Bloc Party


Left: Joanna Zielinska and artist Paulina Olowska. Right: Artist Wilhelm Sasnal with CCA curator Lukasz Ronduda. (Photos: Adam Mazur)

As I stumbled through heavy curtains Monday night into “USA,” Wilhelm Sasnal’s film exhibition at Warsaw’s Center of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, I was slightly unnerved to find myself confronted by the 16-mm vision of a woman posing and cavorting in abandoned airplane wreckage somewhere in the Mojave Desert. My flight on LOT Polish Airlines a few days earlier came to an end with a rather “creative” landing, and Sasnal’s film strayed a bit too close to the visions that flashed before my eyes when we rather violently entered Warsaw’s airspace. Nevertheless, the sound track, comprising music from various ’50s Polish films, seduced me to linger and enjoy the playful desert dérive, a peculiar cross between Jack Smith’s Scotch Tape, Antonioni’s The Red Desert, and Survivor.

The galleries were heaving and hot, so after wandering through the rest of the show—which includes W.E. Love Ranch, 2006, a video installation documenting Texan cowboys castrating calves and eating the offcuts—I decided to enjoy my first Eastern-bloc opening in the fresh air of the courtyard below. Having spent a whirlwind weekend touring various galleries and museums in town, I happily bumped into several of the locals who populate this city’s rewarding scene. The amiable and informed Lukasz Ronduda, curator of the Sasnal show and CCA’s Archive of Polish Experimental Film, was busily distributing exhibition catalogues on the stairs as he welcomed guests such as Foksal Gallery Foundation’s savvy Joanna Mytkowska, Berlin-based artist Florian Zeyfang, and Miroslaw Balka. As I reached the courtyard, Piktogram’s Michal Wolinski led me to a bar serving the local summer specialty, apple juice mixed with vodka, and continued to feed my new hunger for stories about Polish street sculpture, Polish punk, Polish modernist architecture, Polish artists working in chemical plants, and ’70s-era Polish art publications that are frustratingly out of print.

Left: Foksal Gallery Foundation's Joanna Mytkowska. Right: Artist Florian Zeyfang with Piktogram editor in chief Michal Wolinski.

The CCA is a pleasantly weathered, lo-fi cultural megaplex, and among the various exhibitions and activities taking place, I made a beeline for the opening of Paulina Olowska’s exhibition, “Rainbow Brite,” also curated by Ronduda. In the catalogue for Sasnal’s show, Ronduda claims that Olowska and Sasnal belong to a new generation of Polish artists for whom art functions to intensify and exploit the imagination and its connection to everyday life. If Sasnal’s films constitute a “private cinema” that plays with the history of Polish experimental film and seems to slip through multiple frames of time and place, for CCA Olowska has more specific prey in mind: the '80s. After a room featuring five Warhol-cum-Sturtevant-cum-Koons silver screenprints of an alien primate’s face, the subject at hand became more apparent upon entering a three-room installation with multiple projections of the cult 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story. Screened on billowing white sheets, the film is presented in five languages for which subtitles were produced. In another nod to Warhol, the exhibition, according to Olowska, will be kept open twenty-four hours a day. Never ending indeed.

My own recollection of The NeverEnding Story has more to do with the Giorgio Moroder theme song performed by ex-Kajagoogoo frontman Limahl, which, like clockwork, began to emanate from speakers in the courtyard outside, to which I returned. Olowska herself suddenly materialized in what I am told is typically dramatic fashion, and her remarkable dress and cape were printed with what would appear to be a scene from the film. She began to dance and writhe in a manner that recalled her 2005 project Alphabet, for which she posed to resemble the shape of each letter. I tried to follow her sybaritic code until I was drawn into conversation with Ronduda about Polish filmmakers old (Pawel Kwiek) and new (Piotr Uklanski, whose new feature-length western is forthcoming). Ronduda was brimming with energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for unearthing Poland’s overlooked cultural past and connecting it to Warsaw’s talented cache of young artists and curators. Definitely worth a trip back soon to see what he and his cohorts have in store, but next time I’m flying British Airways.

Stuart Comer

Left: Zacheta National Gallery curator Maria Brewinska with CCA Ujazdowski Castle director Wojciech Krukowski. (Photo: Adam Mazur) Right: Visitors dance in front of Paulina Olowska's installation.

Left: Tate curator Catherine Wood. Right: Curatorial assistant Magda Moskalewicz with curator Kaja Pawelek. (Photos: Adam Mazur)

Left: Artist Agata Bogacka, Ania Zawadowska, and Dik Fagazine's Marcin Rózyc. (Photo: Adam Mazur) Right: Wilhelm Sasnal with Raster Gallery's Lukasz Gorczyca.