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Robert Kuśmirowski

Robert Kuśmirowski, 1.09.2009, Berlin, photo by Krzysztof Visconti
Robert Kuśmirowski, 1.09.2009, Berlin, photo by Krzysztof Visconti

Performer, author of installations, objects, photographs and drawings. Born in 1973 in Łódź.

Critics and interpreters usually call Robert Kuśmirowski 'the genius of fake', an 'ingenious imitator', and a 'counterfeiter and manipulator of reality'. For the most part, his works are based on the reconstructing or copying of old objects, documents, photographs, or rather on the creation of delusively similar imitations. Often, they do not have a specific prototype, but only evoke the material culture of a certain time. However, their characteristic feature is watch-maker's precision and meticulousness. In the larger installations, the artist's passion of collecting becomes apparent - objects accumulated form hardly apprehensible collections, defined by Joanna Mytkowska as "baroque of excess and entropy of detail." That is how Kuśmirowski returns to the issues of memory, history, and nostalgia that accompany the visual culture of the far and recent past, slowly disappearing under its new layers. This strategy accounts for the recurring vanitas theme in his oeuvre - the reconstructing of a past material culture becomes a means of picking up on issues of transiency, vanishing, and death. His performances, sometimes accompanied by music composed by the artist, are of a similar character.

He studied in the artistic department of the Institute of Fine Arts at the Marie Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin 1998-2003, where he graduated with a diploma in the sculpture studio of prof. Sławomir Andrzej Mieleszka. In the academic year 2002-2003 he was granted a scholarship, and stayed in the Metal and Modelling Studio at the University Rennes 2, Beaux Arts Rennes. Performer, author of installations, objects, photographs, drawings. Nominated for the annual Passport award from Poland's Polityka weekly, and in 2003, won first place in Raster magazine's ranking of artists. He is associated with the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. Lives and works in Lublin.

Early in his career, Kuśmirowski made imitations and dummies of individual, rather smallish objects (postage stamps, photographs, printed matter). Already the scale of his first exhibition in the Biała Gallery in Lublin in 2002 was astounding. The artist, back then still an eight semester student, recreated in the exhibition space an old train station - one could marvel at a 1:1 copy of a freight car and a waiting-room. Some original objects were also included in the exhibition, which was accompanied by a specially edited soundtrack typical of train stations.

In 2003 at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw Kusmirowski reconstructed an artist's studio from the PRL (People's Republic of Poland) (Double V). Yet, its space was doubled - the mirror placed above the washbasin turned out to be a window, behind which the disoriented viewers could see copy of that already copied reality. In a slightly changed version of the installation for the Kronika Gallery in Bytom, in 2004, instead of an ordinary glass Kuśmirowski used a one-way mirror, unveiling the illusory effect.

The exhibition Prace (Works) in Gorzów Wielkopolski, in 2006 also evoked the times of the PRL. In fact, it featured two expositions - one contemporary, and the other in the style of the 60s (using works from that period, ex. Władysław Hasior's). During the opening, the artist, with the meticulousness typical of him, staged two fictional openings (viewed by the invited guests from the mezzanine). While during the opening in the 60s, the cigarettes were smoked, vodka drunk, and "WZ" cakes eaten, the other opening reflected contemporary, more reserved manners. Nevertheless, it is the latter, on which the artist appeared, disguised as a painting robot (in the role of an artwork).

At the exhibition Palimpsest muzeum (Palimpsest Museum, part of the Łódź Biennial), in 2004, the artist showed Balkon (Balcony) - a fragment of a destroyed building's façade, constructed with lightweight and transient materials and contrasting with the opulence of the Poznański Palace that hosted the exhibition. At the same time, he played with architectural space - that which is supposed to be outside, appeared inside.

The recurring motif of some of the artist's works, is water and sewer installation. The installation Fontanna (Fountain) in XX1 Gallery in Warsaw, in 2003, was an extremely perfect reconstruction of an old public fountain house, including medicinal water running from the taps. In the cistern in front of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Kusmirowski reconstructed a rural well alluding to the above mentioned installation (Yes, I'm wsiór / Yes, I'm a Hillbilly, 2004). Then again, at the exhibition Hydrograf (Hydrograph, 2004) in Arsenal Gallery in Białystok, the motive of water is related to the vanitas theme. On the reconstructed bathtub, well, and steam engine, the artist placed ornamental sepulchral inscriptions, as well as portrait medallions.

The vanitas theme at its most explicit re-emerged in the installation entitled D.O.M. at the Johnen und Schottle Gallery, Berlin (2004), recreated afterwards at the Foksal Foundation Gallery in Warsaw (2005). Into the gallery space, the artist transposed a fragment of a cemetery that, after a closer look, turned out to be an all cardboard and Styrofoam dummy.

Kusmirowski's performances take on the form of romantic trips. For the exhibition "Paris - Luxembourg - Leipzig" ("Wymarsz rowerowy / Bike Trip" at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig, 2003, the artist arrived on a bicycle from the 20s, dressed in a sports outfit form that time, having started his 1200 kilometre trip in Paris. During the trip, he photographed himself in the way resembling, as convincingly as possible, that of the 20s. The next year, Kusmirowski set off on a walking trip from Lodz to Paris, alluding to the famous route of Constantin Brăncuşi, who pilgrimaged to the capital of modern art.

