Edible Art in Poland
#photography & visual arts
default, 'Pan Chrzan' (Mister Horseradish) by Slavs and Tatars, 2016, wool and yarn, 200 x 300 cm, photo: Raster Gallery, Slavs_and_Tatars_PanChrzan_Raster.jpg
From phallic bananas to peeling potatoes in an art gallery – in the world of visual art, even seemingly innocent culinary themes are capable of causing a stir.
In a conversation with Culture.pl, Natalia LL told us:
Women models consumed, and I photographed it. It was an acknowledgement of consumption, which, it suddenly turned out, is terribly erotic. They ate in this erotic way. And Western critics wrote that the artwork was critical, showing that under the communist regime, there was nothing, no hot dogs, bananas. The work was a criticism that revealed the state of Poland under communism.
During the first half of the 1970s, this doyenne of the Wrocław neo avant-garde created well-known works, photography series and films titled Sztuka Konsumpcyjna (Consumer Art) and Sztuka Postkonsumpcyjna (Post-Consumer Art). Blonde women erotically devoured bananas, hot dogs and kissel. Some stills resemble porn films, but with an important difference – as opposed to most pornography, the women took on active roles in the project. They challenged viewers with their deliberate gaze, playing with food items that stood in for male anatomy.
Consumer Art - Natalia LL
In later years, the artist began mythologizing the ground-breaking nature of her series. In Karol Radziszewski’s film America is Not Ready for This, Natalia LL described how New York gallery owners turned down her ideas. She was told that the US wasn’t ready for them, but in reality, American art had already covered this well-trod feminist territory.
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'Deser III' (Dessert III) by Alina Szapocznikow, 1971, polyester resin, porcelain bowl, 18 x 24 x 25 cm. photo: Roland Schmid / WIELS / from Piotr Stanisławski's collection
Alina Szapocznikow, "Deser III", 1971, poliester barwny, porcelanowa waza, 18 x 24 x 25 cm. Z kolekcji Piotra Stanisławskiego, fot. Roland Schmid., fot. WIELS
By the time Natalia LL was entering the golden years of her career, the prematurely deceased Alina Szapocznikow was already resting in a Montmartre cemetery. Not long before Natalia LL’s Consumer Art, Szapocznikow created one of her last, subtle works in her sculpture series – Desery (Deserts).
Szapocznikow’s artwork always displayed an interest in corporeality. In her early sculptures from the 1950s, she focused on pubescent girls’ bodies. She also returned, in a roundabout way, to her experiences during World War II, which occurred when she was a teenager. Injured, misshapen, dramatically deconstructed figures bring to mind the trauma of war.
In time, Szapocznikow turned her focus onto her own body. She created casts of her stomach and lips, observing the way cancer was physically changing her. In her last bout of artwork, she used synthetic materials, most often polyurethane, to create seductive, semi-translucent forms. Her later works show melancholy interpretations of a sick body, as in Zielnik (Herbarium) or Tumorach (Tumors).
Alina Szapocznikow's Exhibition in Sopot - Image Gallery
Desery has a rather different character, bringing to mind the earlier Lampy (Lamps), with lampshades in the shape of lips. In Desery, fragments of breasts and lips overflow in ice-cream bowls, much like decadent piles of fruit and sweets. This particular series is one in which the artist’s fascination with beauty and the fragility of the body weaves together the most.
Multiple Portrait - Alina Szapocznikow
Julita Wójcik is an unquestionable master of simple works that accidentally engender controversy. In recent years, this fate befell her work Tęcza (Rainbow) in Zbawiciela Square – which, from a symbol of reconciliation, turned into a symbolic battleground.
The artist entered mass consciousness in 2001 with her performance piece Obieranie Ziemniaków (Peeling Potatoes) in the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. The performance was exactly what the title suggests. In one of the gallery’s rooms, the artist, dressed in an apron, sat down on a stool and began peeling potatoes. At the time, Wójcik was working with mediums that are often considered feminine, such as embroidery. She sometimes showed respect for everyday tasks, while at others, she criticised those she didn’t agree with. The piece was a commentary on what the artist perceived as the fate of women, who, in a patriarchal society, are resigned to the role of a housewife.
Peeling Potatoes – Julita Wójcik
Much like the example of Natalia LL and Alina Szapocznikow, Wójcik’s art has a feminist bent, which has been mostly ignored by the media. At a time when the canon of art comprised of socially engaged art, artists found themselves – to use a phrase by Zbigniew Liber – in a cold war with the media. The proverbial storm in a teacup from the media came not from the subject, but the medium Wójcik chose. It turns out that at the beginning of the 21st century, Poles were not ready for the sight of peeling potatoes in an art gallery.
