BWA Warszawa
BWA Warszawa
Mateusz Sarzyński & Konrad Żukowski „Global Abomination”
14.02.2020 - 28.03.2020
Márton Nemes & Małgorzata Szymankiewicz "Falling Out of Rhythm"
29.11.2019 - 08.02.2020
WGW 2019: BOWNIK "Colours of Lost Time"
20.09.2019 - 23.11.2019
"It hurts when I laugh"
05.07.2019 - 11.09.2019
Martyna Czech, Leszek Knaflewski "We have nothing in common"
25.05.2019 - 30.06.2019
FOAF 2019: BWA Warszawa hosting Gianni Manhattan (Vienna) + Kristina Kite (LA)
06.04.2019 - 11.05.2019
Witek Orski "I would prefer not to talk about this"
14.02.2019 - 30.03.2019
Between Salvation and Constitution
11.11.2018 - 05.01.2019
WGW 2018: Agnieszka Brzeżańska, Jan Dobkowski, Zuza Krajewska "Goddesses"
21.09.2018 - 27.10.2018
Jadwiga Sawicka "Protest Reflex"
23.06.2018 - 31.07.2018
Ewa Ciepielewska "Emotional Support Animals"
12.05.2018 - 16.06.2018
FOAF: Jiří Thýn, Piotr Makowski, Witek Orski, "Line"
07.04.2018 - 28.04.2018
Adam Adach "Demos and Demons"
03.03.2018 - 04.04.2018
Agnieszka Kalinowska "Heavy Water"
27.01.2018 - 28.02.2018
WGW 2017: Yann Gerstberger, Sławomir Pawszak, Hanna Rechowicz "The Uses of Enchantment"
22.09.2017 - 25.11.2017
WGW2017: WYKWITEX
22.09.2017 - 24.09.2017
"Living in a Material World" Paweł Dudziak, Adrian Kolerski, Michał Sroka, Eliasz Styrna, Katarzyna Szymkiewicz
02.09.2017 - 16.09.2017
Małgorzata Szymankiewicz "Stretching of Concepts"
27.05.2017 - 29.07.2017
Ruben Montini "One Person Protest"
27.05.2017 - 27.05.2017
Wielka 19 Gallery
04.03.2017 - 06.05.2017
THE DYNAMICS OF DECLINE
28.01.2017 - 25.02.2017
Witek Orski & Maria Toboła "Spinning sex"
17.12.2016 - 14.01.2017
WGW 2016: Karol Radziszewski "Ali"
23.09.2016 - 19.11.2016
Small Sculptural Forms
19.06.2016 - 10.09.2016
Sławomir Pawszak "Heat"
12.03.2016 - 28.05.2016
Krzysztof Maniak "Snow Is What Comes To Mind"
06.02.2016 - 05.03.2016
Lada Nakonechna, Zhanna Kadyrova "Experiments"
05.12.2015 - 30.01.2016
WGW 2015: Ewa Axelrad "Minimum, Necessary, Objectively Reasonable"
25.09.2015 - 21.11.2015
Małgorzata Szymankiewicz "Postproduction"
26.06.2015 - 12.09.2015
Joanna Janiak, Piotr C. Kowalski "The Nature of Things"
25.04.2015 - 13.06.2015
Iza Tarasewicz "Reverse Logistics"
14.02.2015 - 19.04.2015
Karol Radziszewski "In the Shadow of the Flame"
29.11.2014 - 04.02.2015
WGW: Olga Mokrzycka-Grospierre, Nicolas Grospierre "A Glass Shard in the Eye"
26.09.2014 - 22.11.2014
Jadwiga Sawicka "Fragments of Stories"
24.05.2014 - 24.07.2014
Jakub Woynarowski "Saturnia Regna"
15.03.2014 - 17.05.2014
Sławomir Pawszak „Cannabis, whisky, ananas”
11.01.2014 - 08.03.2014
The Gardens. Laura Kaminskaite, Augustas Serapinas
23.11.2013 - 19.12.2013
Agnieszka Kalinowska "Eastern Wall"
27.09.2013 - 16.11.2013
Zuza Krajewska "Solstice"
29.06.2013 - 14.09.2013
WITHERED, Kisterem Gallery, Budapest
21.06.2013 - 15.08.2013
LITTLE WARSAW "Enter"
25.04.2013 - 21.06.2013
“Warsaw: The Day After..." Vartai Gallery, Vilnius
11.04.2013 - 11.05.2013
Self-Organization, vol.2: New Roman
23.03.2013 - 20.04.2013
Ewa Axelrad "Warm Leatherette" BWA Warszawa
26.01.2013 - 20.03.2013
Self-Organization, vol. 1. Certainty
05.01.2013 - 19.01.2013
Ziemilski / Marriott / The End of the World
21.12.2012 - 21.12.2012
Kama Sokolnicka "Rusty elements of our garden"
28.09.2012 - 30.11.2012
"ALPHAVILLE" Griffin Artspace, Warsaw
28.09.2012 - 30.12.2012
Krystian TRUTH Czaplicki "The Changeling"
21.07.2012 - 09.08.2012
Adam Adach "Reprezentacja"
21.04.2012 - 07.07.2012
Małgorzata Szymankiewicz, Przemek Dzienis "Sub Pop"
25.02.2012 - 14.04.2012
Nicolas Grospierre "The Bank"
03.12.2011 - 11.02.2012
Tribute To Fangor
05.11.2011 - 20.11.2011
"New Order", Art Stations, Poznań
29.09.2011 - 09.02.2012
Wojtek Ziemilski "New Order" performance
23.09.2011 - 24.09.2011
Agnieszka Kalinowska „Extinguished Neon Signs”
10.09.2011 - 30.10.2011
Jarosław Fliciński "Nobody Knows That For Sure"
25.06.2011 - 28.08.2011
THE OPENING "Plundering the Ruins of Reality"
07.05.2011 - 11.06.2011

