Painter, ceramicist and conceptual artist, creator of installations and videos. Born in Wolbrom in 1979 where he also lives and works.
Tomasz Kulka’s work is characterised by a large variety of methods of expression such as painting, sculpture, street art, video and ceramics. In all of these fields of artistic practice, he adapts a novel approach to his personal experiences, translates local anecdotes into universal stories and also consciously operates the scale of miniatures. Here the everyday life of his familiar Wolbrom becomes the starting point on an ironic, literal, metaphorical and even mystical level. The depopulating town, suspended in time and space and located somewhere between Kraków and Katowice, is an unquestionable source of inspiration and reflection on the topic of interdependency between social degradation and the degradation of the urban space. The artist constructs a peculiar world in which there is no hope and where everyday routine kills any sign of revolt and discord over the existing reality filled with gloom and apathy. The ironical and sometimes humouristic distance from the familiarity of the Polish province, which overwhelms with its claustrophobia, mediocrity, intolerance, vulgarity, aggression and alcoholism, plays a pivotal role here. In Kulka’s art there is no escape from this world. The reality of Wolbrom basically determines all of the artist’s projects, created on the basis of the observance of everyday life’s rhythm: of the estates, blocks of flats, train stations and the vicinities. Kulka’s works show how much absorbed by the town’s vegetal lifestyle he feels.
The artist’s singular installations and exhibitions are characterised by attentiveness to detail, strive for perfection of execution and assiduous work on exploring a single topic. Because of this his projects are very time-consuming: their realisation sometimes takes from half a year up to one year and happens in closure, in the very centre of Kulka’s own micro- and macrocosm.
Kulka’s Street Fight, realised in the years 2011-2012, presents several dozens of porcelain figurines gathered in a hooligan dogfight, with rubble, sand and other porcelain objects visible in the background: crumbling and vandalized train stations, bus stops, newsstands and shops, all of them covered in hooligan graffiti writings. In reality, this background is the Silesian and Lesser Poland’s landscape, as if it was seen from the window of a Kraków-Katowice train. The reference to the local reality of Wolbrom became a mirror image of the Polish province’s realities – poor, degraded and filled with images of hooligan groups fighting each other. The porcelain hooligans do not wear the colours of their teams so it is impossible to know which one do they support and the Street Fight illustrates not only a brawl between hooligans, but also the scenes of province’s everyday life which become an allegory of current-day Poland. One can notice drunk representatives of the local communities, chavs, (pseudo) gangsters doing their business and leaders of hooligan groups looking down on the event. Each figurine has its distinct features: no gesture or situation is repeated. Most of the presented scenes were taken from photographs published in hooligan fanzines and from famous brawls shown on TV. One can also recognize respective configurations from the most well-known brawl between the fans of Legia Warszawa and Arka Gdynia, which was televised ad nauseam. They explicitly testify that the provincial brawl is not only of local character, but it also a part of an international phenomenon. The work, shown in the context of Euro 2012, was an interesting rumination on the successes of the football tournament’s organisers presented in the media. Their main goal was to finally exclude aggressive hooligans from the public sphere, even though they are the ones shaping the reality of Poland’s football, and also to conceptualize this true, self-contradictory, degraded and vulgar motherland.
For the 2013 exhibition My name is Tomasz Kulka, I'm 34 years old and I would like to sleep my whole life the artist created an installation comprised of porcelain and clay figurines. They depict a young man who spends his time on everyday cut-and-dried activities – gymnastic exercises done at home, on the bed. The very title directs our attention at the artist’s own experiences. It sounds like an announcement posted on the internet: ‘I’m 34 and I can’t get my life together’ or ‘I’m 34 and have zero chance at getting married’. In many people’s lives, the age of 34 becomes a turning point and a moment of confrontation with the past and with what they managed to achieve during their lives up until now. The desire to sleep through the whole life is included in the installation’s title, which denotes a sense of humour, and Kulka also ironically names the singular sets of figurines as ‘Exercises’. In the rhythm of the small-city vegetation, nothing is able to change the rut and monotony of everyday life. Even the ‘march forward young knights’ writing placed on the gallery wall, transferred from a wall located in Wolbrom, unveils the sarcastic character of the traditional ideals and values to which the patriotic youth and hooligans hold onto. These ideals turn out to be an empty slogan and are confronted with the grim loneliness, apathy and alcoholism. The figurines were placed in plastic beer bottle boxes and inserted into the crumbling residential spaces for a good reason – they direct our attention at the degrading overtone of ‘sleeping through one’s whole life’. Kulka decided to attach symbolic meaning to his figurines. He decided to dig small graves for them, bury them in Wolbrom and put the whole process on a film later exhibited in the gallery space. This action shows that in reality the installation should be treated and viewed with a grain of salt.
In the 2016-2017 Idolatry series, Kulka reverted to traditional painting techniques to create images resembling medieval sacral art. He echoes the tangled effigies of the inquisitors, punishing and torturing the naked mortals for their sins. However, in this series, it seems that the sinners are actually forced into idolatry and it is the hooded inquisitors who in reality give themselves over to it. He depicts the scenes of torture, torment, hell, heaven and purgatory in paintings bearing the form of traditional coffin portraits, medieval icons and also various letters and characters. They are not, however, icons in the spirit of Jerzy Nowosielski’s eschatological realism, but images swerving back and forth between the visions of Hieronymus Bosch, Hans Memling and digital culture. Scenes depicting monastery interiors and the landscapes of medieval cities painted by Kulka were shown in a perspective similar to the one used by the creators of strategic video games such as Settlers and Age of Empires.
In the Idolatry series, miniature silhouettes of naked pagans traverse through hell whilst the monks raise new statues in honour of a deity which Kulka named ‘the Golem’. Thus, the titular idolaters pray to a soulless entity which was essentially not created by God. And even though it could seem that Idolatry is a separate cycle in Kulka’s work, Golem’s figure guides us in the direction of the artist’s micro- and macrocosm – Wolbrom’s reality. Some time earlier Kulka created a series of drawings mockingly titled Golem (2015) which humorously depicted various configurations of the Lesser Poland’s town in the outlines of a dehumanized monster’s silhouette.
Originally written in Polish by Przemysław Strożek, Nov 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Dec 2017
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