The artist creates sculpture and video installations, film pieces and objects derivative from both sculpture and painting. She was born in 1971 in Warsaw.
In the years 1993-1998 she studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, where she graduated in painting and drawing. She currently lives and works in Warsaw.
Agnieszka Kalinowska belongs to some of the most fascinating artists of the generation that rose at the beginning of the new millennium. Her space work is consistently eliminating the restraining effect of artistry by using unusual, simple materials such as rope, duct tape, straw, rubber band or streamers. The most recurring themes of her earlier works were situations provoking discomfort and pressure on both physical and psychological levels. The artist would create projects which put the emphasis on the observation of human behaviour in extreme conditions. However, all of her works are deprived from any kind of literality, becoming abstract figures that condense the tension of "the moment right before". Kalinowska’s more recent video works also present threads about danger, doubt or violence, but almost systematically associated with an explicit political or sociological context.
The artist’s body of work can be divided into two distinctive and major themes. The first one concentrates on work at the edge between abstraction and discourses that are possible to verbalise: creations in which the fundamental key is the imagination. This strategy is mostly represented through objects, usually made of light, precarious materials, which extreme sophistication and time consuming construction are truly unique on the Polish artistic scene. Those spatial creations can be described as somewhere between semi-sculpture and unclassifiable visual happenings, filled with inner tension, ambiguousness and open to numerous interpretations from the public.
The second theme is Kalinowska’s work revolves around video. The artist uses this medium to build unconventional narrative structures, but also as a tool of commentary on political, social and economical subjects.
Kalinowska treats the materials she uses as timber from which she constructs and assembles forms. The "form" in her work can be sculpture, video or even paintings made of intricately glued straws. Those objects are created via the addition, multiplication and reproduction of elements necessary for the ultimate effect, yet the artist always cares about eliminating the superfluous. The link between all of Kalinowska’s works is most certainly the artist’s tendency to engage into a loose game with imagination when approaching the form, but also her almost obsessive return to a certain category of problems, which clearly mark the emotional leitmotiv of her art. Kalinowska creates pieces on several layers of narration and interpretation, focusing on the lack of safety, doubt, agitation, and resulting growth of anxiety and fear.
Agnieszka Kalinowska studied painting, but the form quickly got out of the frame to invade the space. It started with shy, subtle attempts such as air filled forms made out of bright coloured foil, fixed to a plain white wall ("Bardzo nieładnie" / "Very Unpretty", 2000). This early work unveiled a characteristic that would appear in most of Kalinowska’s pieces: the element of surprise, and something that could be defined as the "eloquence" of the material. The coloured air filled foil is reminiscent of children toys, yet the artist uses it as a material representing scenes of rape and self-destruction. Amusingly deformed by a schematic outlining of the shapes, the joyfully coloured objects, such as the canary-yellow copulating couple or the green head holding a gun in its mouth, might make the viewer smile at first, but that grin quickly changes into an anxious grimace.
At the occasion of her exhibition "Jeszcze trochę" / "A little bit more" (2002), presenting one of Kalinowska’s first set of installations, the artist revealed a manner that would appear in most of her work: her imaging reminds of a frame still, a held narration with an unknown beginning and end. The first piece’s most important element is the "frozen" dynamic of the action and the tension at its peek: two real size characters standing and facing each other, that pull each the other’s hand as hard as they can. One grabbing firmly a handle on the wall, the other one blocking his legs firmly to the ground. The figures are made from intricately braided red and white rubber bands, forming massive solid and dynamic forms. The material perfectly recreates the visual expression of physicality, with the mass of muscles related by a thick network of tendons and veins. Yet one is not sure if this scene is actually an act of help or aggression. The only certainty relies on the fact that the situation is extreme: the viewer observes a moment that is stopped in time, at the edge above which distortions can be permanent.