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english version
Ewa Axelrad "Warm Leatherette"
Tomasz Plata "Catastronauts"

It might be a risky decision: to read the works of a young, Polish artist through the prism of the writings of a late English author, one not particularly esteemed in our country. To begin with, such a choice may suggest that in Ewa Axelrad’s works we shall find merely references to J.G. Ballard, and that her art dries up once the references are exhausted. And yet, nothing could be more wrong. Axelrad is young (born in 1984), but her achievements already seem ample and multidimensional. Secondly, it may well end up being an explanation of the unknown through the unknown – after all, we hardly know Ballard at all in Poland. His most important books have admittedly been translated into Polish, but they never really entered our cultural circuit deeply (the only exception possibly being the “Empire of the Sun”, hardly characteristic of the author, owing its popularity mostly to Steven Spielberg’s film). However, perhaps there is a chance lying hidden amongst these disadvantages? Perhaps by facing them we shall not only find the key to understanding Axelrad through Ballard, but also Ballard through Axelrad?

The fact that Ballard never intrigued the Polish audience must leave one wondering. He had everything going for him. In the West he was read both at universities and in the dressing rooms of alternative rock stars. Suffice it to say that one of the most famous songs by Joy Division is a quote from Ballard’s short story “Atrocity Exhibition”. Ballard was read as well by the members of Roxy Music, The Clash, The Normal and Throbbing Gristle, and a while later – Manic Street Preachers and Suede. The artistic community followed suit in this fascination. When the writer died in 2009, the London space of Larry Gagosian’s gallery organized a tribute show, with the participation of the greatest – including Ed Ruscha, Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon, Damien Hirst, Carsten Höller, Jeff Koons, Paula McCarthy, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread. Not all mentioned drew their inspiration directly from Ballard, yet in the works of all of them you could see traces of his visions. At the same time in academic circles Ballard was recognized as the creator of exemplary dystopias of the second half of the 20th century, a link between Orwell and Baudrillard.

Why, then, does Ballard remain almost unknown in our country? Of course at a certain level we should not be surprised. Ballard’s favourite, most distinctive theme is the collapse of the industrial revolution. In his novels the complex system of highways, factories, skyscrapers is transformed back into something akin to a jungle. In a luxurious estate revolution breaks out. Man trapped in the enclosed space between viaducts and dual carriageways begins to live like his primitive ancestor. Technology is associated with the lowest instincts, the ideology of progress crumbles. In this way Ballard documents the end of modernism – the modernism which made progress its guiding principle. It is worth noting the time convergence: Ballard’s most important, breakthrough books were published in the years 1973-75: “Crash”, “Concrete Island”, “High Rise” respectively. It is not difficult to associate this fact with another, slightly previous one: on the 15th of November 1972 in St. Louis, Missouri, the entire Pruitt-Igoe housing estate, a complex of modernist buildings designed by Minoru Yamasaki, was demolished. As some claim, it was then that modernism died and post-modernism was born. Bearing all that in mind, should we be surprised that Ballard was not read in Poland, or at least not read carefully? After all, in the mid-seventies we were far from forsaking our modernist utopias. We were only beginning to build our rudimentary highways, we hardly dared to see them as “newly constructed ruins”.

But why do we not read Ballard today, either? Is it because the statement that we are living in the ruins of modernism, that modernism is our antiquity, became almost a cliché, a witticism repeated ad nauseam in cafés? Is it that Ballard was once too futuristic for us, and now he seems archaic? But surely Ballard can be read a bit differently, and more can be found in the death of modernism he depicts.