For the exhibition Teatr niemożliwy (The Impossible Theatre) that was shown in Vienna, London, and Warsaw, Kuśmirowski prepared the installation Emitime (2005), which enters into polemic with Tandeusz Kantor. He recreated the spacial arrangement of Kantor's Umarła klasa (Dead Class), hinting at school benches placed in transport boxes.

In a recently developed project, The Ornaments of Anatomy (2005-2006), Kusmirowski impersonates the mysterious doctor Vernier - anatomy scholar and author of enigmatic volumes. It is under these guises that the artist appears in his performances (ex. during the opening of the exhibition "Views" at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw, 2006), but the viewers mostly deal with the objects the scholar surrounds himself with or even with the whole spaces he functions in. The artist reconstructed a huge library, but also cabinets and laboratories, filled with uncountable amounts of requisites. In these works, one can find references to the romantic notion of the ancient inventor, but, at the same time, Kuśmirowski unveils the mechanisms of the construction of an intriguing image of the past, away from popular representations combined with scientific knowledge.

In 2006, the artist started realising the project Kanał (Canal), in which he explores the sewer system of Łódź, some parts of which are no longer used. The idea is to search for traces of the past, for objects left behind by human beings. The artist's efforts can be all but in vain, because even if he should not find anything at all, he can always fabricate something himself.

Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, October 2006.

Selected individual exhibitions:

  • 2002
    - Biała Gallery, Lublin;
  • 2003
    - "Double V" - Laboratorium, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
    - "Fontanna / Fountain" - Gallery XX1, Warsaw;
  • 2004
    - "Hydrograf / Hydrograph" - Arsenal Gallery, Białystok;
    - "D.O.M." - Johnen und Schottle Galerie, Berlin, Germany;
    - "Usługi dla ludności / Public Services" - Potocka Gallery, Krakow;
    - "Yes I'm wsiór / Yes, I'm a Hillbilly" - Cistern, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
    - "Double V" - Kronika Gallery, Bytom;
  • 2005
    - "D.O.M." - Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw;
    - "The Ornaments of Anatomy" - Kunstverein, Hamburg, Germany;
    - "The Museum of the Last Artwork" - Yerba Buena Art Center, San Francisco, USA;
    - "Eksperymentalne studio anatomiczne / Experimental Anatomy Studio" - Biała Gallery, Lublin;
    - "Double V Post Industrial" - Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands;
    - "Kunstmiroffsky" - Kordegarda Gallery, department of Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (with Michał Stachyr and Kamil Stańczak);
  • 2006
    - "Ornamenty anatomii III / The Ornaments of Anatomy III" - as a part of the exhibition series "At the Very Centre of Attention", Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw;
    - "Prace / Works" - BWA, Gorzów Wielkopolski;
    - "Kanał / Canal" - Manhattan Gallery, Łódź.

Selected group exhibitions:

  • 1998
    - "Rysunek i malarstwo / Drwing and Painting" - Mat-Mart Gallery, Lublin;
  • 2001
    - Pozaginania rysunkowe / Foldings of Drawing - Biała Gallery Young Art Forum, Lublin;
  • 2002
    - "", Festiwal Młodej Sztuki / Festival of Young Art - Krakow;
    - "Supermarket sztuki III - Ludzie i przedmioty / Supermarket of Art III - People and Objects" - DAP Gallery, Warsaw;
    - "Sztuka ożywiona / Live Art" - Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow;
  • 2003
    - "Simon Says Aloha to Polish Art. Stockholm Art Fair" - Stockholm, Sweden;
    - "Wymarsz rowerowy / Paris - Luxembourg - Leipzig" - Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig, Germany;
    - "Stan Wojenny / Martial Law" - Zmiana Organizacji Ruchu, Warsaw;
    - "Jusqu'au bout du monde" - Galerie de L'Espace International et Orangerie du Thabor, Rennes, France;
  • 2004
    - "Access" - Display Gallery, Prague, Czech;
    - "4 KS 2/63. Auschwitz Prozess Austellung" - Frankfurt a. Main, Germany;
    - "Prym / Superiority" - BWA, Zielona Góra;
    - "Doba romantyzmu / The Time of Romanticism" - Polish Institute, Kiev, Ukraine;
    - "Drang nach West" - Compact Space, Berlin, Germany;
    - "Distances?" - La Plateau, Paris, France;
    - "De ma fenetre. Des artistes et leurs territories" - Ecole Nationale Superiéure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France;
    - "Palimpsest muzeum / Palimpsest Museum" - Łódź Biennial, Museum of History of the City of Łódź;
    - IV triennale mlodych / IV Triennial of the Young - Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko;
    - "Niosę przed sobą lustro / I Hold a Mirror in Front of Me" - Szara Gallery, Cieszyn; Sektor I Gallery, Katowice (2005);
  • 2005
    - Animalum 27% - Roda Sten, Göteborg; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, USA; Headlands Center for the Arts, San Francisco, USA;
    - "Nova Biała" - Biała Gallery, Lublin;
    - "Teatr niemożliwy / The Impossible Theater" - Kunsthalle, Vienna; Barbican Art Center, London, UK (2006); Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2006);
    - "Powidoki widzialnści / Afterimages of Visibility" - Sektor I Gallery, Katowice;
    - "Extra City Center for Contemporary Art" - Antwerp, Belgium;
    - "Architektura intymna, architektura porzucona / intimate Architecture, Abandonned Architecture" - Kronika Gallery, Bytom;
  • 2006
    - "Spojrzenia. II edycja / Views. 2nd Edition" - Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw;
    - "Of Mice and Men" - 45. Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany.'s picture
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