Truancy: A Portrait of Artur Żmijewski

On April 2, 2008, Artur Żmijewski took part in the My History of Art series of lectures at the Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. The lecture was followed by a conversation with Paweł Polit, Grezgorz Borkowski, Anna Łazar and Stach Szabłowski. Please see below for both parts of the event.

“I’d like to talk about my subjective history of art, mixing some autobiographical motifs – what I participated in, for instance, as a student of Grzegorz Kowalski’s – with what was going on in the social and political spheres in the 1980s and 1990s. A couple of years ago, Grzegorz Kowalski delivered a lecture as part of the My History of Art series, beginning with his childhood in the 1940s and 1950s and arriving at the 1980s. Because I’m part of the Kowalski Studio tradition, I’d like to pick up where he left off, that is, in the 1980s.

I’ll start with the moment when I began my conscious life. That was the early 1980s. The context when it all began is important: the early years of the martial law, when all political resistance was suppressed by the communist regime. This is important for me because I come from a family where virtually no one tried to protest. When I read the memories of the members of the anti-communist opposition, or listen to Sławek Sierakowski talk about how he was born intellectually after reading Kuroń’s or Michnik’s dissident writings, I realize that my background is quite different. In my family there was always too much apprehension for anyone to attend, for instance, the anti-regime street protests of the 1980s. We didn’t boycott the era’s rigged parliamentary elections, nor did we attend the “masses for Poland” at the St. Stanisław Kostka church in Żoliborz, Warsaw. I remember a physics class in high school one day. It was spring, the windows were open, and I heard the singing of a crowd gathered for service in the memory of Grzegorz Przemyk, a student who had been beaten to death by the communist police. My mother joined Solidarność. Later, when the union was banned, she joined the legal, regime-sponsored farmers’ union. She did that smoothly, without any ethical misgivings. My grandfather had been persecuted as a kulak and his daughter worked for a communist-controlled union.

So my new family tradition became that of conformism and fear. Where did it come from? Perhaps, paradoxically, from the fact that my grandfather was a member of the Home Army (AK) in Warsaw, and my father a partisan in Volhynia. They both paid a price for their fight – our family property burned down in Warsaw, leaving only a handful of photographs and silver forks, and my family from Volhynia was resettled, because it was now Soviet territory. Their fight ended like in the street song about Warsaw: “You used to be beautiful, splendid, and rich / Now it’s only the ruins remaining. / The churches destroyed, the houses burnt down / Where are the people supposed to find shelter?”

What happened at the beginning of my formative period was a conformist attitude that was apprehensive about everything, even writing the word “Solidarność” on the wall. And that was not a bad thing, because conformism is a level on which you can communicate with the vast majority of people. Because the revolutionaries are few, but the conformists count in millions.

There was only one dissident in my family – my cousin was arrested for printing anti-regime leaflets. He managed to call his mother from the safe house where the press was located to tell her to remove the printing inks from his room. It was an absolute shock for me, for my family, that one of us was capable of risking his freedom in the name of his views. The conspiracy was so deep that no one in the family knew about it. My only contact with dissident activities was writing letters to my cousin in jail, in addition to attending the Orange Alternative demonstrations towards the end of the marital law era. My cousin, who had by then been released, used to bring his trumpet there and play it.

Returning to conformism. Just like others were shaped by protest in those days, I was shaped by opportunism. I was one of those who never spoke, who had been pressured into silence, into a space from which no “I don’t want to” or “I don’t agree” ever resounds. Such people constitute the majority of society. This is of course connected with my subsequent decision to become an artist. I believe that good art should be conformist, because, as I said, opportunism is how we communicate with the majority. To be efficient, art has to have a proper social impact, and in order to be well received by the public, it has to use conformism as one of its instruments.

My first conscious public activity was printing fanzines with my fellow students at the teacher training college that I attended in 1988-1990. We met at our friend Paweł Nowicki in a block of flats in Chomiczówka, a neighbourhood in northern Warsaw. We drank a lot of alcohol in those days, and we smoked a lot. We wrote, made drawings and collages, and then assembled it all into a zine. Those zines had names like Pure Potato, Gaz-ette, Nerves des Menschen, and so on. We mimeographed them at a copy shop where a friend’s mother worked, his name was Heniek. We then distributed them among our fellow students at the teacher training college. That was the first time I was consciously, publicly manifesting my views. It turned out we had won our readers’ hearts and minds. Let me quote the motto of one of those zines, as it well reflects our radical attitudes at the time: “Let’s grab the knives and go beyond the seas / of blood, beyond the read seas.”

