Dead Season - Jakub Woynarowski
Jakub Woynarowski's Dead Season is a visually compelling experiment meandering between comic and illustrated book which shows that art's best fuel is art itself.
Jakub Woynarowski gleans mixed opinions on the comic book scene. The biggest controversies arise around his notion of story art, which he has been using to describe experimental comics, somewhat in opposition to, or perhaps even neglecting, the history of regular comics. The obscurity of this idea is proven by the fact that Professor Jerzy Szyłak spent half of his book titled Comic in the Clutches of Mediocrity (Komiks w szponach miernoty) hammering the artist and his ideas. On the other hand, the artist was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2007 International Festival of Comics and Games in Łódź (the largest event of the kind in Central and Eastern Europe) for his piece Hikikomori, while in 2015 he received Polityka's Passport Prize for art direction of the Polish Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. He is also notorious for masterfully intertwining his artistic, academic, educational, and curatorial activities.
The aforementioned Hikikomori is a visually effective work which successfully (but merely) imitates a comic book. In it, the artist “only” gave hints to his readers, somewhat inviting them to co-create the piece, as it was in their hands to decide, through associations, what was going on in the book. Dead Season (Martwy sezon), based on Bruno Schulz's output, demonstrates that Woynarowski noticed the narrative quality of comic and decided to use it, at the same time admitting, to some extent, that playing story telling without an existing plot is a dead end.
Woynarowski doesn't illustrate Schulz's prose in Dead Season. Instead, he selects excerpts from it and uses them to construct his own story about decay, evanescence, and a closed, looped cycle of life and death, as well as the loneliness of an individual facing cardinal and inevitable processes. The text was compiled out of excerpts from twelve works by Schulz, including the most recognized ones, such as The Hourglass Sanatorium (Sanatorium pod klepsydrą), Treatise on Mannequins (Traktat o manekinach), and the titular Dead Season. It was a smart decision to reach for these texts. If Woynarowski were to present his own plot in the same way, it would be declared infantile. When signed with his name, it is evidently subscribed to the realm of art. Naturally, this is not pure pretense, as Woynarowski confronts this textual mix with readings of Schulz's works and literary tradition. The aim of that is to present the artistic and cultural continuity as well as to depict human life, in both its individual and collective forms.
The artist is keen on introducing the motifs of insects and deserted, ruined cities overgrowing with plants, with the goal of highlighting the apocalyptic aspect of the world and existence. At the same time, however, his depictions are immanently charged with revival, symbolized also by insects that distribute residues and plants on the ashes. Moreover, Woynarowski juxtaposes Schulz's lyricism and his now outdated language with the modern, raw, and occasionally iconographic drawings that illustrate, comment on, and debate over the texts. The written word ultimately becomes the protagonist of this work. The remains of somebody else's oeuvre are processed and fed into a brand new work. Woynarowski does not so much prey on Schulz's art, but brings it to the next stage of a natural, almost biological circulation of art – after all, all art is fueled by the legacy of the creator's predecessors.
Visually, the album is based on a fairly simple and yet effective method of shifting the framing. The artist tends to start with details, gradually moving on to wider perspectives, wherein things which look like autonomous elements turn out to be part of a larger whole. These shifts of perspective usually bring surprises, as Woynarowski plays with associations both on visual and textual levels. This is an interesting approach, as it attempts to answer the question: how far can and should the connotations and denotations be? Formally, Dead Season is a comic with some features of illustrated book. The narrative (also the visual one) is so articulated and consistent that its plot potential and coherence is unquestionable. This album is more than just a curiosity – it is most of all a great intellectual riddle, in which the content and the visuals meet on several levels.
Author: Łukasz Chmielewski, transl. Ania Micińska, June 2015