Contexts of meaning of the past

Contexts of meaning of the past

A problem of reference to death has an universal value. Transcendental and also historical and individual character of death defines her as leaving the past. Vanishing is each time different. In the context of Polish art the way in which it is reffered to has both: a vast tradition and is being a subject of redefinition. I present three Polish artists: Lukasz Skapski from Cracow, Agata Michowska from Poznan and Anna Orlikowska from Lodz, who in different forms struggle with a problem of vanishing and death.

The essence of their perception is the redefinition of the past individual, collective, social and cultural. The reflection presented by them is precisely marked with specific context of Polish history from the time after II World War and of Polish People’s Republic (PRL), but at the same time it finds it’s broad references in the perspective of contemporary art and culture.


Lukasz Skapski

Lukasz Skapski, one of founding members of Super-group Azorro, who has passed from performance and spatial instalations, through an interest in the light, to a junction of photography, video and ready-made, with strong social and humanistic meaning. His works from the serie „Machines“ and „Fitness“ combine photography, documental film and specific hand-made ready-made. Skapski presents us machines and devices constructed by amateurs from easly and cheaply obtained materials, spare parts, things found in scrap, which he tracks with ethnographic passion in villages on the south of Poland. They aren’t factory-produced and moved into the area of art like „Bottle Dryer“ or „Fountain“ of Marcel Duchamp, but devices DIY (Do It Yorself), whose handicraft‘s authorship Skapski acknowledges, himself feeling the author of the artistic idea.

Tractors constructed in the region of Podlasie close to Zakopane, like a tractor from Biorkow Maly (il. 1, il. 2) have been a response for the needs of small farms during Polish People’s Republic, in which mass-produced tractors had been not fitting in. 

Lukasz Skapski, "Machines"


Lukasz Skapski, "Machines"


Skapski moves them into the world of art high-lighting their values, not only the value in use and the exchange value, first of all their value in ethical perspective – they have been manifestation of opposition to the planned economy, and now they can also serve as an expression of opposition to corporate monopolies. They are also examples of autonomic creativity of peaple directed towards a community, which should admire the effect of the work, for example: the impressing Warburg Sam (il. 3, il. 4) or which should gather around them, as in case of hand-made „Fitness“ build in barns or some adapted rooms by young country men without work in Bronow (il. 5, il. 6). 

Lukasz Skapski, "LS Motors S-type"


Lukasz Skapski, "LS Motors S-type"


Lukasz Skapski, "Fitness"


Lukasz Skapski, "Fitness"


Anna Orlikowska

Deep moral sense have also works of Anna Orlikowska – a young artist, an author of photographies, video films and installations – who, like Lukasz Skapski, starts from specific items and situations, but artistically tranforming them achives rather transcendental then social meanings. Guiding principles of many her realizations are memento mori and dance macabre, topos explicitly present in culture and history of art since Medieval times. Both „Souvenir“ from the year 2006, which is a cabinet stuffed to the limit with smashed tableware (il. 7), and the instalation from the yeras 2004-2007 „Sinking Room“ (il. 8) are legible references to unrelenting passage of time, which leaves some traces but also disappears in the darkness of history.

Anna Orlikowska, "Souvenir" 


Anna Orlikowska, "Sinking Room"


However photographies of the serie „Dance Macabre“ (il. 9, il. 10) taken in the year 2004 in artist’s home town Lodz, apart from calling for the context of transient, they also points it’s inscrutable mystery and ambiguity. 

Anna Orlikowska, "Dance Macabre"

Anna Orlikowska, "Dance Macabre"

This ambiguity appears also in video works of Orlikowska in which sho shows wriggling worms with classical music in the background (il. 11),  in  „Terminal Game“ (2007) (il. 12) or in the serie of photographies „Silence“ (2008) (il. 13), inspired with photographies documenting crime scenes and with our fascination with and fright of the death.

