Some characteristic features of Simon's art can be observed in these early works. The main topic here is the problem of catastrophe, an approaching end of civilisation, which could be foreshadowed by computer games. The artist does not point to the source of this threat. On the one hand, he makes objects which suggest an approaching cataclysm, on the other, he gathers hints and constructs tools with the help of which a human being can free himself/herself from civilisation and will survive in the face of the catastrophe. This attitude is based on the thought of anarchists who propagated the idea of individual rebellion against the system and state. This rebellion finds its expression in Simon's individual creativity, and consequently, in his aspiring for self sufficiency. Lukasz Ronduda described it as an "anarchic and pragmatic attitude in the face of contemporary knowledge of reality based on overproduction."
Simon studied sociology and psychology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. His artistic activity began around 2001. As VJ Jansi he cooperated with Commbo group, making visualisations for music in clubs and with the 36,6 Foundation. He is author of interactive installations, videos, objects. Simon takes inspiration from computer games, Internet and the archive (in its multiple meanings). He lives and works in Cracow.
His artistic début took place in 2002 during the Novart.pl Festival in Cracow. There he presented Carpet Invaders - a simple computer game whose board was an image of a carpet projected on he floor. Within the limits marked by the edging in the style of Eastern carpets, a space ship navigated by the viewer shoots at elements of the oriental ornament. The next year, Simon made another interactive installation entitled Balwan (Snowman, 2003). The power of the voice of a person in the projection room influences the projection speed of a film in which children are building a snowman. A viewer becomes a supervisor - the louder he/she utters orders, the faster the work goes.
In his film Odlot (Departure/Take Off) from 2003 the church towers of Kraków become rockets which go off into space one after another, leaving the skyline totally flat. It is already in this amusing animation (the Polish title can also be read as referring to the state of drug intoxication) that one finds both the vision of catastrophe and of escape. In the work Kanal (Canal, 2004) Simon placed a sound system under a sewer drain which, from time to time, emitted the voice of Charlie Chaplin from "The Great Dictator" imitating Adolf Hitler. Placed on the old market square in Bytom, the work alluded to the fears that as the consequence of Polish access to the European Union, the Germans would come to the Silesia district and demand the restoration of their former property.
However, the catastrophe is marked explicitly by slight shakes of reality, for example a shaking glass of water (Lekkie trzesienie ziemi / Slight Earthquake, 2004) or paintings swaying on the wall, as if the building was moving just like a ship on the waves (Sztorm / Storm). A vision of catastrophe was also at work in Pozar w kwaterze glownej strazy Pozarnej / Fire At Fire Department Headquarters (2005) - an architectonic model of an existing building with a smoke generator placed inside. Fire spreads in the headquarters of an institution responsible for extinguishing fires - a vision of irreversible disaster. In the work Smród / Smell in turn, presented in the exhibition Bad News at Kronika Gallery, Bytom, in 2006, the artist filled one of the exhibition rooms with the smell of burning, which could suggest a recent explosion.
The other side of Simon's artistic practice referring to catastrophic visions are numerous tools constructed by the artist on the basis of the information and instructions found on the Internet. He proves that many objects produced by corporations can be handmade, for example Zegarek elektroniczny domowej produkcji (Home Made Digital Watch, 2005). Simon specialises particularly in tools which are supposed to help to survive in extreme conditions, for example, Pulapki na wiewiorki (Squirrel Traps, 2005) set accordingly with an instruction for the American Army. In 2005 in Wolfsburg, Simon presented a scheme Jadalne rosliny i zwierzeta Dolnej Saksonii (Edible Plants and Animals of Lower Saxony) and held a lecture on this topic.
Sometimes however, in Simon's work one finds longing for well established rules; especially where they had been replaced by chaos and total anarchy. In his computer game Szachy totalne (Total Chess, 2004) sophisticated chess rules have replaced the primitive rules of the arcade game. Particular movements of the opponent cease to work, his pawns are eliminated with the use of a series of impressive explosions.
In his other realisations, Simon applies the formula of aesthetic recycling, adopted from collectors of all sorts of objects and rubbish. The exhibition in Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw in 2005 entitled Krakowiacy lubia czystosc (Cracovians Like It Clean) was in its entirety constructed of cans, plastic bottles, etc. Set together, they reminded of futuristic buildings or the Cracow Christmas Crèche. There was also a sentimental touch to this exhibition - it alluded to the period of early capitalism in Poland, and to the fascination with the cheap glare of packages of the products from the West. This exhibition featured also Triumf polskiego przemyslu samochodowego (The Triumph of Polish Car Industry, 2003) - images from "Turbo" chewing gum, depicting Western cars, arranged in the shape of a Polonez produced by the Zeran Car Factory.
Janek Simon is also interested in a self reflexive side of artistic production - in the notions of artist, art and institutional relations. For the exhibition entitled Piekno czyli efekty malarskie / Beauty or the Painterly Effects he created a video installation Malarz-Samobojca (Painter-Suicider, 2004). In a small cube imitating an exhibition room, the artist presented a detonation of a puppet filled with paint. The effect reminded a work of action painting. In the same year he took part in a project for Casino Luxembourg and as every participating artist was obliged to make one work. His project however was a deceitful one - the work was a dummy of a potential retrospective exhibition in which he gathered - as Duchamp did some time before in his cases - suitably diminished projects of his former realisations (Retrospektywa / Retrospective, 2004). In this way, Simon's anarchic creationism emerged in the face of the strict rules imposed by an institution on artists.
In the project Rok Polski na Madagaskarze (Polish Year on Madagascar) Simon took up the issues of cultural colonialism. In Spring 2006 he went to Madagascar in order to organise in Antananarivo a Polish exhibition. In reality, it consisted of several works by foreign artists (such as Guma Guar) which nevertheless touched upon problems present in Poland today - social stratification and war in Iraq. Most of all however, the project was a journey to a country which in the 1930s was perceived by many Polish people as a possible realisation of the colonial aspirations of the Second Republic of Poland. The cultural expansion organised by Simon provided an ironic commentary to the contemporary aspirations of Polish society to place itself within the world elite.
In 2010 he showed Morze / The Sea at the Raster Gallery in Warsaw, which took upon the subject of travel and conquest, attempting a new sort of geography lesson based in culture, economics, tradition and real-life experience. He embellished a portrait of Levi-Strauss with traditional Indian bindis and scribbled Janek Was Here over a political map of Ghana, testing the limits of our consciousness of the Polish dream of imperialism - one that never came to fruition, but was always vested in the hearts of those who wanted to conquer the world, much like the Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
In 2012 he represented Poland as part of a group exhibition at the Liverpool Biennial with his work Take-off.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, November 2006. Updated 2012.
Selected Individual Exhibitions:
Selected Group Exhibitions: