Question 1. Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Artist Roman Stańczak: I’m looking for a form that will, as a rule, express my time, but also the absurdity of human exploration, the existential limitation, when I discover that there is still something else, but I cannot prove it. For me, sculpture is no longer just a form of building a new reality, but rather an explanation of the one that surrounds me. Matter as a hope of finding some answers.
Curators Łukasz Ronduda and Łukasz Mojsak: Our curatorial choice in the project Flight embraces the idea formulated by represented artist Roman Stańczak in the early 1990s—applying his signature strategy of turning existing everyday objects inside out to a full size aircraft. As we now return to that never-implemented concept after nearly thirty years, a luxury private airplane is used as the basis for Stańczak’s sculpture. With a reworking of this emblematic and connotation-heavy object, a continuum of reflection is established that connects the precarious situation of the 1990s’ democratic and capitalist transition in Eastern Europe to today’s crises posed by uneven distribution of resources and excessive and unequal accumulation of capital, as well as the resulting rise of populism and resentment.
Over the years, Stańczak’s concept of an inside-out aircraft has grown around new contexts, particularly those related to the Polish presidential airplane crash in 2010, which became a new source of major divisions in Polish society. A national trauma and the most divisive event in the country’s latest history, the catastrophe continues to haunt the Polish community as one of the underlying causes of national conflict. We believe that this issue can be meaningfully addressed through Stańczak’s sculptural, artistic language which is neither profanatory nor devoid of critical reflection, and thus opens up potential dialogue.
Spanning three decades as an artistic concept, and materialising in 2019 when the rift in Polish society seems to be at its peak, Flight traces a link between the capitalist transition that left large segments of society disenfranchised and the modern-day division of more symbolic cuts that mark a further iteration of the conflict that runs deep within the Polish community.
What it takes to address this conflict is a sincere hindsight that looks at the social and political reality after the fall of communism and an honest challenge thrown to national traumas that have not yet been worked through. The sculpture is not only a commentary on the current state of affairs and a graphic illustration of the current crisis, but also a look back into the processes that brought us to the ‘interesting times’ that we now need to confront.
Question 2. What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?
Roman Stańczak: I feel responsible for the community that I live in. It is indeed a kind of responsibility. My work involves the history of my environment, my family and the transformations of the last thirty years. At the same time, I want to offer my own vision of the times we live in.
Curators Łukasz Ronduda and Łukasz Mojsak: We regard this year’s Polish participation as a prism through which to view the connections between global problems and their local iterations: this is where we locate a sense of national representation in the realm of art projects that address such problems. Charged with a plethora of contexts that respond directly to the situation in Poland during the last thirty years, we have also positioned Flight as a powerful statement concerning universal issues faced by everyone today.
The private aircraft Stańczak uses for his sculptural intervention is a status symbol and a means of transport used by the so-called ‘1%’—the uber-wealthy social class. To deconstruct this embodiment of accumulation of capital is to deliver a critical commentary on reality marked by economic and social inequalities.
On an even more universal note, Stańczak’s project articulates the conflict between modernity and spirituality. The piece shows how the annihilation of one of these spheres contributes to the expansion of the other. Stańczak seeks to show that people are in need of spiritual change as they face the negation of the familiar order of things, and their safe existence in the world is disturbed. This aircraft, turned inside out, stands as a symbol of the current lack of a sense of security, despite the many political promises.
Question 3. How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Roman Stańczak: I work in the pavilion using the method of turning objects inside out. For me, this method has retained its topicality since the 1990s. It is the idea of ‘mixquic’, a reversal—as in the Mexican city of Míxquic, where on the day of the dead people bring food and drinks to the graves and dance the whole night. But the most important thing is the very matter of the objects I turn inside out. Today, I know more about it than I used to know then. I look for a spirit in there, but it is also an action full of helplessness: the spirit is elusive, it constantly escapes me. In this sense, turning things inside out is about hope.
Łukasz Ronduda: Flight is a development of previous curatorial projects pursued at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw: New National Art (2012, co-curator Sebastian Cichocki) and Bread and Roses. Artists and the Class Divide (2016, co-curator Natalia Sielewicz).
The former, organised as part of Solidarity Action at the Berlin Biennale, 2012 (curated by Artur Żmijewski), consisted of turning the Museum, associated with leftist avant-garde tradition, into a showcase of art created by radical national and religious circles. The goal was to establish a hitherto impossible site of encounter and dialogue in the divided Polish society and to approach art as a path to unity. The latter project was devised after the Polish parliamentary elections in 2015, which shot the right-wing party Law and Justice to power. The exhibition reflected on the reasons of the defeat of a certain modernisation project which was rejected by the society.
Łukasz Mojsak: A seminal curatorial step leading to this year’s Venice project came with the exhibition Communis—Renegotiating Community (2016, co-curator Szymon Maliborski) at the Labirynt Gallery. The show featured left-leaning contemporary artists who sought to approach religion and spirituality as a field of potential dialogue in the divided society. The stakes consisted of showing that these questions may not only be divisive, but also unite the community, and that they are closely related to attempts at overcoming the existing divisions. This is what Commun is has in common with Stańczak’s Flight, a project that also concentrates on underlying social divisions that constantly emerge anew. They may change, but they continue to exist and operate. Not only is contemporary art able to approach questions of spirituality, but it should also approach them, since its language is perfect for that purpose.
Our further curatorship is oriented towards building on the inherent potential in Stańczak’s project to unite the two sides of the socio-political barricade that are currently in conflict. The decision of the competition jury that unanimously accepted the project for the Polish Pavilion and which comprised representatives of these two conflicted camps, is a signal that agreement beyond existing divisions is possible.
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
For more information on the Venice Biennale go to www.labiennale.org/en/…