Artur Żmijewski

Cornerhouse, Manchester

13 Nov 2009 → 10 Jan 2010

NGCA, Sunderland

30 Jul 2010 → 16 Oct 2010

Tramway, Glasgow

29 Oct 2010 → 19 Dec 2010

This was the first UK survey exhibition of work by Polish artist Artur Żmijewski, and included videos made between 2003 and 2009. Żmijewski is part of a generation of artists whose formative years are embedded within Poland’s early emergence from the Communist east, at the end of the Cold War. His work positions itself within the gaps created by the hasty transposing of a Western liberal discourse onto a society attempting to both retain its traditional values and come to terms with the traumas of its recent past. The exhibition looked at a number of strategies Żmijewski developed to explore his own position as an artist within a changing Poland, and how these strategies could become toolkits for communities to find answers to the questions that most challenge them in the contemporary world.

The exhibition took the 2003 video Pilgrimage as its starting point, and ended with the 2009 multi-channel work, Democracies. These works share a similar documentary style, in which Żmijewski takes a ready-made situation  – the former being a Catholic tour of sacred sites in Jerusalem, and the latter being political demonstrations or mass public gatherings from around Europe – and simply films it taking place, before editing it down to a concentrated form and positioning it in relation to similar situations that either offer counter-positions, or that reinforce it. Within this seven year period, Żmijewski produced many of the films that made him notorious – films in which he constructs a situation into which a number of invited participants whose political or religious views clash are placed, and they are asked to work through their differences by carrying out activities that adhere to a set of rules invented for the film’s occasion. These workshops were based on a method of teaching art developed by Grzegorz Kowalski, Żmijewski’s tutor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, which Żmijewski modified to tackle life beyond the classroom, and allow participants to occupy and express extreme differences through symbolic and visual confrontations in controlled (if difficult) environments. Such works include Them (2007), Repetition (2005) and Two Monuments (2009). Also included in the show were films from the Selected Works series, in which Żmijewski spends a twenty-four hour period with workers from around the world who perform repetitive physical tasks, recording their daily routine both at work and at home.

At the same time that this exhibition was being made for Cornerhouse, Żmijewski made a new work, Following Bauhaus, with A Foundation. For this work, Żmijewski opened a pop-up school in Liverpool that was modelled on the Bauhaus, and made a short film documenting the processes the participants went through. He also made the film’s rushes available to the participants so they could make their own edit. Following Bauhaus was integrated into the touring show for Sunderland.