„I am interested in the way the role’s duality determines the individual’s place in society, and its experience of authenticity,” Zorka Wollny (born 1980) declares.’ The artist leans over the simplest gestures to seek the border between the self and a role, between the private and the artificial. She discovers the moments when we abandon ourselves and start to act; from the simple act of touching up one’s make-up, which is to present our „better self” (Making Up, 2003), to the moments when our behaviour is governed by social norms, customs, or simply architecture. „I am searching for the point when we start acting like someone else. And also the moment when we realise that something is wrong, that this is no longer ours.
I wonder whether we are aware that we are surrendering to something,” she says.
Surrendering to the outside influence and defending one’s individuality was the theme of I Live in IKEA (2004). The artist moved for a week to an IKEA store, fulfilling the typical dream about a cosy nest. She watched TV, wrote, ate sandwiches. With time, the high-gloss catalogue home started showing signs of actual inhabitation. Individuality, unplanned by the designers, became visible: scattered clothes, crumbs, toothpaste smears on the mirror. The artist asked the shop assistants not to clean her „home.” The customers usually tried to hide their surprise, but some were clearly worried by the sight of a woman sleeping in the store. Wollny showed the process of the familiarisation of exhibited intimacy.
Privacy and private space was the theme of Family Atmosphere exhibition. Her work is a deck of playing cards featuring icons of household utensils and appliances: frying pans, washing machines, windows, and the reverse side is decorated with a roof-tile pattern. Each viewer was able to build their own (how impermanent, though) dream home. In the same exhibition Wollny showed the film Aunties (2004) with two ladies sitting over Sunday lunch and chatter, the TV murmuring in the background. Only when we listen closely to the dialogue will we find out that in the monitor there sits the lunch’s third participant: Wollny, a private and public person at the same time.
The relationship between intimacy and space – especially public space – was the theme of the film series Sabanci University (2005), made during the artist’s residence in Istanbul. We see empty lecture halls and corridors – rows of chairs and chequer boards of tables in perfect order. Suddenly something moves at the edge of the frame, some piece of clothing falls on the floor, we partially see someone’s head, a shoe slips off a foot, a lover couple is hiding in the corner. In the empty rooms there are us and them, inevitably exposed to public view. Wollny places us in an awkward position: we feel embarrassed, neither us nor them should be there. Wollny demonstrates the incompatibility of the private and public spheres: there is no room here for intimacy, it is unplanned, even forbidden. In Sabanci, unlike Andy Warhol in his 1963 film Sleep, Wollny, instead of publicising intimacy, negotiates it, restores its mystery.
The artist is a keen observer. The material of her work is human behaviour in various places, its cyclical, ritual nature. She watches it closely and then works through with a group of performers. Everything influences the way we move and what we say, so Wollny shows this spectacle. Nothing is innocent: neither oppressive architecture (e.g. the hallway of some institution), nor the dignity of a place (e.g. museum). Wollny created three musicand-dance performances for three different public spaces – the staircase, the hallway, and the exhibition room: Concert for High Heels (Collegium Novum, Jagiellonian University, 2004), Concert for Landesmuseum (Munster, 2005, together with Anna Szwajgier), and The Museum (National Museum. Cracow, 2006). In the Concert for High Heels, the main element are steps – the clacking of the high heels of a dozen girls resounding in an empty room with great acoustics (the key here are gender associations, the heel as a symbol of femininity); in the hallway of the Munster museum, Wollny made visible the empty and frequented spaces by playing a concert for the doorways and walking paths in architecture, and in the museum in Cracow dancers studied the poses visitors assume when examining works of art. So typical ones that some of the guests did not realise at all that an additional ballet of poses and gestures was under way. Thus Wollny analyses also the functions of institutions in general.
The way private behaviour is shaped by various systems was discussed in the Whistling Workshop project (2004), realised as part of the Work Safety and Hygiene exhibition at Gdansk’s Instytut Sztuki Wyspa. Whistling Workshop spoke not so much about people as about the enthusiasm that the system is selling to us. Present under communism, it is also present today, in the new, brave reality of McJobs.”2 It shows that the system uses methods based on imposing emotions and creating a pretence of privacy. The artist seeks the authenticity that cannot be taken away from us.
In her films and performances she often uses aesthetic, painterly, terms, alluding to the concept of the modern tableaux vivants, only instead of transposing them into reality, she translates them into video images. Together with Roman Dziadkiewicz she filmed Still Lives (2004), not the Dutch ones, though, but those from the Cracow Academy’s painting atelier: dirty rags, chipped pots, some nondescript bunches. Can these ugly things be the contemporary vanitas? The artists discredit a genre, only to rehabilitate it a moment later with barely noticeable, minute gestures such as a lid flying away or leaking water. Dutch painting, interiors with a hidden secret, such as those painted by Hendrick van der Burch, is also something the Sabanci series refers to. Equally painterly in nature is the video Squash (2005). The camera is positioned behind a three-part glass pane, a Renaissance convergent perspective is running into the background. The players look as if they were dancing. Wollny contemplates the beauty of the body and geometry. She says, „The situation of being locked up and watched imposed itself on me. You are a spectacle. I wanted to make such a moving picture in which you have the clear divisions of the playing field besides you, and on them the lines delineating the court. (…) I wanted to introduce the accents of the colourful dresses and the fluidity of the girls’ movements into that space. To paint with them in the frame. I thought about the framing, and in it about reflections, moving patches of colour. Pure painting.”
Text published in the book „New Phenomena in Polish Art After 2000”, Center for Contemporary Art – Ujazdowski Castle, 2009
1. Z. Wollny, Projekt Muzeum, MA dissertation, Cracow Art Academy, 2006.
2 Na biegunie prywatności Z Zorką Wollny rozmawia Dominik Kuryłek i Ewa Małgorzata Tatar. 2006. http://artpapier.com/