The successive issues, each of which had a print run of about 100 copies, were highly popular. Later the making of fanzines turned into the making of art. The transition was actually very smooth. In 1991, when I had already become a student of the Kowalski Studio, we organized a recapitulation of our fanzine-making group. It was a poetry exhibition at the Stolica cinema at Narbutta street in Warsaw. During that time, we grew onions on the window sills, and eventually boiled our poems using a big immersion heater.

An important influence in those days was the high-school experience. The first conscious experience of ideological oppression, unbearably, devastating. All the courses were infected with communist ideology: history, Polish literature, Russian language, civics. The only way I could protest was by playing the truant. Truancy was one of the purest joys of my life and I’ve practiced it with satisfaction to this day.

Shmuel Erlich, the psychoanalyst, once asked me, “How come you are what you are and how have you arrived at this point in your life?” I am where I am because I wanted to determine my future – for instance, I joined Krytyka Polityczna – me, a man who never belonged anywhere – joined a political party because besides turning my leftwing sympathies into reality I wanted to learn group action, compromise-making, and at least a little bit of politics. I like Volker Schlöndorff’s Homo Faber, a film that says that rationality is one part of the world, and the other part we don’t know. We don’t know it and yet it’s also where our fate is shaped. But art is a good instrument for learning about this other part of reality. In spite of everything, like in the 1980s, there has persisted in me this socio-pathic element, something anti-social that detaches me from mainstream reality. This “absence” returns to me in the opinions of other people, telling me to speak little, to keep silent. I share this silence, in a way, with all those people who have always been too silent. This is precisely the world that I come from. Sure, my voice has become audible today. Still, its context, just as the context for all the others who speak in an audible voice, is vast expanses of silence.

Truancy, which I discovered in the second grade of high school, was hours, days of bunked-off school – many days of freedom. It was perhaps thanks to truancy that I wasn’t completely indoctrinated. We were not so much taught as intellectually devastated. I remember how the history teacher, talking about the post-WWII division of Europe, admitted that she was not telling the truth, that she taught us what the communist version of history required. Truancy enabled me to dig myself out of the ideological dirt that we were in, together with anti-Semitism, which was accepted at my school.

The place that finally started connecting me to social reality was the Kowalski Studio. I started studying there in 1991. It was virtually the only studio that you could choose in those days at the Warsaw academy. Besides strictly technical and professional faculties, such as industrial design, graphic arts, conservation, and interior design, the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts produced redundant artists – painters and sculptors – most of whom, probably 99 percent, subsequently disappeared from the field of art.

It turned out that my choice of studio was right because Grzegorz Kowalski was someone you could really call a teacher: he treated his students as subjects rather than objects. He never tried to force-feed us with knowledge, but rather, together with us, tried to work out means for operating in the public sphere. What Kowalski deemed most important in his teaching method was to treat the students as partners, as someone you not only hear, but also listen to and talk to. He also allowed us to argue with him, to actually oppose, fight him. It often happened that we disagreed with him. The different views were manifested first via a bulletin board at the studio on Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie, and then via a periodical called Czereja. It was a continuation of the fanzines made in Chomiczówka and distributed among future arts-and-crafts teachers. Czereja became a little forum that broke the silence at the Faculty of Sculpture. Silence meant for me a thoughtless production of artifacts. One of the goals of the periodical, which was published through 1996, was to let the public know that there exists a group of artists interested in social critique and in expressing their views in a rather harsh manner.

If I were to argue with Grzegorz Kowalski today, I’d say the point where I disagree with him the most is his idea of the Studio as an isolated enclave where people seek refuge from the oppression of reality, where they find shelter in a small community of people who understand each other. Kowalski developed the formula in the 1980s, under communism. He enclosed himself with his students inside a “bubble” from which they observed reality, experiencing a safe mutual presence. That translated into the notion of the Studio as a greenhouse where the students, like delicate plants, can quietly ripen, and the hostile world doesn’t poison them with its venom. A student of that studio is like an inmate who is released after a couple of years in prison and cannot find himself in the world. He doesn’t know how to buy a bus ticket, clothes, or food. That was the biggest problem with the Studio, because on the one hand, we received a powerful artistic tool that could be used for ideological work and for communicating important messages, but on the other hand, because of the rejection of the outside world and current politics, we were sentenced to helplessness. People like this later need re-education, they need to find ways of operating in the world, which is unfriendly, full of sharp, open and covert, political, ideological, and personal conflicts.

