Critics’ Picks


Aleksandra Ska, Pandemic (detail), 2015, infographics printed on PVC, metal frame, and plastic, dimensions variable.

Warsaw

“Human Free Earth”

Centre for Contemporary Art - U-jazdowski Castle
ul. Jazdów 2
March 15–September 22, 2019

This exhibition of work by thirteen artists belongs to a larger long-term inquiry by Ujazdowski Castle that confronts, without cynicism, both Catherine Malabou’s concept of “plasticity” and, as curator Jarosław Lubiak writes, how “the anthropogenic changes occurring on our planet may transform the Earth into an environment that does not support human life.” As that description suggests, the show’s posthuman approach is less alarmist than studiously curious. The intermedia show’s examination of the nonhuman is as charged by academic research as it is by sarcastic and provocative undertones, perhaps starting with the title’s implication that our absence would liberate the planet.

In Pandemic 2015, Aleksandra Ska takes on the fear of viral diseases and the omnipresence of fake news by filling a clinical space with large images, fashioned from plastic trash, of alleged “new” maladies such as “Nin Sambro,” a respiratory disease supposedly contracted from mice feces. Ska dwells on how easy it is today to instigate moral panic through the rhetoric of pseudo-scientistism, and also obliquely touches on the frightening anti-vaccine movement, which forms a real threat to the public. The viruses look strangely toylike, as if to warn against the aestheticization of science. Elsewhere, Diana Lelonek, in her ongoing series “Center for Living Things,” 2016–, imagines that the trash left by humans will morph into life-forms related to bryophyte or moss. Placed in big aquariums, Lelonek’s real ecosystems—old car tires, pieces of clothing, and, of course, plastic—create eerie, Tarkovskian landscapes (there’s that beautification again). Whether intentionally or not, the work also raises questions about the ethics of moving these organisms out of their natural habitats and into a gallery, where they’re almost certainly going to die. The gesture, well-intentioned but self-defeating, seems to sum up an exhibition that ultimately suggests the outsize yet limited role humans will play in liberating the world from ourselves.