In the second installation under the same title, the space of the big room is filled with multicoloured ribbons of serpentines hanging from the ceiling, some lying on the floor amongst a thick constellation of confetti’s. An impressively massive modern cleaning machine stands in one corner of the room. Here and there, in the middle of this post ball landscape, are noticeable bigger accumulations of serpentines, as if someone had swept them while cleaning or a blast of wind had formed them. Only after a while one realises that those heaps are representations of people formed by precisely plaited ribbons of paper. The presence of those ephemeral, delicate human figures in the close neighbourhood of the massive and heavy machine, which purpose is to clean, is a clear sign of danger.
Kalinowska personally intertwined thousands of tiny rubber bands and tied and weaved delicate serpentines. The technique of handcrafting fits perfectly with the materials chosen by the artist; the tiny, delicate elements she picks to make her sculptures are well known random objects of everyday life, yet Kalinowska uses them to create a brand new kind of reality.
For the installation "Uwaga! Izolacja" / "Attention! Isolation" in 2002, the artist used isolation tape to form medium size figures wearing orange working overalls. Those little people are protecting each new space they are placed in by Kalinowska, using silver tape, which creates a chaotic spatial structure under the ceiling of the gallery, delimiting a mysterious place at the heights that is under construction.
In parallel to the creation on sculpture pieces, Agnieszka Kalinowska started making video works. The medium became an equally major tool in her art, which the artist uses in the building of visual narrative sequences of a similar metaphoric and ambiguous cargo as her objects. This new tool saw the rise of motion and sound in Kalinowska’s work, breathing life to the material. Yet the intentional repetitively of the action as well as its narrative monotony appear to the viewer as a constant and redundant replay of the same frame. In most of her films, the characters are actual living components of the artist’s vision, which she arranges with the same precision as her sculptures. She is not inspired by their personal stories, as the are only a material, just the way rubber bands and serpentines are.
Two of her early video works, "Tandem" and "Loża Honorowa" / "Lodge of honour" (both from 2002) feature people and pneumatic hammers, which stunning rumble is a meaningful element of both films. In "Tandem", a man wearing an acoustic protection helmet is engaged into a risky "dance" with a huge working machine which he tries to control and keep still. Holding the handle as tightly as he possibly can, he is tossed around by the loud and crazy machine while desperately trying to keep his balance and stay on his feet. This is obviously an uneven fight, as only one moment of inattention and the hammer gets out of control.
In "Loża Honorowa" / "Lodge of honour", the viewer witnesses from a bird’s eye view not one, but a dozen of such dancing duets. Each of the men bares a number on his shirt, as if he was participating in a contest. The silhouettes, as seen from above in a large perspective shot, are somehow "compressed" to the sole coloured stains of the helmets. Those nervous bright marks move on the black background of the frame in three rows of four. Every now and then, one of the competitors vanishes in the dark setting, or drops out of the contest, and that until only one victorious remains, which restarts the absurd competition all over again. The video is screened on the flooring of the gallery, and the viewers might have the impression of observing a "rat race" happening somewhere under ground.
After the black backgrounds that were building a symbolic area of fear (as darkness provokes dismay), a couple of her work from 2003, "Emergency Exit" and "Personal Doping", feature people moving in a procession without a beginning nor end. In "Emergency Exit", the beam of a searchlight withdraws from the dark a fragment of a massive cornice along with the silhouettes of successive desperados or daredevils, who are marching difficultly against the rocky shadow, hand in hand, from right to left. The illusion of height is enhanced by the soundtrack of the film, which incorporates sounds from a busy street in urban chaos. The figures in "Personal Doping" swim in the abyssal darkness from up to down, creating a living chain: each one of them holds the next one’s ankles very tightly. This piece demonstrates the obvious effort of the participants, as the camera shows them in action from the back, in tight full frame. It only needs one weak link, which must inevitably appear sooner or later, to break the chain.