In January 2006, I viewed a student exhibition at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. It was accompanied by a catalogue. The works were very well made, intriguing, attractive. Among them were both videos as well as plywood objects. But those pieces were utterly devoid of meaning. This made me realize that the Academy teaches an “empty” language, only the grammar of visuality. It doesn’t teach ideological involvement. And if the students don’t make an ideological choice themselves, someone will make it for them. It will be the agents of the market and its trends who make the decision. Something like this is taking place also at the Warsaw academy. I’ve never wanted to use an “empty” language. The artistic toolbox I received from Kowalski was full of at once subtle and powerful means, languages, tricks, and meta-skills. However, I would not know how to use them, and I wouldn’t have acquired them, had I not studied with Kowalski.

I sometimes reflect on the art of the 1990s. And I think the scale of the phenomenon, the number of people involved in it, its social impact and visibility, and the public response all justify calling it critical art, a social movement. I like thinking about art in such terms, I like remembering the people committed to a common goal, who used similar means and spoke a similar language, who used the media to distribute their ideas, who, despite being only loosely connected, constituted an ideological lobbying group. Such attributes constitute the definition of a social movement. So if we were to call critical art a social movement, it would represent a departure from the notion that art is apolitical.

I’d like to quote here from a letter I received from Zbigniew Warpechowski. It is his polemic with my text The Young Want Both to Be and to Have. The notion of art and the artist presented in this letter is strange to me. Warpechowski writes,

The artist mustn’t look at the world as if he were a political indoctrinator. He’s equipped with a sensitivity that should enable him to look at the world in which he lives without following the politicians’ suggestions, because the politicians are selfish and exploit artists for their own purposes. The artist should maintain a purity and freshness of view and the sensitivity of a child looking at the world with delight, because the world is beautiful and people are beautiful, despite the atrocities and despite what the media show. The child is a divine creature.

So, if I understand well, the artist is a divine creature until he has “bathed in man’s chameleonic colors.” This is a view I disagree with. The author doesn’t explain why being interested in politics, or collaborating with people of political ambitions, makes it impossible for us to have our own view of reality?

I also don’t like the image of politics set forth in this letter. I don’t think politics is a dirty thing and apoliticality is the best choice we can make. Nor do I think artists are better people than everyone else. I know artists. They are the same as everybody else (for instance, politicians): selfish and cynical, fighting for power, entangled in interests, forming coteries and clubs, fighting each other, playing domination games. I’m not an innocent child either of course. I don’t intend to whitewash myself. Art doesn’t protect you from becoming stained, it doesn’t preserve your freshness and innocence. And very well – if we were untouched by dirt, holy, free from entanglements, not siding with this and opposed to that, how could we speak in a language that would be comprehensible to others? How could we share our experiences with people who want to pursue their rights and interests through politics? How could we share our experiences with those who haven’t retained the “freshness of view and the sensitivity of a child,” with those who aren’t beautiful and can’t afford an “ethical life?”

There’s a 1957 Russian film called The Cranes Are Flying. A sad film about war. Part of its powerful appeal is its incredible cinematography: the camera looking from a bird’s-eye view towards a city square the main female character is leaving – a diagonal composition, flanked by deep shadows and the hard outlines of the anti-tank barriers; running figures flashing by, blurry contours of trees – a stroboscope effect, contrasted with the firm outlines of black and white of close-ups in the following scenes. These formal means of expression, used to produce a powerful visual effect, were developed by people who were not naïve, the Russian constructivists of the 1920s and 1930s. They were later wiped out by the Bolsheviks. But the means they had developed infected forever the thinking about the image. I say infected because they were not innocent, they had the power of ideological persuasion they had been designed for. That film, The Cranes Are Flying, is without blemish. It is embroiled in the grim power games of the era, in aggressive communist propaganda. It speaks about individual tragedy, about losing your loved ones, but it also speaks about it in the context of the bright future of the Soviet project of a new world. The artists I admire the most are those who were bold in their choices – let themselves be carried by the currents of their time, were politically involved, and responded to their communities’ needs. There were precisely political indoctrinators and didn’t try to hide behind innocence. They took risks – they had clearly defined stakes they played for.

I’d like to conclude this talk with a reflection on public monuments. It was also one of the themes of Grzegorz Kowalski’s lecture. He spoke about the December 1970 Monument in Gdańsk, in a competition for the design of which he submitted an entry with a group of other sculptors. According to Kowalski, their entry lost even though it was symbolically far more meaningful than the other propositions, but it lost against a design composed of a cross dressed in several smaller crosses. So that’s precisely the question: what do Poles understand of the metaphorical language monumental sculpture employs?

