Friday, 29 March 2013

Weaving Parallels

Last week, the show "Splendour of Textiles" at Warsaw's Zachęta Gallery made me discover some fantastic tapestry pieces, along with the fact that these are a big deal in the landscape of Polish art. 

Here the highlights and the links they wove in my head. 

1. Woven Words

I did not know that the inventor of the amorphous Abakans and dinosaur of Polish art Magdalena Abakanowicz had also done some writing: 

The large-scale copy of the Warsaw Life newspaper from May 25, 1973 struck me with its sober accuracy. Bizarrely it also made me think of Tracy Emin's woven manifestations exhibited two years ago at the Hayward Gallery. Their individualistic messages contrast blatantly with Abakanowicz's mirror on the propaganda of a Communist regime. 

2. Cut out for it

The rare non-textile object in the show was Katarzyna Józefowicz's staggering black-and-white "carpet" created from magazine cuttings.

Katarzyna Józefowicz, Dywan Czarno-Bialy, 2001-2003
The muted faces, hugging the floor, were like contemplative cousins to Geoffrey Farmer's exuberant installations, like Leaves of Grass (which I admired at last year's dOCUMENTA) and Surgeon and the Photographer (currently on at the Curve in London's Barbican). 

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass, 2012

3. Of Communist Blocks and Gay-ish Rainbows

I was balled over by Julita Wojcik's Falowiec, a crocheted model of Poland's longest building, a 850m-long housing block in Gdansk.

Julita Wojcik, Wavy Block 2005-2006, 5.5 metres long

While researching the project, I discovered that Miss Wojcik also created the rainbow which dominates Warsaw's Plac Zbawiciela a.k.a. Plac Hipstera (hipster square). 

The work - whose homophile message has never been confirmed - consists of 16,000 artificial flowers, and has fallen victim to several mysterious attacks. 
After a fire around New Year's Eve, the rainbow has now been left half-burnt, as a symbolic reminder (here a recent New York Time's article on the infamous sculpture). 

So much for the versatility of textiles. 

Monday, 25 March 2013


A range of mountains, castle spires covered by spider webs, a punk Balkenhol in the making...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Larry Clark: Warsaw/Texas

For the special showing of Larry Clark's new film, the tunnel-like projection room of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (MoMaW) was packed with anyone who thought they're someone. Startist Wilhelm Sasnal turned up ten minutes early wearing a rain-coat with its hoodie up:

"Is this going to be pornographic?"

The former furniture department store "Emilia", the current location of MoMaW

The blonde curator willow nodded with a smile.

Despite winning last year's best film prize at the Rome Festival, Clark chose to circumvent cinemas and made Marfa Girl accessible only over his website. To cut out the "crooked Hollywood distributors" or to avoid censure?


Neither he nor Mr. Sasnal need have worried about the latter. Sure, the inhabitants of the Texan slacker town Marfa - including the film's protagonist, sixteen year-old Adam ("a young Mick Jagger") - take drugs and have groupsex. But it's nothing we haven't seen before in Kids or Ken Park.

Marfa's artist & "slut" in residence, Drake Burnette
What is new, is Clark's treatment of racial and class tensions between the town's police force and its Mexican community, and insights into the alternative spirituality of Marfa's inhabitants. In one excellent scene, for example, Adam's mother and a Mexican healer discuss the curative effects of sounds, and the trauma of burying their pets. 

But apart from these parts, which are fun and courageous, Clark still dwells too much on the glamorization of teenhood. Seemingly endless scenes of Adam hugging his emaciated girlfriend in a field look like the making of for a Teen Vogue photoshoot. Close-ups of their Converse shoes and ripped jeans reinfoce the feeling that what we are watching is some kind of shabby-chic ideal. 

Larry Clark shooting his crew with model Jessica Miller (why?) for V Magazine

When the sun set on the young couple and a long-haired guy rode past on a horse, the Warsaw audience laughed. Clark might have been playing with Americana clichés, but in the process he got wrapped up in his own. 

Watch Marfa Girl here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

In Praise of the Nude

This week I went to the Ukraine in search of ancestral roots. In Lviv I marveled at Art Nouveau architecture, bought pickled mushrooms from babushkas, and found my great-grandmother's house dwarfed by brutalist Soviet blocks (more on that soon).

And yet, what impressed me most were the Russian-style steam-baths, the banyas.

A local recommended one that hadn't changed since the 1960s. In front of the Communist building, an old lady sold branches of birch, chestnut and fir-trees. Inside, hoards of threadbare males abounded. Old men, tadpoles, big boys. There was something intensely pagan about getting naked together, sweating, and beating each other with hot leaves. Casually homoerotic too. 

After the steam room, we jumped into ice-cold pools and got lie-down massages in front of everyone. The sartorial Perestroika was as addictive as it was liberating. It also made me realise what an unnecessary fuss most cultures and religions make about getting naked; how limiting the towels of saunas and hamams really are.  

Time to free our inner naturalist.

Branches in the Banya

Lily Cole by Juergen Teller