Intreview was published in “Tranzystor” Magazine; An Invitation to Throw Away the Tools Used in the Past – interview with Grzegorz Drozd, “Tranzystor”, nr 9/ 7.2014.
Zofia Ce: If an artist is – like you have said in the past – “a social outcast and a criminal”, then what is it that you actually do?
Grzegorz Drozd: I create art. This definition you’ve mentioned was born when I was preparing my graduation piece. I have then realized that this is how the artist’s social position looks like in this country and it doesn’t only apply to me. Artists graduate from colleges and yet they are basically doomed to remain at the dregs of society. One could say there’s no space for them. That’s why I have publicly declared that an artist is “a social outcast and a criminal”. It doesn’t mean I am acting against the law, harming others, but that the whole system works this way. This is how the art world looks like. I’ve been saying that ten years ago, but right now it is even more clear and visible; artists demand to be treated seriously, especially when it comes to social benefits, remuneration or status.
I’m glad you’re explaining that, because I feel like this quote, repeated pretty often, has detached from the meaning you’re talking about. I would like to ask you about your studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in the context of your perspective on the position of an artist. You have chosen painting, which is also a quite special approach to matter – were you so critically oriented already back then?
I’ve always been painting and drawing a lot. I started my studies at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts when I was 30, or actually 31 years old. Before that I have majored in Art Education, but never graduated in that. Therefore my position was different than the rest of the students. I went to the Academy to gain knowledge, but already in my junior year I noticed that it looks a bit different than I have imagined and learning comes mostly from acting against the existing system of education. I am filled with love for artistic practice, painting or working with matter, but it would be naive of me as an artist not to critically approach my own position.
I assume that this was one of the reasons to create your project- if you don’t mind me calling it a project- Zmiana Organizacji Ruchu (Changing the Traffic Arrangement).
Yes. It was my answer to reality of year 2003. I walled up one of the Academy hallways and have loudly proclaimed that it’s a symbol of necessity of changes in the educational system. It has changed my studying forever. Together with Alicja Łukasiak we wanted to create a place where we’ll be able to show art in an independent setting and work outside the institutions with a group of like-minded people.
It’s been a while. What has changed?
We worked as a cooperative back then and we wanted to create together with other artists. Everything started to head toward more individual endeavours though. Activities that were supposed to be based on cooperation were becoming a farse, maybe because artists in general are not social creatures. They aim to satisfy their more or less realized instincts. This is why such organization lost its sense: it cost us time and money. Both me and Alicja are individual artists and it’s more interesting to me right now.
You’re right, let’s move on to your exhibition Zmory (Nightmares) shown at CCA Ujazdowski Castle. It’s probably your first big exhibition at an institution. I’m underlining that, because you generally escape the institution – you quite literally bracket it here. Visitors, before they enter the building, must face the fence with an intercom. It’s a kind of parenthesis, border or maybe something else?
Let’s start from the beginning. It’s true that this is my largest exhibition, but it also must be said that I haven’t been showing anything for the last three years. I didn’t want to participate in the existing artistic debate, I was looking for something new and I left Europe to draw from other areas. This exhibition is a story. It has a pretty coherent construction, all pieces are linked with each other. The spectator gets a certain proposition already at the entrance- this fence. When an artist encounters an institution incredible events start to take place, resulting in the eliminaion of everything that’s authorial. This typical “intercom fence” which you see everywhere today is a kind of ostensible security measure. When we apply this form to institution, we begin to reflect on what are we protecting ourselves from and what is the danger. Maybe this fence looks quite inconspicuously, but it’s 30 meters of metal work and long hours of wrapping it with colorful wires. It’s my personal expression of involvement and at the same time a spatial composition. Although I am leaving the interpretation of this piece open, it was important to me to include the symbol of the sun. It’s a kind of intentional move, which was the reason of creating many of the pieces presented in the gallery space.
The sun reappears at the exbibition multiple times, for example in the version inviting the viewers to get involved. Everyone can bring out the shine from a metal picture using sand paper.
Yes, it reappears many times. It reflects my turn toward animism. Hands with marked lines are also important; they are a logotype of the whole exhibition, present at the beginning and the end. We enter through the gate mounted with a hand and when we exit, we leave behind its burned out coffin portrait – I was putting it in the furnace and I marked it on wood. This circle story composition is also a question about our own fate; when we get born, do we get the right to decide about our own life, or is our story written already? Are we just marionettes in the hands of Creator or maybe we actually have free will and the ability to leave the vicious cycle? This is why I picked this title of the exhibition – Nightmares. Our internal discussions often take shape of such nightmare, because attempting to answer these fundamental questions are the basic mystery of our existence.
This internal discussion is partially linked to memory, which also gets a spot in the exhibition. I mean this room with paintings. As a person born in the 80’s I think I am reading certain schemes without mistakes: being weighted on a red scale, conversations over vodka with a religious picture in the background, “Radmor” radio, taling at a cafe and so on. Similarly, the coop series brings certain associations. It’s a story of warpage for me, a kind of passage between individual and collective.