During my entry exams at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts I was asked which of Warsaw’s public monuments I liked the most. I said the one I liked the most was the Warsaw Uprising monument on Plac Krasińskich. I reckon that answer cost me quite a few points off. But I believe this monument to be effective in a way I’ll shortly explain. There’s one more monument in Warsaw, at Stawki Street, where the Umschlagplatz was. This monument is a white cube, surrounded by a strip of black stone, with names written in two languages, Polish and Hebrew. I once listened to a radio show about the history of this place. The reporter asked students of the business college against which the monument is perched whether they know where the Umschlagplatz was and where the monument commemorating the victims of extermination was located. These people, who passed that place twice every day, didn’t know where the monument was located, had no idea what the Umschlagplatz was. They didn’t know their school building was a former Jewish hospital. That in one of the classrooms Adina Blady-Szwajgier administered a lethal dose of morphine to a group of children to save them from the torture of deportation and death in the gas chambers of Treblinka and Auschwitz. Such a deed was regarded as noble in those days. In the school’s courtyard, members of the Judenrat were executed. In the building opposite a Gestapo command post was located. And some 30 meters to the north-east from the school building began the rail tracks and the ramp where people were hoarded into the freight cars.

I thought we needed a different kind of monuments in Poland – not white cubes but cartoon-like stories. We’re not like Germans, we’re like Mexicans – we don’t understand the ethical imperative, but we do understand colorful comic books. So if I were to choose the more effective of the monuments, the one at Plac Krasińskich and the one at Umschlagplatz, I’d choose the former. Though it’s sad news for progressive, professional artists, there’s no chance for Warsaw to have its Potsdamer Platz and the kind of monuments as the Holocaust monument in Berlin. In Poland abstraction won’t do the job that a public monument is supposed to do. And the monument’s purpose is to let us experience the past and forget it in a mild, gradual way, depose the events into the past, cede the memory of them onto stone or bronze. A monument is to preserve the memory of the past, but in a reduced, dwarfed form, out there, at the fringes of consciousness.

Let me repeat after Žižek – we need the laugh track in sitcoms to laugh for us so that we don’t need to lose energy on reacting, that is, laughing. A good monument, I guess, functions in a similar way – remembering for us so that our own memory and our mind can do something else. There was a period after John Paul II’s death when his monuments started appearing everywhere. At that time I thought it was a good thing. The more monuments we erect for John Paul II, the less time we will devote to him, gaining the time and space to deal with issues more important than the life and work of Karol Wojtyła.

There’s of course an alternative view on this – radically different, arguing that a public monument is an object through which a certain group claims and occupies public space, especially in the ideological sense, squeezing out other kinds of memory. And so, for instance, the Warsaw Uprising monument at Plac Krasińskich doesn’t represent the memory of someone like Miron Białoszewski – a civilian who survived – and the 200,000 civilians who paid with their lives for the adventure of a handful. Even if each courtyard and each lawn captured by the insurgents became independent Poland, the price of that temporary freedom was literally gruesome.”

Discussion

Anna Łazar: It was a very interesting lecture, discussing numerous political, historical, and educational topics. My question is very simple and I don’t expect it to be answered. It is connected with the history of monuments. This part of the lecture left me somewhat disturbed. It suggested that there exists “a Polish nation” and I’d like to ask about the creation of this nation’s historical and artistic collective memory, construed as the education of young people, also through art. How would you envision arts classes for young people that would promote the kind of goals that you desire?

Artur Żmijewski: Some imaginary Polish nation probably exists and represents an ideological point of reference for many politicians. In Poland, that nation is an ethnic community that is constructed using things such as anti-Semitism. On the other hand, Poland is now part of the European project, the project of a multi-ethnic community that weakens and dilutes the national identities. So this work is still taking place in us.

What arts classes, if they are still part of the curriculum, could teach is how to understand and use the language of visuality – because the text is becoming a thing of the past. The image has become the primary means of mass communication. And it’s worth understanding images, lest we become helpless towards them and they can do whatever they want with us. The school doesn’t teach the languages of visuality – here everyone’s academy is television and the internet – and people are left completely to the “professors” from the commercial channels who have a firm ideological objective: to entice people with the image and tell them how the world of late capitalism should be experienced, namely, that being cultural means buying a lot and having fun.

