Norman Leto, Georgia [Gruzja], 2008 (video still)
Contemporary Art from Poland
January 24 - June 20, 2009
Curator: Tami Katz-Freiman
The contemporary Polish art scene is characterized by radical, critical, ebullient and intellectual art making. Post-communism - the contact with consumer culture and the rapid growth of the free market and communication media alongside an accelerated lifestyle - is clearly evident in the art being made in Poland today. It is possible to point to common denominators between Polish and Israeli art, especially in terms of the preoccupation with victimhood, history, nationality and memory. Yet it appears that the concern with the trauma of World War II, and with a tradition of violence and protest that overlaps with Poland's national narratives, is the most prominent concern examined by Polish artists. Indeed, it seems that the war has become a central component of the search for identity undertaken by many Polish artists.
The exhibition "Power Games" presents a range of works created by six prominent visual artists currently working in Poland, and features members of three different generations: the generation that began exhibiting in the 1980s, and whose work is grounded in the avant-garde traditions of the 20th century (Grzegorz Klaman); the intermediate generation that began exhibiting in the 1990s, and which was concerned with the body and the media (Artur Żmijewski and Zuzanna Janin); and the young generation that began exhibiting at the turn of the millennium, and whose works are concerned with the culture of simulacra, with computer imaging and with virtual reality (Janek Simon, Hubert Czerepok and Norman Leto). The works of these artists all touch - whether explicitly or implicitly - on different representations of violence. Their varied approaches to representation - which range from the conceptual to the symbolic, poetic and narrative - embody a ludic element that is related to the use of force. Some of these works are concerned with Poland's historical traumas and with various forms of institutional violence, such as the power of the church and the injustices of the communist regime; others relate to this subject in a universal manner. The themes of these works attest to an obsessive preoccupation with various aspects of violence, and to an emphasis on the self-reflexive examination of the means of representation itself: gender identity and the body in the context of death, struggle and memory (Janin); mechanisms of power, systems of punishment and surveillance, madness and policing (Klaman); instances of intolerance and near-violent states related to social, nationalist and religious conflicts (Żmijewski); apocalyptic images, depictions of catastrophe and survival (Simon); Holocaust scenes, violent demonstrations and terror attacks (Czerepok); and power games unfolding in a virtual reality, alongside a critique of the media's aestheticization of violence (Leto).
The exhibition thus mirrors the complex and paradoxical reality of Poland, a country that has rapidly gone from post-communist to postmodern. It reflects the creative outburst that is reacting critically, after years of oppression, to representations of power and violence in Polish society - which may be read as a metaphor for the problematic state of affairs characteristic of Western culture more generally. The presentation of this exhibition in Haifa, as part of the Polish Year in Israel, infuses these works with an additional charge, which is related to the bitter historical past shared by Poland and Israel.
The exhibition was co-organized by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Warsaw, as part of the Polish Year in Israel 2008-2009, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.