These twelve paintings are a calendar that I created in 2012 and I have a great sentiment for it, but I propose that we talk more about the white room in general- I call it “white room”, because other have colors. It is indeed rooted in the 70’s or 80’s in Poland, but also Europe; we were then fascinated with ideas and bringing them to life. Cooperatives, whose logotypes we can also see, were based on collaboration and they remind us of the utopian character of that way of thinking. The majority of pieces gathered in this room is metal construction. I consciously chose metalwork – the portraits were welded by me. This work took a lot of my energy. Welding without a break for a month burned my face, but this form worked best for expressing emotions related to the verification of memory. It also is a nightmare. My position, the position of an artist toward the reality surrounding me is presented clearly: I lock myself in a clear cubicle wearing a hospital pyjama to the public show and from this place I watch what happens outside. This is the position forced on me by society. I leave it and enter the world. The rest of the exhibition shows my attempts to leave this situation, but it’s not the only lead.
I guess you generally take on the concept of constant dialogue or juxtaposition in this exhibition. It’s visible for example in the room where you screen a film showing inhabitants of Papua cutting the trees to feed themselves next to an old, mossy sculpture excavated from the abyss of Orońsko.
I didn’t care only about showing my fascination with working with matter, although I’m not gonna deny that it’s an important part of this exhibition. It also contains a clear level of elements that build meanings, illustrating my attitude toward the problems that appeared when I left Western culture and started my trip. It’s hard to explain the whole subject in just a few words, but generally speaking there is a tendency to profile other communities, like the one shown in this film, by the Western culture. I mean this kind of critique of the world’s homogenization, feeling that everything belongs to us, this kind of new colonization through economy.
Like: there’s always Coke and the rest everywhere…
Yes, we know what it means, although I keep noticing that it is denied. When we live and get raised in the West, we become subconsciously arrogant toward the rest of the world, we look from bird’s perspective on the others. We realize this position after we cross the logic that the Western world was built on. What are the symptoms? Everything that exists outside the margin of Western culture ends up in the ethnographic discourse. It’s a really barbarian approach, because it makes any kind of dialogue impossible. Even here, during this exhibition at CCA, I have encountered opinions from people who practice cultural theory or actually create culture, that scared me a bit; just like their way of communication, juggling words: it’s enough to give a name to something and move on. This way we don’t really problematize anything and we do not explore the subject in a deeper way. We use routine methods of action, just like police toward a crowd. We do not differentiate, but instead end up molding phenomena to fit the scheme. I interpret such reaction as homogenization. I decided that this exhibition needs to break this imperializing discourse. I believe that such mechanisms force us to become a monoculture, to repeat and rewrite the same thing all the time. It narrows our field of view and we enter very tight corridors. I needed to leave this carousel to gain space for action. Of course it will be very easy to consider this exhibition to be of an ethnographic kind and finish there, but this actually be this kind of ignorance I am talking about. Our observation mode defines us very strongly. Do you know that some people after I return from Asia accused me of betraying the Polish culture?
It may sound funny, but these were serious accusations. This, how I call it, inbred character of our culture, its notions and language, list of subjects et cetera is so biased it makes it boring.
The situation you’re talking about is probably a bit linked to quite specific Polish circumstances. Post-colonial theory has some presence here of course, but there’s also a problem with it, because while for UK, France or USA it was easier to identify with “victim and opressor” discourse, it was actually quite abstract for many people in Poland to even introduce the term of “post-colonialism”. Where are these colonies after all? And right now, when we’re supposed to discuss symbolic violence, which is a less obvious discourse, it makes it even more difficult to understand what it’s all about. And then I often hear from someone from Warsaw: “I’m gonna have lunch at the Chinese” – which is as we know pretty improbable and yet how are we supposed to explain that it’s a kind of abuse?
It’s a bit similar to when I’m in Asia and they ask me where I’m from. When I say I’m from Poland, they usually add: “so you’re from Russia”. It’s hard to accept for Poles to be mistaken with Russians, but then we have no problem to mistake others.
Those are the subtleties that I think are also being played out in this exhibition. However they are being thrown into a superior way of perception, discourse, notions, language. You probably realize that. Do you expect people to recognize these critical plots?
I’d like for this exhibition to reach the audience in the simplest way possible. To be communicative through visual grammar and to gain universal dimension. I am not addressing only the Polish viewer, but instead telling stories that will be understandable despite the cultural differences. There’s always a risk involved when introducing a new language. So I decided to disarm the situation a little bit and to build an exhibition lightly and with positive energy. With brave colors, using wide variety of forms. I believed that if work fascinates me, it will also be possible to include this energy in my pieces and to create a message to the viewer out of it. But yes, I do see a tendency to mechanical transfer from a cliche of ethnography to a cliche of colonialism. Or the other way around. Those are simplifications that this, as you call it superior way of thinking is built upon.
It’s hard to break out of that system.
