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Zuzanna Janin, Majka from the Movie

Still frame from the film, source:
Still frame from the film, source:

The five-part video series takes as its narrative point of departure a television soap opera of sorts, called the Madness of Majka Skowron, a popular series made in Poland in the mid-seventies.

Zuzanna Janin's film and video works, alongside her installations and three-dimensional art objects, frequently addresses ideas of social construction and the formation of interactive singular and/or group identities. More specifically, how both singular and collective identities are manipulated and played off against one another in today's contemporary culture. A singular identity thus finds itself - as Janin makes us aware - in a continuous state of personal construction and displacement in relation to the Other as it is experienced. This is the necessary condition of projections born of our conscious and unconscious selves. How we form and shape and thereafter transmit the nature of our personal identity through social and cultural interaction, whether by purposefully conscious intentions or otherwise, is crucial to an understanding of Janin's work. The shaping of identity is constructed in time and in circumstance, and it is not something that is a given. This is most evident in her recent and ongoing major video serial project Majka from the Movie (2009), which is yet to be finally completed.

The five-part video series takes as its point of departure a television soap opera of sorts, called the Madness of Majka Skowron / Szaleństwo Majki Skowron (1975), a popular series made in Poland in the mid-seventies (it was also shown in these time in DDR under the title Das Mädchen Majka). The original series story was based on a generational conflict between a father and adolescent daughter. The girl (played by the artist as a young actress - Zuzanna Antoszkiewicz) runs away from home and spends the summer on an island, where she meets a young man.

The archetype of the lost heroine (Miranda) and the young man (a would be Ferdinand) draws loosely on the Shakespeare play The Tempest. The second Majka (2009) with filmed elements directed and intercut by the artist (and in fact the daughter of Janin) is both a simile of the first character, and an extended metaphor of Janin as filmmaker. By using her daughter as both an extension and part of her own personal identity formation, the artist presents herself both in front of and behind the camera. Indeed, throughout the five parts of the video serialisation the periodic intercutting or splicing of Majka, and also her contemporary re-incarnation or life projection, operate as the shared unity against a backdrop or compendium of personal film and music appropriations that encompasses the metonymic (a contiguity of association between two ideas), metaphor (notions of comparative similarity) and continuous similes (shared aspects or common features).

Seen as a whole and presented across five screens Majka from the Movie, presents a kaleidoscopic life of synthesis spanning the last forty years. However, it should not be read as a simple accumulation of life sources out of which the identity of the Majka character has been made. Rather, it gives greater insights into the filmmaker Janin herself, since she has chosen the cultural nubs of recognition as to the contents that contribute to the making of a life and an identity. They are the cultural 'other' out of which 'identifying identity' is made a necessary possibility. An infinite space still remains, between what can be assimilated and what is actually assimilated to forge and create a singular sense of personal identity. The asymmetrical and temporal episodic format presents a mirror of mediated synchronicity. A synchronicity that is structured as a journey, but conversely is as much about the nature of how we assimilate the world of the continuous present as against the variety of cultural sources we derive from the past. Our experience of them is part of our contemporary consciousness, and this remains the necessary meaning regardless of the historical moment in which they were first presented.

Author: Mark Gisbourn

Kunsthalle Wien
Treitlstraße 2, A-1040 Vienna
The exhibition runs from August 17 through September 1, 2010


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