Agnes Janich is a visual artist who works with photography, film, and installation art. Within her practice, which deals with the history of memory and intimacy, these three disciplines are inextricably linked.
Visual artist based in Warsaw and Geneva.
Janich was born in 1985 in Łódź. She is based in Warsaw and Geneva.
She is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, however, she commenced her higher education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She skilfully combines the aesthetics of art photography with the use of mediums typical of advertising, which is apparent in her series where form and content smoothly blend together. In Janich's works, the form, which is close to the aesthetics of glamour found in contemporary fashion photography, becomes a carrier of poignant meanings and emotionally complex stories. It is also manipulated in order to conceal its professional character, by introducing soft focus, blur, overexposure and underexposure of the photographed space or object.
Janich also studied art history at the University of Warsaw. Having spent her childhood and early youth in Southeast Asia and South Africa, the artist is sensitive to the multiplicity of cultures coexisting globally and the diversity of social practices and mindsets. She is a cosmopolitan artist, and at the same time she continues to explore her own family roots and personal emotions.
The first few years of Agnes Janich's practice could be split into two important and distinct stages. The first one, lasting until 2012, was dominated by confrontation with the history of war violence as seen through a personal prism, and with the issue of the Shoah. The Shoah, however, was presented from a perspective which could be described as 'herstorical,' as the vast majority of her projects revolved around women and their war stories. Janich revealed that which is nowadays often forgotten, has not made it to the history textbooks, and is still generally marginalised in research projects on the Second World War. She focused on the fates of women deprived of their dignity and desperately fighting to save their bodily integrity and their children, whose childhood carelessness was lost in the fire of war. Projects such as Il suffit de passer le pont and A Real Boy’s Show exemplify this stage. The first one juxtaposes photographs illustrating the situation of children in concentration camps with images showing everyday childhood games and the carefree life during the time of peace. It is a work about sustaining memory, just like her 2010 public installation Bits and Pieces, through which the artist tried to retrieve and preserve the memory about the youngest residents of the Łódź Ghetto – located in the artist's hometown – who had no chances or escaping it or surviving the war. A Real Boy’s Show is a series of photo-montages, in which the artist shows herself next to pictures of people murdered in concentration camps, photos documenting the actions of the German army on the front, as well as erotic images which were circulated amongst soldiers. The whole is accompanied by a commentary sourced from reports of the veterans of World War Two and the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, as well as their partners.
In her works created during that period Janich also approached:
the theme which is almost absent from contemporary narratives about the Holocaust, a subject which is somewhat crossed out, pushed out of the frame, which Georges Didi-Huberman described in the context of the four surviving photographs from Birkenau, as always referring us to that which is outside of the image's representation, to that which was not pictured in the photo frame. The body becomes the subject. Nonetheless, it is not the body of the Shoah, but a body which desires, lusts, and loves. A body which had been situated outside of the frame of the historical narrative.
These words refer to her project That You Have Someone from 2012, which could be regarded as a summary of the first phase of Janich's creative explorations.
The second stage began in 2013 and was marked by projects focusing on love understood as an emotional relationship between people which is constantly infested with tensions. The latter usually derive from mutual expectations and social norms which dictate the partners' lives. In her frame compositions, the artist juxtaposes the scenes presented in them with short, hand-written sentences, which act as a commentary as well as a complementation of the image.
This is the case in her work I Don't See the Problem, created between 2012 and 2014. The series reflects various social clichés, both on the visual and textual level. On one hand, they are concerned with ways of representing the relation between a woman and a man (he is the conqueror, she is submissive; she is beautiful, he is strong) or the image of a family (photographs with Christmas tree in the background, where the family is ‘complemented’ by a doll), and on the other, with the ‘wise advice’ given to the cycle's protagonists by people from their direct surroundings.
In the 2013 series 2 Minutes Late, which is comprised of archival prints, Janich addresses the problem of the emotional loss of a loved one, as well as the pain accompanying an ultimate break-up, when nothing more can be said and no more questions can be asked again. At the same time, she exposes the sphere of inhibitions which usually obstruct the way to happiness, making us say cants and phrases aimed exclusively at raising a wall to guard our sensitive souls.