Let’s take the theme of the apocalypse – essential for Ballard, present even in his autobiographical prose. Around the end of the world as prophesied by the Maya and amidst the financial apocalypse Ballard’s visions are bound to seduce. And they do. It is evidenced for instance in Zbigniew Libera’s recent cycles: “The Exodus of the People from the Cities” and „New Histories”. These are Ballardian in the strictest sense: they show the point at which technological civilization collapses into wilderness. Related topics are explored by others as well. Hubert Czerepok and Konrad Smoleński both play with the theme of the end, the fall, the apocalypse. The members of the performance duo BNNT co-founded by Smoleński look like animated characters from Libera’s photomontages during their sound-terrorist attacks on city centres – members of a mysterious sect using technology and giant sound systems to confront the audience with basic bodily experiences. This confirms the vitality, the relevance of Ballard’s images. The problem lies in the fact that similar projects have something blatantly naïve about them. Their authors await apocalypse as if it were salvation. Apocalypse turns out to be a borderline experience, but not a terminal one. It still offers a chance of purification. Libera especially seems to suggest: let’s play among the ruins, and we shall be saved. As a result, his works appear to be a fairly cheerful interpretation of the current crisis. In explicit terms: in Libera’s world destruction becomes transformed into carnival.

You will not find anything of the sort in Ewa Axelrad’s work. For her the Ballardian catastrophe has an altogether different dimension. It does not put one in mind of the apocalypse, and certainly not of the carnival we are to experience thanks to the apocalypse. It is rather one of the most important mechanisms that drive reality. It is for that reason that it requires careful analysis, calm description. For Axelrad both our technology, as well as our politics and biology constitute a catastrophe.

Axelrad follows the lead of Ballard, but also of Paul Virilio. This French philosopher, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, attempted to introduce a reflection on the theme of catastrophe into the field of art. His Parisian exhibition “Ce qui arrive/Unknown Quantity” was accompanied by an essay (in Poland published in “The Original Accident”), in which he called for a Museum of Accidents to be established. One must begin to document and archive accidents, and draw conclusions from them, as today an accident is not a deviation from the norm, but the norm itself, the guiding principle of civilization, as Virilio writes. It is the finale of the industrial revolution, which “invented the accident”, he adds. “To invent a sailing ship or a steamer is to invent shipwreck. To invent railway is to invent the rail disaster, derailment”. Perhaps a more important experience than the collapse of the Twin Towers (which after all was not an accident, but the consequence of a terrorist attack) was constituted by the earlier Chernobyl disaster, when, to use Virilio’s terms, the nuclear disaster was invented. It is then that it was finally proven that the by-products of the progress of civilization endanger the civilization itself. Or rather, that what threatens, undermines and destroys civilization is at the same time what establishes and creates it. It is excellently evidenced by the world of politics – Western political modernity was after all launched by a disaster, by the gesture of radical and revolutionary break with the past.

Axelrad focuses her attention on precisely such topics. The disaster in her works becomes a phenomenon that needs to be recorded, archived, incorporated into a museum collection. In her “Vk/Warm Leatherette” project the artist shows for instance a deformed highway barrier, photographs of bent car coachwork, a drawing depicting derailed carriages seen from above, creating an almost geometric layout. These works are meant to expose the energy of an accident to us, make us aware of its destructive power. At the same time they document a disaster with surgical precision – coolly, dispassionately. This record is presented to our inspection like pinned insects locked in a display case. There is nothing subversive in it, nor transgressive.

There is no excess either in the idea formulated by Axelrad suggesting a relationship between an accident and our physicality. This is the locus of yet another debt to Ballard. Let’s recall “Crash”: the characters provoke and arrange car crashes, as it gives them sexual satisfaction. As a result, after subsequent collisions, when they already walk on crutches, having undergone numerous operations, they themselves begin to resemble machines. Ballard heads towards an emphatic conclusion: the association of the spheres of sex and technology. This is why in Ballard sex loses its liberating, transgressive potential. Significantly, David Cronenberg’s screen adaptation of “Crash” in the mid-nineties did not cause a scandal in Poland, despite strenuous efforts at the time to force it into the rhetoric of “crossing boundaries in art”. Sex becomes cooled down, objectified for Ballard and Cronenberg, it therefore loses its provocative power, it does not arouse emotions. It is a procedure, a technique, not an experience. Axelrad refers to similar imagery, when a bent, damaged car seat reupholstered in pink faux leather becomes transformed into a giant vagina.

The accident therefore is seen as an event from the very centre of the system, rather than its subversive opposition… Consent to such an idea has its consequences, it has to influence at least our understanding of the tasks and capabilities of art (let’s put aside the ambiguous hope that art, like a catastrophe, will undermine the existing order, provoke the apocalypse, let’s forget the rebellious aspirations of artists, let’s see in them not critics, but participants and careful documentalists of the status quo). Some will deem it unworthy, however, the juxtaposed interpretation of Ballard’s and Axelrad’s works convinces of its benefits.

Both Ballard and Axelrad deserve to be called catastronauts. It is a term introduced by Jon McKenzie, one of the most important theorists of the new academic discipline of performance studies. In his groundbreaking book “Perform or else…” McKenzie repeatedly returns to the image of probably the most spectacular technological disaster in history: explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. The image becomes for the American thinker a kind of a metaphor showing the link between two seemingly contradictory spheres, characteristic for contemporaneity: accident and knowledge, excess and system, experiment and standardization. McKenzie grants the term catastronauts to those who freely travel across the borders of two such clearly defined camps, and who can in their thinking go beyond the simple system of binary oppositions. And those who, in the final analysis, function in culture, without falling into naivety.



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