Christian Jankowski, Heavy Weight History (Brotherhood of Arms), 2013, ink-jet print, 55 x 73 1/2".

Christian Jankowski, Heavy Weight History (Brotherhood of Arms), 2013, ink-jet print, 55 x 73 1/2".

Chistian Jankowski

Christian Jankowski, Heavy Weight History (Brotherhood of Arms), 2013, ink-jet print, 55 x 73 1/2".

At the heart of Christian Jankowski’s exhibition “Heavy Weight History” was a project encompassing seven black-and-white photographs and a twenty-five-minute-long video realized in the summer of 2013 in Warsaw. Jankowski, in close collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, selected seven city monuments and organized a group of professional weightlifters to attempt to raise them. In this symbolic way, through a sort of sports competition open to the public, he proposed lifting the burden of the complex and turbulent history whose remnants lurk in every corner of Warsaw. As recorded in the video and photos, the sportsmen successfully lifted some of the sculptures and surrendered to the weight of others. The monochrome palette of the photographs is here skillfully used to blur the distinction between the bodies of the contemporary musclemen and the honored bronze figures from the past—most notably when the weightlifters encounter the sculpture of a strongman executed in 1908 by Stanisław Czarnowski.

The images show both well-known memorials, such as the Little Insurgent Monument, commemorating the youngest participants in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, and those neglected by modern politics and therefore situated far from public view. An example of the latter is a statue of Ludwik Waryński, a socialist activist and theoretician and founder of the first Polish worker’s party, the Proletariat, established in 1882. Jankowski, born in Germany but of Polish ancestry, also deals with more recent monuments, many of which remind us of how the histories of Poland and Germany are woven together. One example is an homage to Willy Brandt, who between 1969 and 1974 was the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. The statue depicts him during his visit to Poland in 1970, when he famously knelt before the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, which commemorates the uprising of 1943. This widely interpreted event was recorded in photographs and subsequently even became the subject of a statue itself, through a representation of the act in brick that now stands as a monument in Willy Brandt Square.

In a public discussion at the gallery, Jankowski pointed out two particularly challenging aspects of this project. First, there is no record of the actual weight of the monuments; therefore every attempt to lift one was a confrontation with the unexpected. Second, the title of the project refers to the role that these public sculptures were meant to play in forming a collective experience of the past for Warsaw’s citizens. In the video Heavy Weight History, Michał Olszański, one of the top sports announcers in Poland, describes the attempts to lift the monuments in terms of a “fight with history.”

Imitating media coverage of an athletic event, with the well-known broadcaster introducing the athletes and providing a running commentary on their efforts in his usual lively style, the video reminds us that sports and media have long been powerful tools in skilled political hands. Every element in “Heavy Weight History”—monuments, sportsmen, video, and photography—has strong propaganda connotations. By employing them in such a playful way, the artist takes a little bit of their weight off.

Sylwia Serafinowicz