Anna Orlikowska, "Movie about Worms III"


Anna Orlikowska, "Terminal Game"


Anna Orlikowska, "Silence"


Agata Michowska

An approach to the subject of the past and death presented by Agata Michowska – a sculptor, an author of video films, installations, photographies, poetic texts – is also metaphoric and alegoric, but her space is more fabulous.

It is most clearly visible in multi-media piece „Fairy Tale“ from the year 2006 (il. 14, il. 15), located in an abandoned cotton factory in Lodz, an inconic city for industrial changes in XIX and XX century, which consists of spatial realization, video and sound. Reffering to the history of Penelopa Michowska ennobles, „bewitches“ the reality. 

Agata Michowska, "Fairy Tale"

Agata Michowska, "Fairy Tale"

However, if you can refine an old cotton factory, it shouldn’t be done in case of tragic events. For this reason a piece „Travel“ from the year 2009 (il. 16), created for cycle exhibition which takes place annually at Prozna Street in spot of former Warsaw Ghetto, although also has the metaphoric character, it doesn’t intend to beautify the past but it opens us for it’s fantazmatic experience. A motionless man with a head covered with black hood is a executioner, a victim and ourselves – blind to the past, not seeing how another living plants a being cut in a planned manner, dictated by aesthetics. 

Agata Michowska, "Travel"

To issues related with history, memory, tradition, a nation and an identity reffers also video film by Michowska „History Lesson“ (il. 17), on which we see legs of a young girl, turing over pages of the book down on a table with her feet. This book turns out to be a symbol of objective history, The History of All Histories in which – as the auther says – „individal being are being dissolved irrevocably, moving to the non-existence“, and which is not being read by the young girl but profanated. 

Agata Michowska, "History Lesson"

In Michowska’s art the history is presented as carring meaning individual/subjective and collective. Both these meanings are combined in one piece:  „Josephine“ from the year  2009 roku (il. 18). Three video-projections which form „Josephine“  relativize the linear idea of the history to the time experienced from subjective perspective as cyclic.

Agata Michowska, "Josephine"


dr Aleksandra Łukaszewicz Alcaraz

A Head of Institute of History and Theory of Art at Faculty of Painting and New Media at Academy of Art in Szczecin (Poland).

A specialist in a field of philosophical aesthetics and of theory of culture and art. Presents an interdisciplinary approach, combining elements of aesthetical and social reflection with an analysis of artistic events.

Publishes scientific, critic, journalistic and literary texts for example in: “Nowa Krytyka” (“New Critics”), “Konteksty” (“Contexts”), “Rita Baum”, “Obieg”.

A member of editorial board of philosophical review “Nowa Krytyka” and of Polish Society of Aesthetics.

Participating in many conferences dedicated to scientific, artistic and social issues, and in monographs published after them.

In the year 2007 organized at University of Szczecin a national conference under a title: “Feminism and Radicalism within social movements and critical perspectives” and co-edited together with Jerzy Kochan a monograph after it. In the year 2012 obtained honorable mention in competition of Stefan Morawski for the best PhD thesis in the field of aesthetics, which has been written under a supervision of Prof. Alicja Kuczynska at the Institute of Aesthetics on Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology on University of Warsaw, and elaborated on grant of Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

In the effect appeared the dissertation “Epistemological Function of Photographic Image” which is now being published by editorial Scholar.

Invited to organize a panel session on ”Performativity of Images in Social Context” for International Congress of Aesthetics, which will be held at the end of July 2013 in Cracow and for which has invited polish and American theorists.

Leading many artistic projects in cooperation with national and international institutions, for example: dedicated to French humanistic photography, to Spanish experimental cinema (with Centro de la Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona) or a historical project dedicated to Empress Mary Feodorovna (who had been born in a main building of Academy of Art in Szczecin) (with other High Schools in Szczecin and in Petersburg).

In the academic year 2012-2013: Visiting Professor at University of Castilla-La Mancha, at Faculty of Fine Arts.

30 June 2017 / by / in

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