The issue of lack is also is also raised in the project I Don’t Need from 2014, which is a photographic study of loneliness. By giving sentences paired with photographs the form of a question, the artist conducts an internal monologue that has a twofold implication. On one hand, it is a kind of an auto-therapy which can help her face her loneliness. On the other hand, however, it is a form of expressing an uncertainty, a fear of loneliness to which the protagonist is condemned.
The project Pink from 2015 is the most formally flamboyant work by Janich. Not only due to the abundant flowers, frills, and laces, as well as the colour pink, but also because it is centred around a woman posing in a boudoir setting. The aesthetics somewhat resembles the Japanese convention of kawaii – grounded in cuteness and dominated by childhood gadgets: lollipops, balloons, and child-like dresses, etc.
The artist's photographic series created or completed in 2015 revolve around Janich's struggle with her intimate emotions and questions which appear when we begin or end some stage in our life. What if... is a thematically perverse series of photographs supplemented by the artist's typical commentary. Its form mimics quotes from diaries, journals, and private correspondence. The text offers an introspection into an intimate sphere, just like the images, which carry a very personal character, and are arranged in such a way so as to resemble a private archive, at the same time being very refined and thoroughly polished. The perversity of the series lies in the questions the artist asks herself. Besides the standard expressions of fears and reservations related to entering a new relationship and the uncertainty about the intentions of a future partner, there are also doubts related to the protagonist's behaviour and feelings. What will happen ‘if I can count on you, if I'm forgiven and you don't let me down, if you don't betray me, or if you have time for me?’ These questions might only seemingly be wrongly phrased. The author hints at the fact that a dreamlike and perfect happiness can also become a nightmare…
In spite of the evident turn towards emotions and intimate relations between people, presented with a large dose of sensitivity and empathy from the artist, Agnes Janich still remembers about the subject of the Shoah. In the project With Our Eyes Closed (2008-2015), she revisits war archives, finding photographs that people who were sent to the camps carried with them on their last journey. The artist juxtaposes those visual notes of happy moments with photographs from the archive created by her own family, which was always affected by the memory of the past war, on many levels. The artist erases the eyes of the people in the appropriated photographs, thus likening them to dolls and depriving them of individualism. In her return to the subject of Holocaust, the artist expands its dimension, pointing to its contemporary faces, which is magnificently exemplified by her sound installation The Sound of Music, comprising two separate parts. The first one is based on music from the American Guantanamo prisons, while the second one introduces Dr Mengele's favourite music pieces. The provocative title refers to the ambiguity of the common conviction that music has charms to soothe the savage breast. She also questions the therapeutic role of music and the assumption that music lovers are always sensitive people.
Agnes Janich's works have been presented at numerous solo and group shows. The artist showed her work at the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (2007), Galapagos Art Space in New York (2009), MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (2010), BWA Gallery in Zielona Góra (2012), Elektrownia Mazovian Centre for Contemporary Art in Radom (2012), Galerie Walter Keller in Zurich (2013) and others. She participated in such presentations and exhibitions as, for instance, Maison Européene de la Photographie in Paris (2005), Ein gewisses jüdisches Etwas at the National Museum in Zurich (2007), All Creatures Great and Small, curated by Maria Brewińska at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw (2009), 9th Sharjah Biennial (2009), No More Bad Girls?, curated by Kathrin Becker and Claudia M. Stemberger at Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna (2010), Platform 2012 at the Fotomuseum Winterthur (2012), and Gaze & Lust. Sexuality in Contemporary Art, curated by Eli Okkenhaug at Bergen Kunstmuseum (2012). In 2012, her monograph Agnes Janich: Body Memory was published by Edition Fotohof in collaboration with the Elektrownia Mazovian Centre for Contemporary Art (ISBN 978-83-85901-91-4). Her works have been widely critiqued, for instance in the catalogue Becoming a Mother, edited by Ana Vilenica (2012). She is a recipient of multiple grants from, among others, Polish Institutes and Embassies in Moscow, Bern, Vienna, and Barcelona. She took part in art residencies in Switzerland, the United States, Spain, and Russia. Janich is associated with Galerie C in Neuchâtel near Geneva.
Author: Marta Anna Raczek-Karcz, transl. AM, February 2016