"Holidays" (2003) confronts the viewers with a situation that is exposed only at the very end of the film. During several minutes, we watch a nocturne scene: a few people, dressed in a way that would suggest they are tourists, lie under a palm tree. The environment around them is filled with a random mess of objects, including garden chairs, all withdrawn from the dark by the raw light of reflectors. For a long moment, nothing is happening, only the leaves of the palm are swaying in the wind. Later, in a scene with more precise lighting, we can observe a minimal move, when one of the characters starts to crawl with difficulty, stops and laboriously paves his way through the lying bodies. The screening drags on, the stillness makes the viewer think of a possible cataclysm that suddenly hit the group of holiday-makers and devastated the area. Was it a hurricane? A flooding? A terrorist attack? Those deliberations are abruptly interrupted by a voice outside of the frame, everyone gets up, we hear chatting, commenting, laughter, we see huge ventilators that were actually blowing fake wind hitting the trees. The whole situation was faked, nothing ever happened, there was no danger whatsoever.
Kalinowska’s small sculptures, balancing somewhere between abstraction and sense/eloquence projected by the material, are also often made of fabrics that seem delicate and fragile, literally torn out of everyday life. They are spectacular yet subtle, amusing and serious. They merge within the tradition of minimalistic gestures and the making of pieces almost deprived from materiality.
The series "Kolekcje / Collections" ("Kolekcja wiosna-lato" / "Spring-Summer Collection", "Kolekcja jesień-zima" / "Autumn-Winter Collection" and "Kolekcja Missoni" / "Missoni Collection" from 2003) was made from illustrated fashion catalogues. The first two Collections both had a transparent, ephemeral form with densely pierced pages, sometimes to the point of making the silhouettes unreadable. The transparency and colourful confetti’s, along with the sculptural arranging of each issue of the catalogue, initiated a subtle flirt with their narrative consistency and their substantial, physical presence.
Formally, the "sense" of Kalinowska’s work appears in the shape of uneven trails or tips, often suggested by the title of the work. They can lead to areas related to the feeling of pleasure, such as "Dance floor" (2003), made of confetti’s and hair net, or anxiety, such as "Fractal" (2003), a piece made of tainted red twine on a white wall, reminiscent of a growing cardiovascular network.
The title of Kalinowska’s piece "Mój dom to moja twierdza" / "My home is my fortress" (2007) has an explicitly ironic undertone, as the object is a very precariously built construction made out of straw sticks tied together with a thin white twine. The cubic form gets irregular and narrower at its base, as being almost ready to collapse. A thick green velvet rope embraces the straws, reminiscent of the moss that flourishes on the walls of old abandoned houses. A similarly delicate material appears in the artist’s new series of the following year called "Zabezpieczenie" / "Protection" (2008), entirely made of paper twine. The artist tainted it in black and plaited it in openwork structures, evocative of metallic net fences or iron window grating that got deformed. The protection does not fulfil its primary purpose, as it barely remains as an expressive drawing in the space.
In 2005, the artist created the two channels video installation "Wielka scena" / "Great scene", which she shot on the occasion of her participation in the exhibition "Beyond the red horizon" in Moscow, Russia. The project is comprised of two simultaneous projections that screened on opposite walls of the same room. The scenes of the first one were shot at the entrance of the MChAT Theatre, while the second one took place in front of a theatre in Dubrowce, which was the place of a terrorist attack in 2002. The structure of both films is based on simple, singular takes directed towards the entrance of the venues. Kalinowska appears on both videos, wondering in front of the theatres dressed in a light elegant gown despite the wintery feel. The entrance to the MChAT theatre is plentifully lightened and people are rushing in to get on time for the show that is about to begin. Meanwhile, the venue in Dubrowce looks abandoned, as it is closed since the terrorist attack. We don’t know what or whom this mysterious woman is waiting for, nor why she got there without a proper winter apparel. The viewer’s anxiety escalades with time, as nothing is explained while the woman nervously accelerates her walk in front of the venues.