Not for me. And not for people who understand these subconscious mechanisms. A group of people who think this way is growing and it’s really just about looking at a human being without any imposed limitations. It’s not only about skin color, sexual preferences, religious beliefs or political views. It’s about reducing violence in the space where creation is born, where a public discourse about values is being conducted. This exhibition is also an invitation to throw away the tools used in the past and to enter a new path. It’s about leaving this white room. Leaving the place where we get born and grow, escaping the constantly repeated, subconscious “mindshape” that is embedded in the body and mind and yet, paradoxically, isn’t ours at all. This mechanism is harmful. We are impaired in the reality perception: we don’t appreciate experiences, feelings, acting. This exhibition was created manually not without a reason. Many people judge it based on the communicative or formal aspects – and it works this way too. You don’t have to read the instruction to be inside it; the viewer can see, they don’t have to know. I often emphasize that I don’t really know art, because I see than when I think I familiarized it, I lose my perceptive abilities. So the interpretation of my work keeps changing, it’s an open situation. Art must be felt, not understood.
I think that this exhibition and single works too could be perceived in lots of ways. I want to ask you about the meaning of the owl, or actually two owls positioned in front of each other. The viewers get warned not to look them in eyes, which are laser, so they swerve back and forth between their gazes. They don’t really look like Minerva’s owls leaving at dusk…
Owls are definitely the element that connects these rooms, reality with trance. I have managed to say a little bit about the reality of 70’s or 80’s, so I will move on to the trance room. It contains for example a colorful tree made of huge glass marihuana pipes that I have created at the glassworks. There are dancing silhouettes made of metal. There’s a metal potholder with ceramic ritual pottery where the hallucinogenic cactuses grow, there’s a Balinese portal made of painting palettes protected by the guards. One of the windows in this room has a huge white flag hanging out of it, fluttering on the gallery’s facade. This room focuses on spirituality and reflection. White flag highlights the need for disarming and concentrating energy on experiences instead of fights. Owls connect these two worlds. They symbolize the darkness of the nights, but also knowledge. But indeed these owl eyes cannot be looked in – it’s meaningful. The audience balances between them.
So we have multiple plots and overlapping layers of meaning… What was important to you when you were working on the exhibition?
The work itself and the freedom of action. Free and non-mechanical construction of the form. The intention is important too, I mean the reason I work for. I cannot work when I don’t really feel an explicit reason. It’s also important to me to seduce the viewer, to affect their senses, not just the mind. Emotions are more interesting, they’re fuller. I appreciate them more, because they come first. I like color, splendor, momentum. I don’t feel well in minimalism and design. I oppose the modernism. I don’t want to rewrite once again what was rewritten already.
What exactly do you mean when you say that you oppose modernism?
That it doesn’t really make sense to do something if you know how it’ll end. Experiments are more interesting. You can take the bus to Dudziarska district that is a picture of deformation of the modernist vision of the world. I created murals there to show the results of implementing these ideas and to oppose them. Another important part of the exhibition are the films. They contain the elaborated commentary that answer this question.
It’s true, there’s quite a lot of films being shown.
It’s a couple years of my work. First and foremost there’s a “Journal written in the bushes” started three years ago. I write a film journal, talking about Western culture: it’s a two way narrative. On one hand we are “there”, but – on the other – I talk about what is “here”. These films talk about various subjects. One of them is a story of a Polish guy who went to the Philippines and stayed there for good – he escaped the constraints of neverending improval of his own material prosperity. There’s also a film from Dudziarska district, which shows how project-oriented thinking doesn’t make any sense, the world where theory is more important than a human being. I am showing that the stalinist vision that we know from history- if a single human dies it’s a tragedy, if millions- it’s statistics – is still being implemented. There’s also a film about Russia, Kaliningrad specifically, which is trying to mold itself into the unconscious West. There are films about other cultures, their functioning or disappearing. These films are an effect of searching for areas where a different kind of logic reigns. I showed them, becase they’re kind of a record, a journal of those couple years I have spent outside of Europe.
Erotic themes appear too, a colorful vision of orgy.
I made drawings with Bambino crayons on sand paper, on which naked bodies appeared – obviously let’s not forget that we’re talking about nightmares. Sexuality in the collective take has become very political. We live in the world of industry based on sex; this is where the form of a group of ceramic dolls having group sex is coming from. Each culture approaches sexuality in a different way, there’s no single proper theory.
Just like Foucalt has been writing in his “History of sexuality”: West is the only culture that has thrown sex out of its place and has transformed it into knowledge of sex.
That’s why I had to stronly exaggerate the orgy, mark it with a thick line. We want this sex with everyone, but we deny it, we fall into limitations. At the exhibition these situation appear without limitations, which obviously provokes to share one’s own opinion.
Intreview was published in “Tranzystor” Magazine; An Invitation to Throw Away the Tools Used in the Past – interview with Grzegorz Drozd, “Tranzystor”, nr 9/ 7.2014.