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A decade later, Anna Królikiewicz permanently brought food into her eco-conscious art, most of it connected to the Polish Tricity of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. She was drawn to the concept of synaesthesia, or the fusion of different senses. In a conversation with Jakub Knera, she said:
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I became interested in food as an art medium. It turns out that it has the same qualities as paint: viscosity, texture, temperature, weight, smell. Of course, painting is something else, and it will never be the same as building an object out of food, but I saw an analogy between the two. I perceived that I could do things that affect multiple senses of the viewer.
In 2011, Królikiewicz created Flesh Flavour Frost. While Szapocznikow created moulds of breasts that resembled ice cream, Królikiewicz created ice cream with the smell of human skin. She recalled:
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I thought it was tasty, and that people reacted with interest, even enthusiasm, until they read the description. Because afterwards came a strange thought – that you are a little bit of a cannibal, because it’s disgusting, because it’s the taste of skin sweating in the sun.
A year later, at the Gdańsk public arts festival Narracje (Narratives), Królikiewicz prepared Stół (Table). It was based on Dutch still lifes of the 17th century, only not in the form of a flat painting, but an event:
In the historic part of Gdańsk, I prepared a feast: a 20-person table, chairs, and on the linen tablecloth, I placed numerous decorations, fish, bread, lemons and dishes […]. Everything pointed to the idea that someone had already eaten, something had already happened, the viewer was late or maybe even not invited. […] ‘Stół’ was supposed to show we were forgotten. Besides the sensual aspect of the visuals, its purpose was to evoke the feeling of being left out, isolated, missing.
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At a different festival, ArtBoom in Kraków, Królikiewicz focused on a different aspect of culture. Since the theme of the festival was rural life, and most of the art was shown on the outskirts of the city, she showed her work Honey / Moon in The Zwierzyniecki House.
She filled two rooms with honey and straw, creating a thick atmosphere filled with the scent of honey – which she soaked the wallpaper in, leaving small sections for viewers to sample. This time, she emulated a different kind of feast – a 19th century wedding party set in a village near Kraków, in line with the work of the Young Poland playwright Stanisław Wyspiański.
Stanisław Wyspiański's Theatre of Interiors
Also taking a page from Dutch still lifes, Wojtek Doroszuk created the film Festin, a break from his more conventional documentaries. Festin is a poetic video in which Doroszuk presents a feast reminiscent of those by earlier Dutch animal painters. Apart from numerous vegetables, fruits and meats, their work also featured exotic birds or rabbits caught during a hunt.
In this film, the animals play a different role – they are the beneficiaries of the so-called feast. Centipedes mill around the dishes, and dogs nibble at anything over the edge of the table. Doroszuk’s piece combines motifs of Dutch vanitas still lifes with the post-humanistic vision of a world without people.
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Slavs and Tatars
The work of the Slavs and Tatars collective is always filled with references to a given text. This is not surprising, since the group began as a book club that eventually evolved into an art group. The collective’s interests, true to their name, include the cultural history of Eastern Europe and Western Asia – ‘between the long-gone Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China’.
For the most part, these are topics that cannot be found in most history books, as in the case of Towarzystwo Szubrawców (League of Miscreants), to whom they dedicated their 2016 show in the Raster Gallery. The titular group was based in Vilnius, a modern continuation of the Philomath Society, but in a much different bent – they responded to romantic pathos with a routine jeer.
Slavs and Tartars wrote:
Selected Works by Slavs and Tatars – Image Gallery
Towarzystwo Szubrawców wydało nam się interesujące kilka lat temu, gdy próbowaliśmy dowiedzieć się więcej na temat polskiego orientalizmu. Im więcej czytaliśmy o Towarzystwie Szubrawców, tym bardziej podobała nam się ich krytyka Mickiewicza, polskiego patriotyzmu i romantycznej koncepcji ojczyzny. Szczególnie dzisiaj wydaje się to adekwatne.
Towarzystwo Szubrawców seemed interesting to us a few years ago, when were were trying to learn more about Polish orientalism. The more we read about Towarzystwo Szubrawców, the more we liked their criticisms of Mickiewicz, Polish patriotism and the romantic notion of a fatherland.
At the same art show, there was a bar stocked with juice left over after pickling, which they described as:
Slavs and Tatars at Jerusalem's Under the Mountain Festival
juice from fermentation […] contains two contradicting meanings: in Poland and Russia, fermented juice is used as medicine for a hangover, while in the United States, it’s being introduced into the market as a drink for athletes to improve their performance. On one side, we have the Slavic idea of destroying the body, which must be regenerated, while on the opposite – American positivity; fermented juice is the new Gatorade.
polish culinary art
slavs and tatars
Originally written in Polish by Piotr Policht, Aug 2018; translated by AZ, Sep 201