart comes undone
In a ball of yarn
Devil collects it
With a grin
In a ball of yarn
He'll never return it
So when you come back
We'll have to make new love'
A ball of yarn: stories. Stories are good. But then - information, gossip, those are not poetry, not alive.
Dancing with my little dance crew I saw how naked we were in trying to make our own meaning, something shared, something true, something that came from us. We tried to grow culture among us. We were vulnerable.
Culture - a shared inner world in a shared physical space.
An inner world in a physical space. And again, inside.
'Artists don't wonder "what is art good for?", they aren't driven to 'create art' or to 'help people', or to 'make money'. They are driven to lessen the unbearable disparity between their conscious and unconscious minds, and so to achieve peace.
When they make art, their non-rational synthesis has the power to bring us peace through art.'
'After The Apocalypse' - this book and its author, Monika Kostera had a big impact on how this exhibition finalised.
She said that art should shake us deeply, not to be just another experience that we consume.
In the book she said that the institutions crumbled, became compromised, but in the rubble we can also find values that once united us, we can find something worth saving.
* * *
Curation. A dramatic structure. Exhibition is a journey. A journey that is drama.
A fact (pragma)
An accident (tyche)
An outcome (telos)
A srprise (apodeston)
An action (drama)
Phrase is an atom of meaning. Single words have too much flexibility.
Phrase is an atom of meaning.
Intensity relies on gentleness.
Exhibition has its grammar. Works come together in phrases and verses. Hierarchies. Syntaxes.
That allows on complex interpretations, settling down somehow. Being stitched in as Gill Addison used to say.
But I was not stitched in. I didn't travel with it. This exhibition went through me like a ghost.
I didn't travel. It travelled, for a long time. It left space behind.
What happens at the end colours everything that happened during.
Philip Pullman said that although he does not believe in another world, it feels as though a story comes to him, as if it were from somewhere else.
* * *
Something to do with the world we share.
Senses, memories, lilies' sickening and sweet smell, the warmth and crude dry comfort of wool, dry smell. Soap: lard and rose. Waxy. Dense darkness.
Then tea, from mum's apples, from home, behind the house. Small apples.
Music - Górecki's 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'.
A Hope Born of Sorrow.
Senses make the work different. Very hard to rely just on the sense of vision in art, it is so corrupt. It is hard to be through it. The other senses give me some way of being rooted in the work. So I can be there, really be in the work. That direct contact with the work is crucial.
But it is not just about relationships. With relational aesthetics and conceptual art, the object was stripped down and the emphasis was on the importance of mental processes and interaction, a relationship. A conceptual composition. A thought, from one mind to another. Change. It is short.
I want these entities back:
Spirit back in a human.
People back in society.
Attention back in a work of art.
* * *
A sky full of stars, three dimensional sky with vast, never-ending space.
Go outside and see the flatness, no trace of that grand depth.
To be able to regularly look into the vast unknown distances, in time and space, just as a human, an every day human.
The sky belongs to all of us. We are so willing to trade it for flat predictability. To see only what is close by. To feel safe.
Imagination starts in wonder. In the unknown.
A while ago I spoke to Monika Kostera about the teacher strikes. At school teachers regularly got sick, taking months off for burn-outs, anxiety, suffering from psychosomatic pains and panic attacks, being constantly monitored, micromanaged, given overwhelming workloads and conflicting expectations. This itself did not bring them to strike. The inflation did.
Why does one work a job that destroys their life and does not protest about it, but protest about how much one is paid for it. I could not compute this.
Monika said, perhaps, it is because people find it hard to imagine happiness outside of economic happiness.
I often think of advertising, I think that it is our main myth-making source, a constant link of what you do to how your life will turn out - like it is in moral tales. In advertising what you do is always buying: a product, an experience. It is about having something or using something. Buying is fulfilment, love, freedom, individuality. There is no world outside of it. It sounds banal, but I think that we are deeply rooted in it.
Perhaps this is where our faith is - a secret faith about our common shared life. A strive towards economic fulfilment, which indeed might even buy us an ability to be charitable and an ability to be free.
Some ten years ago, Quentin S. Crisp said to me, in my Catford guardian flat in Milford Towers, sitting on a bed or a sofa; Quentin said something along those lines:
'We should be free in our minds, but people stop themselves.'
He said that there should be laws about what we do in physical world, but not as to how and what we think.
At the time this was for me like looking up and seeing the endless starry night sky for the first time, except internally.
What I caught a glance of, was this universe of imagination I either forgot or I've never seen before.
'And law alone can set us free again.'
'One can never be a good artist without being honest with oneself' - I seem to remember Kieślowski saying it in one of his interviews or his autobiography. It hit me. The memory of that gesture, internal gesture, looking away from my own contrarguments.
'Allow the dark clouds to push through you
and over you and in between your lips
And look the day is coming, a new day
They are far beyond the mountains'
This is Edward Stachura - a Polish poet I love. My translation, which does not do the justice.
He committed suicide. But does it change the credibility of his words?
'Hope, in in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.'
Courage and honesty are in constellation, bound to one another.
Fear is so complicated, it obscures things.
And seeing obscurity requires some courage.