When it comes to my referencing to politics, I think it began with the production of the video installation ‘Great scene’ in Moscow. However, I avoid an explicit approach to politics. I represent the political reality through the side of commonness, regular people – I am interested in how the everyday life gets distorted by politics. I have to admit that political connotations are taking more and more place in my work; those themes appear in such pieces as the paintings made of glued straws. The subject of many of these works is architecture, yet buildings are not chosen for their aesthetical form or appeal, but for their meaning within the public discourse and debate, their link to politics and actual events. A growing number of my work has an explicit political context, but it is not a typical form of critical, engaged art with protesting banners, much rather something like an ‘analysis from behind’.
An undefined feeling of anxiety accompanies the following video piece of Agnieszka Kalinowska, untitled "Cóż, właśnie tak wszyscy myślą o wojskowych" / "Well, that is what everyone thinks about us militaries" (2005). It was shot at the Godnatt fort in Sweden, settled at the top of a cliff near Karlskron. The film is divided in two parts: for the first one, the artist invited a group of cadets of the Swedish marine, who are gathered in a room coated in blue fabric, chatting in whisper and occasionally pointing at something above them. We don’t know the thread of their conversation, since the film only bares the original Swedish language version. The second part of the film shows a woman in the same room, dressed in a military uniform, who tells (this time her speech is translated) about the joy, hope, duties, but also danger related to the profession of officer in the marine.
In 2007, the artist presented the six channels video installation "Doormen", which took over a year of production. Its protagonists are doormen working at exclusive apartment buildings in Manhattan, New York. The screening shows six people dressed in elegant black working uniforms, who sit next to each other against a black background. We only clearly distinguish their faces, hands, fragments of their white shirts and silhouettes of the chairs. The viewer feels like he is watching a scene with feature actors who debate about the daily peregrinations of a doorman, their own life experiences and the overall situation in America. Kalinowska recorded the film material with each character separately, in identical set design, before editing their testimonies in a way that suggests an actual conversation between all of them. The doormen, privileged insiders and witnesses of the hidden matters and scandals of Manhattan’s elite, are just invisible to the high society, they belong to a totally different social category. By giving them a voice, Kalinowska reversed the established order of a certain conventional practice.
A very notable part of Agnieszka Kalinowska’s work are her little paintings, which the artist plaits from straw. Black lining backgrounds present silhouettes of freeze-frame like shots of burning cars (an event she witnessed during the riots in Paris in 2008), stills from her own videos, an outline of the hurricane Katrina, even Julia Timoszenko’s famous braid.
My paintings are very sculptural, because I make them using sculpture technique, by constructing and adding elements. Those pieces are obviously flat, but as I work on them, I first see the straw that I must flatten, taint, cut and glue. I manipulate three-dimensional material that I use as a base. My paintings are something in between genres. They are also related to video, as in most of my films, the subject appears against a black background that devours everything superfluous. Straw is a technique that requires simplification, since lots of things are just impossible to do. I like that a lot, as I am not interested in unnecessary things. Straw is seemingly a ‘futile’ material, but it requires a strict work ethic, that is much closer to the analytic formula of conceptual art than naive creation, which obviously discovered that material for is own purpose.
Scholarships and creative stays:
• 2003 - Artist in Residence Civitella Ranieri - scholarship
• 2006 - Location One, New York – creative stay
• 2007 - Pro Helvetia, Zurich – creative stay
Selected solo exhibitions:
- Extinguished Neon Signs, BWA Warszawa, Warsaw
- Draughty House, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig - MUMOK, Vienna
- Night Projection, Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
- ...So is Moscow - Kunstraum Walcheturm, cooperation with Karma International, Zurich
- Before It Will Get Hot, Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna, Austria Great Scene, Theater Gallery, Uppsala
- Safe, Goodnight Tower (with Artur Żmijewski), Karlskrona
- Summer Solstice, Platan gallery, Budapest, Hungary
- Personal Doping, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
- Personal Doping, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ, USA
- Summer Solstice, Manhattan Gallery, Łódź
- Novart, Festival of Young Art, Krzysztofory Gallery, Kraków
- Just a little bit more, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions
- Szenarien über Europa, Die Stiftung Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Lipsk
- New Order, Art Stations Foundation, Poznań
- Plundering the Ruins of Reality, BWA Warszawa, