Video artist and photographer. Born in 1985 in Lublin, Poland. Lives and works in Kraków and Berlin.
Agnieszka Polska creates video works employing mainly found material, such as archive photography and illustrations, which she subjects to subtle interventions, whether animating them or working them into the existing image. In the process, the artist changes their primary context, simultaneously creating illusions of documentation. She investigates the impact of documentation on its future reception. Her visually powerful explorations of lost times or half-forgotten figures of the Polish avant-garde, turn to how the past is fictionalised and re-worked. Her animated videos evoke a sense of melancholia, and a longing for something that perhaps never was, but which she makes real at least on film. In an interview with Art Review, Polska said that, "Slow, unnaturally calm movements are present in most of my videos. I mainly work with animated film so a meditative, contemplative quality is present also in the process of production, which is very important for me. Each project needs a lot of time and concentration (for viewer and maker)".
As Polska says,
Misunderstandings or erroneous interpretations are all factors, which push art forward creating new values and posing new questions. An archive - as every living organism - is alive and subject to incessant change, forever multiplying images of itself. The elements negated and rejected during the process of archivisation, later appear as the dark matter of our subconsciousness.
She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, studying in Agata Pankiewicz’s photography studio (2005 - 2010) and from the Universitaet der Kunste Berlin in the class of Hito Steyerl (2008 - 2009). Today she is represented by the Żak/ Branicka Gallery in Berlin. She first began exhibiting her works in Kraków in 2007. She has exhibited across Europe and in the United States, most recently at the Calvert 22 Gallery in London.
The series Medical Gymnastics (2008), old photographs moved and stretched illustrating an old gymnastics manual (an animated film) and photographs from a book about children gymnastics, created by removing clothes of the exercising girls with Photoshop (a series of graphics). The Calendar (2008), an animated film based on photographs from German newspapers of the 1930s, shows the tranquil landscape and sounds of nature constantly disrupted by the buzzing of flies, introducing surrealistic accents.
Her project Death of a King (2009), a series of black and white collages, is based on film stills illustrating the sexual revolution. The artist also responds to the rituals described by anthropologists familiar with primitive cultures - the suspension of rights after the death of the king - in order to create a vision of society after a catastrophe. Polska's works explore a history of misunderstandings, omissions and black holes in art history. The animated videos and photo collages are fake documents about pieces of art, or artists that never existed, or those which fell into oblivion for unknown reasons. For her solo exhibition at the Zak | Branicka Gallery in Berlin in 2010, she presented Three Videos with Narration, an ironic triptych exploring a history of misunderstandings, omissions and black holes in art history.
Her most recent videos include The Forgetting of Proper Names, My Favorite Things and Sensitization to Colour. Each is only a few minutes long, whittling down images and the emotions they evoke to a concise dose. The titles of the works also borrow from the past, referencing the conceptual art of the 1960s. The Forgetting of Proper Names (2009) and My Favorite Things (2010) present works by artists including Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria and Wolf Vostell that are pulled from their primary context and, as a consequence, deprived of their ‘artistic’ function. The video Sensitization to Colour (2009) refers to the performance of the same title made in 1968 by an avant-garde artist, Włodzimierz Borowski, one of the key figures of Polish conceptualism. The film is a hypothetical reconstruction of the performance, based on black-and-white photographs documenting it.
Watch Agnieszka Polska's video works in the online archives of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
In March 2012 several of her films were screened in London as part of a group show at the Calvert 22 Gallery and at the Tate Modern, alongside a retrospective of documentary films about Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow. She was among the 21 finalists for the Pinchuk Future Generation Prize 2012.
In 2013 Agnieszka Gryczkowska and Paul Robertson curated Polska's first solo show in Edinburgh, setting her works into a contemporary context of appropriating found footage and archival materials in art. The curators cite Frederic Jameson's "historical amnesia" and Hal Foster's assertion that contemporary art is becoming characterised by an "archival impulse". According to Foster, "artists are often drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects, in art and in history alike, that might offer points of departure again".
2013 was also the year in which the artist was nominated for the prestigious Views competiton. For the nominees' exhibition at Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw, she prepared a video work Future Days, which pictured a heaven for artists. The work featured masked actors representing iconic figures such as Bas Jan Ader, Lee Lozano, Charlotte Posenenske, Włodzimierz Borowski, and Jerzy Ludwiński.
Polska was one of the four artists from Poland invited to participate in the 2014 Biennale of Sydney (21.03-9.06). At the 19 edition of the event, themed 'You Imagine What You Desire', the artist was to show her video How the Work is Done, a re-enactment of a strike led by students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków as they locked themselves in the ceramics workshop for ten days and transformed the everyday activities of artists into an act of protest. Polska, however, resigned from participating in the Biennale, joining a group of artists boycotting the event, in reaction to the organizers' partnership with Transfield, an Australian company managing the offshore detention of asylum seekers.
Editor: Agnieszka Le Nart, March 2012, Update: Ania Micińska, March 2014