(But can courage without honesty become violence? Honesty sheds light on my own flaws.)
Honesty and courage are in their humble, internal state, a beginning of seeing.
A beginning of art.
'I only own the land underneath my feet.' - I remember it being something said by Stachura, but I cannot remember when, or where. Just that I carried this sentence for years and years and here in Thamesmead it returned to me like a massive, forceful wave. Because 'only' in this case, also means 'always'.
Now I should mention my grandfather. He was great. Always wore a suit. Even though we lived in the countryside. Grandma did all the farm work. Grandpa used to be a policeman, then a probation officer.
My mum said that there was something that had a huge impact on him at work, maybe before I was even born. Someone in the area was building a house illegally. Grandpa found out and had to report it. But he found a loophole: if the roof was on, police would not take the house down, it would have to stay. The villages gathered and over night laid the roof. The house stayed. Grandpa was emotional.
This is as far as my mum explained.
* * *
'One cannot hide the fact that reflection is not in fashion today.
Perhaps because it snaps one out of a manic mode of being, it poses a danger of recognition of one's own constrains. It negates the aforementioned dogma of contemporary life - as common as it is false - that everything is possible if we only want it; there are no boundaries in our way that are not crossable; that we'll succeed at everything if we only try hard enough; that we'll always be healthy, young, agile and beautiful, or in any case, that is what we should be, how we should feel, what we should aspire to. And also: one must think positive, always go forth, develop ceaselessly. All of the discomforts - anxiety about uncertain future, grief after the loss of close ones, despair coming from the knowledge that one day we also will die, melancholia, that engulfs us for no reason, depression, that comes suddenly in the middle of every day activities - all those should be neutralised with therapeutic techniques available in the market place: from yoga, through coaching, mindfulness, through various forms of therapy to Prozac and some newer medications from SSRI group. Why? Because those states curb expansion. They slow down and stop us, therefore making it impossible to achieve targets, which always, at every stage of life, we should set ourselves.
Otherwise we will stifle our development and we will encounter the ghost of failure worst of all: the apparition of life unfulfilled.
We hear about it everywhere. We are persuaded by endless numbers of coaches, motivational speakers and self-help authors, during workshops with group and individual sessions, in short - a whole choir of those, named so aptly by Michel Foucault, 'technicians of life', who swarm the late capitalism era. They offer foolproof methods for acquiring additional superpowers that support the perseverance in the fight for fulfilled life. It could be a superpower of control over one's emotions, effective organisation of time, a superpower of self-acceptance or a superpower of hearing one's own inner voice and following it... It is curious however and it should trigger our suspicion, that all those powers serve one higher purpose: to become stronger, more effective and above all more successful in the market place. Society in the late capitalism - as shown by various studies: atomised, touched by epidemics of loneliness, depression and addictions - resembles a swarm of small one-person businesses, that compete with each other ceaselessly and that from the very early age must gain consecutive skills to grant them basic survival. Define targets, turn yourself into a brand, sell yourself, while making yourself as attractive as you can - those are the first commandments of contemporary decalogue.'
(Stawiszyński, translated by Dominika Kieruzel)
All that I read and heard and recollected above made me see that we have a right to be here, take space, unveil, decide, lead a life.
To be in our shared space, to feel safe enough in it, to feel that closeness, to feel intimate to it.
Our inner life spilling out into our shared space, my inner life spilling out, shared with you, shared by you, with me. This is how, perhaps, we can start to be together again. Perhaps then we could relax.
After The Apocalypse
Monika Kostera, Zero Books, 2020
Krzysztof Kieślowski, Znak, 2006
Disturbing The Peace: A conversation with Karel Huizdala
Vaclav Havel, New York: Vintage, 1990
[The quotations from this book were accesed via 'After THe Apocalypse' by Monika Kostera]
Death and The King's Horseman
Wole Soyinka, Bloomsbury, first release1975
New Forms in Painting and the Resulting Misunderstandings (Nowe formy w malarstwie i wynikające stąd nieporozumienia)
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), 1919
Three Uses of The Knife
David Mamet, Bloomsbury, 1998
Ucieczka od Bezradności (Escape from Powerlesness)
Tomasz Stawiszyński, Znak Literanova, 2021
The Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
Björk, 'Homogenic', One Little Indian Records, 1997
Greenwich Dance: Adult Company with Maria da Luz Ghoumrassi
The Nest, Thamesmead, Winter 2022/Spring 2023
Film Club with Gill Addison
Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, 2009/2010
Helas Por Moi (Alas For Me)
Jean-Luc Godard, 1993
Czas płynie i łagodzi rany (Time flows and heals the wounds)
Edward Stachura, 'Nowy Dzień', recordings from 1975-1977, released in 1995
Accessed via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TncyPhotw5s
Desert Island Discs: Philip Pullman
Sue Lawley, Radio 4, 11/10/2002
Accessed via https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00947j2
Nature and Art
J. W. von Goethe
'Selected Poetry from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe', translated by David Luke, 2005, Pengun Classics
Romanticism, Spring 2009
Timothy Morton, University of California, Davies
Wisdom of Art
Roland Barthes, 1979