AGATA M. SKRZYPEK
Dialog Magazine. Nov 06, 2020
We were relieved to enter the school grounds and only then did we slow down. A quarter of an hour earlier we were withdrawing with a slightly panicked crowd from Rondo de Gaulle, where the nationalists threw a few firecrackers. We returned to Aleje Jerozolimskie, closer to Rondo Dmowskiego. As the street was completely clogged, we entered the buildings again and reached Komuna Warszawa Theater from the side of Wspólna Street, where we had to pass by armed gendarmes protecting the Church of St. Barbara. At the sight of our banners, they positioned themselves tighter at the entrance gate. We were only two of us.
Our journey through the city on the memorable Friday evening of October 30, 2020 now seems to me to be an additional performative response to the curatorial reflection on the “Common Area”, a program within which, among others, the work Let’s Make Noise, Sisters! by Zorka Wollny was created:
The common area is a place where you can turn your back on others, away from non-owns. Common area, quickly fenced. Common area, protected area. It gives shelter, but also can be a threat. An area with your piece of space that you co-shape, that you care for or not, that you identify with or cannot look at. Who exactly does it belong to? Who sets its frames and draws the boundaries?
– you can read on the Komuna website.
Zorka Wollny, an interdisciplinary artist, composer and performer, recently appointed as the plenipotentiary for equal treatment at the Academy of Art in Szczecin, explores the area of manifestations of female anger. It is an area that is definitely unifying, inclusive, not separating. Of course, it can be said that it is not only about anger, but also about social roles, witchcraft and madness, various exclusions and threats, stereotypes and capitalist appropriation of bodies, but all these topics have been gathered under the banner of one key, usually suppressed and culturally male-centered emotion.
The activist and writer Linda West writes in her book „The Witches Are Coming“ that for twenty years she had to gather the courage to get angry at least once – and only then did she begin to define herself as a feminist. “In anger, we live more fully, more freely, more intensely, more sensitive, more politically,” argues the journalist and essayist Soraya Chemaly. Anyway, „Let’s Make Noise, Sisters!“ literally means making noise in the spirit of utopian and equal sisterhood, but it is also an encouragement to act, attract attention, speak with your own voice, take it boldly, in a community.
The performance-installation, created in collaboration with Zorka Wollny and over twenty Polish and foreign artists, consists of ten artistic stops. In its form and drama, it fits completely into the format of the gallery exhibition. Most of the performances have been recorded as film clips and you can watch them many times, in any order, while visiting the school grounds. Several of them, especially „More Love“ and „Mad Women in the Attic“, are viewed as a testimony to a longer process of artistic search, combining breathing and voice techniques with work with the body and energy, drawn from various sources, rituals and orders (folk, Far Eastern, historical). Others – like „Strengthening Rituals„ or „ We are Pissed Off“ – took the form of intimate on-camera performances.
Two live performances stand out to the fore – „Fancywork“ and „The Ballad about Exploitation and Uprising“. The first begins with a soothing social image of a long row of women embroidering something with colorful threads on a ribbon of white fabric, humming in harmony with their noses. However, they break out of the quiet mumbling – like flashes of the subconsciousness – the words: violence, rape, homophobia, sexism, trash, each time summed up with a refrain in the rhythm of the fight: “let me get rid of you, get rid of you, get rid of you”. The chant and slogans gradually increase in strength, turning into hisses, snarls, grunts, clicks, into sounds coming from the places that resonate deeply in the body. They are accompanied by louder and louder percussion, which it is not known whether it is trying to drown out the voice of the embroiderers or, conversely, to make them scream if they want to be heard, to utter in full voices their disagreement with domestic violence, racial divisions and harassment. At the same time, it seems important to me that there is no room for chaos and chance in the angry score – the voices and breaths are synchronized, the sounds harmonize, and the whole is disciplined by the rhythm. Enraged community with a strong framework, sublimation of anger into a work of art.
The second of the live performances is equally sonicaly satisfying – the women sitting in a chessboard arrangement in the amphitheatric audience peel potatoes and sing an onomatopoeic, polyphonic song. I can hear “pleasant to the ears” gagging, stuttering, but the sixth sense tells me that it is about extracting subversive strength from stereotypical female talk, gossip, meetings. But also to indicate that the easiest way to talk about things that hurt and hurt is in passing, in the midst of the daily hustle and bustle, between washing and tomato soup. The murmur gradually turns – at the pace and rhythm of the perfectly composed sound tissue – into words of complaint and helplessness, which, however, remain hidden behind mental shortcuts (“children”, “man”), behind quotes (“a woman must have money and the room of her own”) and finally behind the English language in which some words are spoken. The „Ballad of Exploitation and Rising“ is a metaphor for the strategy of living life in protection and invisibility, while at the same time disagreeing with the existing conditions. While „Fancywork“ was accompanied by cleansing anger, „Ballad“ by his younger, unloved sister – frustration.
