Cottbus, Germany

Agnieszka Polska, Objekt 7 (Object 7), 2008, photocollage, 15 x 9 7/8". From the series “Objekty” (Objects), 2008.

Agnieszka Polska, Objekt 7 (Object 7), 2008, photocollage, 15 x 9 7/8". From the series “Objekty” (Objects), 2008.

Agnieszka Polska

Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk

Agnieszka Polska, Objekt 7 (Object 7), 2008, photocollage, 15 x 9 7/8". From the series “Objekty” (Objects), 2008.

The exhibition “Decades” is the first solo museum presentation outside Poland of the work of Agnieszka Polska, born in 1985. It includes both photographs and videos, all displayed in a single uniformly lit space—which is something of a shame, because the video works would have benefited from darker viewing conditions.

The thirteen coarse-grained photocollages that make up the series “Obiekty” (Objects), 2008, have a nostalgic effect, recalling the time when photography was predominantly in black-and-white. Portrayed in them are artworks in public spaces: three playfully stacked circle shapes, for instance, in a public park; or a hallway intersected by horizontal rods running from wall to wall. Though these objects may look like sculptures, they have never existed as such: Polska used Photoshop to add imaginary artworks to existing photographs from the 1950s and ’60s.

Her work at once relies on and questions the authority that photography enjoys as a documentary medium. The artist inverts this authority and thereby underscores the second life that artworks lead in discussions about contemporary art: as photographic (or filmic) reproductions. How bona fide—and how autonomous—is that existence? Her consideration of these matters relates to a broader investigation of the way memory functions in regard to art and its history. When performing this task, she acts as a cheery archivist with no fear of her own imagination.

A similar mix of document and invention surfaces in the series “Trzy filmy z narratorem” (Three Videos with Narration), 2009–10. In The Forgetting of Proper Names, 2009, Sigmund Freud’s text of the same title is read aloud. As this happens, we witness a procession of artworks taken out of their contexts, among them Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room, 1977, and Robert Morris’s L-Beams, 1965. The video Moje ulubione rzeczy (My Favorite Things), 2010, shows a surrealistic succession of objects and artworks in miniature, including Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, 1913. Here the viewer’s relationship to the works takes on an aura of privacy and eroticism. For Uczulenie na kolor (Sensitization to Color), 2009, Polska reconstructed a project carried out by the Polish avant-gardist Włodzimierz Borowski in 1968, loosely interpreting the space and the peculiar objects used in a performance he originally gave in Pozna. The camera slowly records a series of organically shaped objects created by Borowski, which were very colorful but documented only in black-and-white. The triptych of photocollages, Artony, 2010, also take its inspiration from Borowski’s works.

Polska’s work can be called original without being original. It multiplies and muses on recollections of artworks. At the same time, it makes those works available to the imagination by drawing them into the realm of fiction. Evident in all of this is a fascination with materiality: with soil, mud, stone, skin and their textures. Polska is always showing us the tangible by way of the camera. With fluid and slowed movements of the lens, with close-ups and a sparing use of color, she coaxes the viewer into the physical world. And so the exhibition leaves us wondering about the degree to which a photographically mediated imagination has now become part of primary observation.

Jurriaan Benschop

Translated from Dutch by Beth O’Brien.