Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Race and Forest,” 2020.

    View of “Race and Forest,” 2020.

    Race and Forest

    Biennale Warszawa
    29a Mokotowska Street
    March 6–April 19, 2020

    The forest is a master of camouflage. It obliterates the traces of refugees. It hides bodies and bones. A criminologist might call it a silent witness—a subject who holds traces of the evidence and has not given up all their secrets just yet. But instead of unveiling them over time, the forest covers them more and more.

    The exhibition “Race and Forest” by Nabil Ahmed and the interdisciplinary collective INTERPRT, commissioned by the TBA21-Academy, uses forensic archaeology to present a case study—through video, prints, digital diagrams, and texts—of the first Nazi extermination camp, hidden in the woods near Chełmno nad Nerem, Poland. While this Waldlager, or forest camp, pioneered the Third Reich’s technologies of mass death (from mobile gas chambers to industrial wood-burning stoves used to incinerate bodies), the inconspicuous protagonist of this exhibition is the forest itself. Abstract geometric forms, visible in LiDAR scans of Rzuchowski Forest, indicate new groves of trees, covertly replanted to hide mass graves below.

    Reprints of archival documents on display reveal how the Nazis employed logging and afforestation as weapons of environmental warfare. The Nazi forestry periodical Wald und Holz (Forest and Timber) viewed the arboreal diversity of the world’s regions and climates as evidence of theories of racial supremacy, and advocated for the exploitation of occupied areas’ resources on the one hand and the protection of Germany’s “natural” heritage on the other.

    In 1947, Polish prosecutors brought charges of war crimes against German forestry officials for the devastation of Poland’s woodlands. Reconstructed in this exhibition via maps and diagrams, case no. 1307/7150 offers a meaningful precedent for today’s ecocides. Will today’s global environmental crimes be tried and judged, or they will be buried in the sediment of history?

  • Ania Nowak, Can You Die of a Broken Heart, 2018, video, color, sound, 16 minutes 46 seconds.

    Ania Nowak, Can You Die of a Broken Heart, 2018, video, color, sound, 16 minutes 46 seconds.

    “&I<3U2”

    Galeria Studio
    plac Defilad 1
    February 13–May 5, 2020

    There’s a consistent narrative thread running through the exhibition “&I<3U2.” A girl falls in love, which begets desperation, which in turn is thwarted by a letter. Decoded, the exhibition’s title reads “and I love you too,” a statement that serves as a false prophecy. Several other messages appear in canvas or fabric prints—including “You’re Free. Congratulations,” an SMS that is part of artist Allison L. Wade’s collection of repurposed breakup messages (“Break-up Text Painting,” 2014)—and materialize throughout the exhibition space. Behind one such placard, Ania Nowak’s video Can You Die of a Broken Heart, 2018, shows a girl singing about Takotsubo syndrome, a stress cardiomyopathy caused by broken-heartedness, which manifests in the literal weakening of the heart muscle. The song fits oddly with the image of the young girl on-screen, who is protectively clad in armor, sinking under the weight of decayed male chivalry. Likewise, Ewa Surowiec’s ASKhIM, 2014, a merger of the words ask and him_—_a multichannel video installation comprised of close-ups of men reciting monologues derived from dating messages in a ballad of sorts—presents the only speaking male subjects within a feminist exhibition of work solely by female artists. The awkwardness in the actors’ delivery of their lines draws attention to the fact that the words, while expressing desire, are partly used as shields—words to hide behind or antibodies against the pain of falling in love. Works like Indrani Ashe’s Fifty Dates of Grey, 2014/2015, an exhaustive internet-dating and Tinder experiment that takes the form of live dating vlogs, leave us wondering if there are any objects of desire at all in these encounters, or if the artist has simply accepted the conditions of love in the age of simulation.