Intriguingly – in a dramatic sense – it is appropriate to place a linear, formally classical lecture by Ewa Majewska „Technomagic“ among the other film performances looped in time. For the visitor, such an arrangement means the possibility of joining the group of listeners at a virtually random moment in the lecture and persevering in concentration for as long as the perception, accustomed to shorter intervals, allows. Listening to „Technomagic“ from beginning to end is not possible anyway, if each performance is given as much time as it is calculated beforehand and only afterwards reaches the last room.
I was there at the moment when Majewska, wearing a mask with a red lightning stripe, admitted that she was relieved to greet the blasphemies on the banners, in the shouts and hashtags of the striking women. She recalled how over the years she had tried to change the slogan: “abortion by choice” to “abortion by need”, perfectly aware of the influence of language on the perception and shaping of reality. Sumptuous “get the fuck out!” It signals – according to Majewska – that the dictionary with which it is possible to negotiate on common ground is over, and that the situation in which we find ourselves is simply unacceptable. Although in the program map, which each visitor received at the entrance, we read a completely different summary of the lecture, the very fact that the discussion has moved from feminism as antifascism to attempts to theoretically tame the street manifestation of female anger and disobedience is significant.
The aforementioned “map” is probably my favorite element of „Let’s Make Noise, Sisters!“. It has little to do with the classic exhibition program, except that it makes it easier to navigate between installations and organizes them through titles. On the other hand, under the titles, we will not find descriptions of objects, but excerpts from the writings of several generations of feminists: artists, scientists, activists, writers, columnists, poets – from Virginia Woolf to Rupi Kaur. Ah, how many books to read I have noted thanks to this “map” !
This theoretical background confirms the erudite nature of Zorka Wollny’s entire concept. The artist has pulled many other links that link „Let’s Make Noise, Sister!“ with the work of women, placing her spectacle at the center of the flow of feminist thought and practice. „The Ballad on Exploitation and Uprising“ is a group re-enactment of the famous potato peeling by Julia Wójcik in Zachęta in 2001 – then considered a scandalous work, because offensive to – as it was written – the audience’s intelligence and the payer’s budget. The slogans embroidered on a long white fabric bring to mind the work of Monika Drożyńska, whose multi-stage project „Flags“ is based on building an understanding or political tension during talks taking place during joint hand embroidery.
The recording of the performance „The problem“ relates to the video „Change. My problem is the problem of a woman“ by Ewa Partum from 1979. In the original performance, make-up artists bustle around the nude performer, and the camera records up close how they age the right half of her body and face with make-up and plastics. In the finale, Partum says: “On the floor I wrote: the artist has no biography. Because the artist – unlike an artist – has a biography. What matters for an artist is whether she is young or old. ” Meanwhile, in Zorka Wollny’s video it is no longer the body and appearance, but the very fact of women’s existence that turns out to be problematic. The inscription on the pavement: “my problem is a woman’s problem”, painted with national colors, can be seen from a bird’s eye view. The performers start to remove it from the public space with mops – white and red begin to form parallel stripes, pedestrian lanes, stripes of the Polish, Belarusian, Austrian flag, and if you look sideways, also the Maltese flag. The problem of women is symbolically erased, and in the inevitable context of current events, we can say: erasing women as a state problem, on behalf of the state, for the sake of the state.
These are not the only references to the history of feminist and women’s performances that Zorka Wollny decided to weave into her performance. „Let’s Make Noise, Sisters!“ is like a communication center, creating connections between the practices, philosophy, everyday life and art of women in the past and present, in Poland and abroad. It is a bottomless archive that is open to spontaneous transformations at the same time.
It was strange to break one’s own strike in favor of the theatrical narrative of women’s rebellion; it was strange to try to cool down on demand in order to redirect the bloodstream of sensitivity and focus from high speed to the reception of art – although it was helped by hot tea and small talk about other performances presented before entering the Commune Theater; it was strange to walk between installations with banners in hand, like some extra-curricular sub-performers or spontaneous commentators.
That evening, life gave answers to questions posed by art. Finally.