Zorka Wollny experiences the immediate reality through art. In her videos and performances, she looks closely at seemingly familiar personalities, spaces, at the conventions defining the limits of her world. The main subject of her practice is private space, family – women, above all – as well as her girl friends, vis-a-vis whom Wollny defines herself, reflecting on her position in the social order. Besides that, she is interested in that specific form of public space – art itself – the existence in which she had consciously adopted as her mode of participating in reality. Filming and staging group performances, Wollny examines the artistic architecture, paying attention to the modes of representation, the conditions of perception, and the interpretations offered from both within and without the art system. At the same time, Wollny never positions herself as an impartial observer. She always participates in what he looks at, or rather, she looks at what she participates in. Her works are neither an ultimate cause nor a purpose of action. For Wollny, art is a research apparatus. A device that she uses to share her perceptions, without any categorical judgements, just inviting the partner – the viewer – to look at the world in a different way. Encouraging them to reflect on reality and the place they occupy in it.
These characteristic features are already present in Wollny’s earlier works, those from the student period. Such as in Hi, Daddy (2003), a film showing her family’s reaction to her plan of going to Mumbai, India, to attend the World Social Forum alongside members of fundacja 36,6. Recording her family members’ reaction to the plan, Wollny showed how she was treated by them as a daughter, sister, and artist. She presented a young girls process of maturing and the obstacles on her way towards self-determination.
Lady Jane, a video portrait from three years later (2006), a compilation of short documentary sequences featuring the artist’s sister,can be viewed as an expression of nostalgia for the girlish energy that Zorka had noticed in the adolescent Janka. The fascinated artist watched and captured on film a spontaneous, unconscious power present in the teenagers delicate movement, a power doomed to be eventually tamed by social convention.
Wollny approached the theme from a somewhat different angle in Guys (2003) , in which her girl friends talk about their boyfriends. By removing sound from the picture, Wollny highlighted the protagonists’ uncontrolled gestures, through which they expressed their attitude towards their boyfriends, the other girls listening to them, and the artist behind the camera. Showing this masquerade, Wollny introduced the viewer right into the middle of a girls’ circle, emphasising the viewers role as a voyeur who looks, but does not participate. Thus, in a post-feminist vein, she exploited the meanings of the so called female gestures functioning in culture, conducting a critique of the power of the gaze.
A work that can be interpreted as a deconstruction of the constraints imposed on women by authority is Squash (2005), a film in which the artist shows herself and her friends from a turkish student campus practicing, in glazed compartments, a sport invented by prisoners for prisoners. Capturing the young women’s movements in static frame or in large close-up making it impossible to see the whole, wollny relativised the observer-observed situation. It is not clear in this film who is inside and who is outside. Wollny puts a mirror in front of the viewers face, asking whether both sides aren’t perhaps victims of the same, top-down order.
The deconstructive power of girls’ joint action as a result of using a female language was also emphasised in Concert for High Heels (2004), a performance by Wollny, Anna Szwajgier, and a group their girl friends, in which they symbolically took control of the space of a seemingly objective, scientific discourse, represented by the Jagiellonian University’s Collegium Novum building.
Of a similar nature wa s the performance Museum (2006), enacted by a group of dancers according to a script composed by Wollny wi th ‘natural’ gestures and poses she had observed when watching visitors of the Fin de siècle exhibition at the National Museum in Cracow. The ephemeral piece revealed the conventionality of the situation of a hidden disciplining of movements in a space defined by an institution. Accepting the general principles of movi ng inside the gallery, Wollny assumed control of the rhythm of the movements performed there. She has continued to conduct this kind of subtle institutional criticism. Polonaise for the 20th- and 21st-Century Collection (2007), performed at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, had dancers interact wi th the works of the classics of avant-garde art, which turned the critical gaze towards the historical-artistic discourse, within whi ch Wollny had decided to operate as a woman artist.
The attitude is also present in Lucia Mad (2008), where Wollny-the actress walks around the park in Orońsko and examines the sculptures displayed there in search of features regarded as typically ‘feminine’ by the traditional art history discourse. The artist interacts with the pieces in an exaltedly erotic manner, perversely imbuing them with qualities desired by the heteronormative discourse of art history. A destructive i mpact of endorsements comi ng from wi thout is something she seems to be pointing out also in Lulu (2008), a film inspired by a staging of the Frank Wedekind play at Cracow’s Stary Teatr. Wollny asked Marta Ojrzyńska, who played the mai n character, to re-enact her role at her own apartment, wi thout any audience or the other actors. The result is a film about a single day in the life of a girl who silently accepts the roles men impose on her. Wollny highlighted the gestures improvised by the actress for her character, thus blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. Eliminating the other actors, she made it obvious that Lulu was a prisoner of herself.
Bearing an affinity to that work is Daughters (2008), a fictionalised documentary inspired by Bożena Umińska-Keff’s Opus about Mother and Fatherland, in which Wollny shows women from her own family entangled in long-standing roles that are like a burden passed from generation to generation. Portraying her mother, aunts, sisters, herself, and her grandmother in the background, Wollny shows the nightmare that women create for themselves by agreeing to function within the heteronormative discourse. Similarly disturbing is Film Noir (2009), a film in whi ch the artist has captured her own female friends as a ‘point of reference for the fulfilments of her own femininity’ . Showing them at night, gazing ostentatiously absently into the camera, the artist seems to be asking whether the ‘girl circle’ is not just another version of the bell jar? Is the role she plays among her friends not just another trap?
This kind of ‘fever of the mind’ is characteristic for Wollny’s practice, an artist unusually sensitive to the systems of authority determining our everyday functioning. Asking seemingly simple questions — what is means to be a daughter, a sister, a woman, a love, an artist — Wollny criticises the social roles we adopt. She does so from a feminist perspective or, as Ewa Małgorza ta Tatar suggests, from the position of ‘girlie feminism’ , which she uses as an effective means of deconstructing the discourse, whi le remembering that what is allowed can, wi th ti me, begin to discipline.
1.Zorka Wollny (born 1980) studied at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts in 2001-2006, graduating from Zbigniew Sałaj and Grzegorz Sztwiertnia’s Intermedia Studio.
2. Foundation 36, 6 – A foundation launched by Roman Dziadkiewicz and Wojciech Kosma in 2003 as a continuation of the idea of the Stowarzyszenie Artystyczne Ośrodek Zdrowia (SAOZ). In 2004, the Foundation, including Wollny, carried out a Thinking Workshop at the World Social Forum in Mumbai.
3.The presence of girlie themes in Wollny’s works was noticed by Ewa Małgorzata Tatar in texts such as ‘Fala za falą, czyli w co się bawią dziewczyny’ [Wave after wave, or how the girls play], Panoptikum, no. 4, 2005; ‘Oniryczny subiektywizm’ [Oneiric subjectivism], Format, no. 48, 2006; and ‘Przesłuchując postfeminizm: czy czułość, zmysłowość, szaleństwo i miłość lesbijska dają szanse sztuce na przepisanie narracji „kobiecych”?’ [Questioning post-feminism: Do sensitivity, sensuality, madness, and lesbian love give art a chance to rewrite “feminine” narratives?], Kresy, no. 3–4, 2008. Tatar identified also the main tropes inc Wollny’s practice: sensuality and its critical potential, masquerade, post-feminist attitude.