Author of Let Them See Us, the acclaimed work opposing homophobia and discrimination, and winner of the Samsung Art Master contest for talented emerging young artists. In 2013 she receives the second prize in the prestigious Spojrzenia/Views contest and takes part in the exhibition of the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
In elementary school, while her friends were playing in class, she was learning Swedish from cassette tapes. After a year of English studies, she moved to Stockholm, where she mastered the language while working as a babysitter and studying photography. Forced to return to Poland after a few years due to an expired visa, she found herself in the European Academy of Photography. She moved from Warsaw to attend Łódź Film School, where she is currently doing a PhD.
She met there one of her mentors, Józef Robakowski, who taught a course on new media. "Robakowski taught me that it’s important to know what you have to say", she explains in an interview with Culture.pl. "During film school, I started to think like an artist, because in Sweden it seemed to me that photography is mostly a craft, a learned profession."
Breguła’s first project after graduation shocked the public. It was a series of photographs, Let Them See Us (2002/2003), which were placed on city billboards and bus stops. Photos represented portraits of homosexual couples holding hands. "I made this cycle in view of the perception of the problem", she says. Her initiative started a broad public debate and was the first Polish socio-artistic campaign designed to work against homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
I discovered then that art can create change, that it can influence reality. I wanted to keep working like that. I started to think that my art could have a social impact, could influence reality. I also became interested in art critique, how it works, how it relates to people, how they respond to it. I began to look for ways to reach an accendital audience. I wanted to reach out to people who do not go to museums and galleries, without necessarily trying to make art for everyone. I tried to explore what would happen if the work of artists didn’t reach its target audience. It became obvious that people do not understand art, that they have a problem with interpretation. That is why I started to analyze the artworks of my peers.
One of Breguła’s early works of auto-analytical art was the collection of texts 66 Conversations About Contemporary Art (2007). She talked to people that were not familiar with the cultural environment and the works of contemporary artists. A few years later, she made the internet project Translations of Art (2010). It was meant as an agency that could translate an artwork on order. Anyone having a problem with understanding an artwork could appeal to its services. The interpreters were cultural experts and art lovers that had been chosen as collaborators. The content that emerged usually differed significantly from the official one proposed by the authors themselves or by curators.
For Breguła, each work of art is an ever-shifting entity that, by being open to different interpretations, invites the viewer to contribute to its meaning.
It is relevant that the project took place on the Internet, a place accessible to all, which broadcasts the statement to everyone. The bureau dealt with translating the art in a rather non-orthodox fashion. The artists whose works were interpreted were often surprised, and not always happy. But sometimes the artists themselves would also send their work to be translated.
She organized a scientific conference in Elbląg, Poland, Spatial Forms as the Center of Everything (2012), which invited experts from other disciplines to look at the famous Elbląg sculptures from the perspective their own area of expertise. The conference was accompanied by a publication with ordered interpretations of public art. "I have a habit from which I cannot break free", she said, "I like to talk about art with different people, for example, a lady in the store. I myself still have a problem with art, I still do not get it. I don’t know why it is good or why it is not."
Karolina Breguła also devises projects about the frailty of reality. She seeks a place for art in the everyday life. The purpose of her Artistic Emergency Service (2008) was to fight the small pains and drawbacks of routine. Her intervention of Emergency Service was held at a Kielce train station in order to warm the waiting passengers with lights from a photo studio. With Ola Buczkowska, she completed the work The Married Women (2005/2006). The photographs show portraits of two women who in their common friendship find something that's lacking in their relationships with men. Another of her series, Lovebook (2005/2006), tells the story of a lonely woman.
But Breguła deals primarily with the definition of art and its role in society. In Video Camera (2007), the artist recites user instructions for a camera in all European languages, while miming what she says with hand movements. The video won third prize in the Samsung Art Master contest. Good Neighbors (2007-2009) is a series of performances organized by the artist in Poland's neighboring countries. They are everyday situations – borrowing sugar or petting a neighbor's dog - but Breguła has them happen around people completely unfamiliar with one another - yet still neighbors.
Her film Fire-Followers (2013) is a summary of her research on the role of art in society, and is shown in one of the two exhibitions representing Romania in 2013 at the 55th International Art Exhibition in Venice. The film tells the story of a small town in northern Europe, which has regularly burned down since time immemorial. Its inhabitants are getting rid of all flammable material, including works of art. The arson turns out to be a secret organization of art historians who destroy old artworks in order to make room for newer ones.
The film is due to the fact that I myself feel somewhat uncomfortable around art - due to the fact that I'm lost, that I still have to seek out and fight. Fire-Followers is a structure in which the viewer will feel uncomfortable, because I look for meaning. And that meaning is a story that shows where art is going. It leads us to reflect on the progress art makes as it develops, and on what causes its development. In my film, art has no incentive to push itself forward, so the stimulus has to be triggered.
Karolina Breguła has had solo exhibitions in institutions such as the Atlas of Art and the East Galler in Łódź, the Gallery of Photography Archaeology in Warsaw, the Centre of Contemporary Art in Gdańsk, the Grey Gallery in Cieszyn, the Neues Rathaus in Gottingen, the Landtag Stadt-und Landesbibliothek in Potsdam, the Jugendzentrum Glad-House in Cottbus and the Börgeramt Innerstadt in Cologne.She participated in exhibitions at the Centre for Contemporary Art and the National Museum in Warsaw, Galeria BWA Bielsko in Bielsko-Biała, the Kunstlerhaus in Dortmund, the Gallery Uqbar in Berlin and the Galleri 5 in Stockholm.
Author: Agnieszka Sural, 29.05.2013
Translation: LB, 31.05.2013