Question: Can you comment on the fact that when young people bunk off school today, they usually go and hang around at a shopping center?

A.Ż.: I can say how I solved the situation. I usually went to the movies, chiefly the Wiedza cinema at the Palace of Culture and Science. I watched films by Kondratiuk, Holland, Leszczyński, Wajda, Kutz, Konwicki, Królikiewicz, and many others. I usually stayed for the next screening as well.

There are movie theatres at the shopping centers too. I believe truancy to be a useful activity. It’s a choice of self-reliance, a moment when you, rather than the people supposed to organize it for you, start to decide about your time. I don’t think we need any kind of “truancy police.” We already had uniforms and prayer patrols on the streets – I think that’s enough. If the kids have bunked off school, it means the act of emancipation has already taken place.

I think, for instance, that the Arkadia shopping mall in Warsaw is a proletarian temple – a fulfilled dream of the constructors of the Palace of Culture and Science. But it seems dangerous to me that it is precisely those who turn our life into a series of consumerist gestures who have been able so well to appreciate these people, give them a sense of security, entertainment, warmth, being together, and an abundance of attractive commodities.

Grzegorz Borkowski: If you think that monuments help to forget, is it the same with museums?

A.Ż.: If you want to deprive a sacral object or a work of art of its power of persuasion, you put it in a museum. When you view the medieval “beautiful Madonnas” at a museum, do you kneel down and pray to them – does anyone do that? Do you experience any religious thrill? The museum remembers and helps to forget at the same time.

G.B.: Would you like your films to be shown at the shopping centers, those proletarian temples?

A.Ż.: I’d rather be making films there – they are a great place for anthropological, cognitive penetration, for using the instruments of “cognitive art.”

I was once attracted by the conception of Elizabethan theatre. It’s Shakespeare-era theatre. Institutional theatre was only emerging, the first theaters were being opened in buildings reserved for the purpose. But the division between the actors and the audience remained a matter of convention – there was no clear framework yet. The actors and the viewers exchanged opinions and comments, shouted at each other, argued. Theater was a place of debate, not a temple. Shows took place on the street, at the marketplace. Rehearsals also took place in the open, and actors would be meeting in public places, such as the market square.

Question: Have you abandoned sculpture forever? Isn’t this a waste of a fine talent?

A.Ż.: A waste? I spent the first year of my studies in the studio of Professor Gustaw Zemła. Professor Zemła is the author of monuments such as the Battle of Monte Cassino Monument at the back of the Arsenal building in Warsaw – the white marble wings. There are other monuments by him in Warsaw, too, such as a bust of the revolutionary Waryński at Kolejowa Street, a John Paul II statue under the arches of the former bank at Plac Bankowy, the Fallen Undefeated monument at the Warsaw Uprising Cemetery, and the Christ nailed to a tree above the grave of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko. Well, he’s a professional, an expert in big forms, someone who has accepted official commissions regardless of who was in power at the time. I got an A from him for a nude study. I looked back then at what I had done so far, and I thought that I could become accomplished as a sculptor under Socialist Realism. The Four Sleepers (officially Brotherhood of Arms) monument in Praga, Warsaw, could have been my life’s path. That’s something I’m good at and have a manual talent for. But that’s not a talent that I accept. I do have my “sculptural atavisms,” sure. They intensified during my stay in Berlin. I bought two broken bikes there, with bent wheels, all rusty – and I renovated them. These are my two latest sculptures.

Paweł Polit: Some time ago I heard at Foksal Gallery Foundation about The Quadriga, a monument-sculpture that was to be erected in a public space, near the Muranów cinema in the centre of Warsaw. I was told it was a project of yours and Paweł Althamer’s. Could you comment on that?

A.Ż.: Paweł Althamer teaches ceramics workshops at the municipal art center on Nowolipki Street. The workshops are chiefly for multiple sclerosis patients, people who are gradually losing control over their own bodies, being overtaken by progressive paralysis. Mental patients come there too. We talked with Paweł about the quadriga on the front wall of the Teatr Wielki building in Warsaw. It’s an obvious example of government-sponsored art. And a government that needs only one kind of representation in the visual sphere, namely splendor. So the quadriga on the theatre building is an example of regime-sponsored art. Paweł’s idea was to ask his disabled students to create an alternative version of it. They even produced a small-scale model. Thus a negative was created of the hyper-professional original, so to speak its disabled, handicapped opposite. If the paralytics’ quadriga were enlarged to match the size of the Teatr Wielki one and placed, for instance, on the roof of the Kino Muranów building, it could function as a defiant comment on the original. The “Nowolipki quadriga” has none of what is called “art quality,” but it attests to the devastation, degradation, of its authors’ sick, paralyzed bodies. It is a document of a loss of the body, a recording of the desire to at least slow down the neurological disintegration. So here are two images – one speaking of power, status, and position, dominant, and therefore archaic. The other, deeply social, asking for empathy, and therefore modern.

P.P.: Does this project have anything to do with the idea of conformism that you mentioned today? I’m trying to explain the notion for myself, because your works are usually not perceived as conformist. You use the term in a different sense.

A.Ż.: I think conformism is a useful thing – it is one of the factors forcing the artistic languages not to be as hermetic and difficult as they could be. It’s one of the regulators of social communication and our participation in it. Conformism has something in common with narcissism. The narcissist is precisely the conformist in me. Isn’t it so that the artist’s first and foremost goal is to be “stroked” by the public? I seek acceptance, approval, and reviews where someone will say that my art is high-brow.

Of course, praise is also one of the ways of turning artists’ work into a constant competition. As we know, praising someone, especially in public, is an act of aggression, a kind of violence. Better, worse, original, rip off – this constant judging corrodes the possibility of collaboration between artists, separating them from each other, generating jealousy and envy. So it’s hard for us to be a team, to understand that we don’t operate outside a system but within it, that, for instance, art schools are part of the system. Art is sometimes a social movement, an intellectual current, even though the members of that current think of themselves in terms of independence and extreme individualism. Art caters to this society and its needs, it remains in a mutual relationship with it – responding to the community’s call.

Question: What other strategy of choice and cognitive development could you suggest? We reject certain things, while others become a way for us to get to know ourselves and to fulfill ourselves in this reality. How to reconcile that with the postulate of community? This, let’s call it, totalitarianism?

A.Ż.: And would you call an ecological movement, which is a community, or even adopts the organizational form of a political party – an attempt to introduce some totalitarian order, maximize state control, reduce democracy? I believe there’s no conflict here – the community is our environment, the hardware through which we operate. The individual functions in a web of interpersonal relations and it’s only through these relations that the stakes of the battles we fight – whether on the individual or the group level – become meaningful and can be fought at all.

Question: I see a fundamental difference here: for me, art is a place where one can pursue one’s own interests, make individual choices. And perhaps it’s in this context that I perceive the striving towards community as something dangerous.

A.Ż.: Perhaps. But there’s no learning without risk. Besides, I’m not calling for a collectivization of art. I’m saying that individualism is an illusion. We operate within an art world that is politicized, that turns ideas into different forms of experience, and that does so not only with images but also with money, with inclusion into the artistic community or the exclusion from it. The art world declares, through its experts, who understands art and who doesn’t. The artist is not an innocent and secluded monk or nun living through his or her own individual obsessions – the artist is part of a power network, an ideological machine.

I also used to think that my way was to pursue my private fantasies alone. But then it turned out that what I did, what Grzegorz Klaman, Katarzyna Kozyra, Monika Zielińska, Katarzyna Górna, Jacek Markiewicz and others did, could be brought under the common denomination of “critical art” and described with common categories.

Stach Szabłowski: How do you react to the controversies your works sometimes provoke? A debate recently took place at the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, regarding your film Them. A number of critical comments were voiced, including by Agnieszka Arnold, author of the film Neighbours. You have reedited Repetition, are you thinking of reediting Them in the wake the WMMA panel? How do you react to criticism?

A.Ż.: I read, listen, and sometimes feel hurt by critical comments. I don’t intend to reedit Them. It isn’t my role to control what people think or say about it. The film is a text I write using the moving image. And the viewers say what they think. That Agnieszka has critical comments doesn’t mean I’ll reedit the film. Art means responsibility for me – I like the situation where you are really accountable for your views, whether they are manifested in a text or through images.

This interview was previously published by the Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, and in the magazine Obieg, http://www.obieg.pl/.

Artur Żmijewski studied in Grzegorz Kowalski’s studio at the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He lives and works in Warsaw. In his work, Żmijewski focuses on the human body as a biological mechanism, raising issues about the body and its (dys-) function, disease, and normalcy. Żmijewski is the author of the manifesto “The Applied Social Arts,” published in the magazine Krytyka Polityczna in 2007. He has created a wide body of works that were often controversial, including Tag Play, 80064, Repetition, and Them.

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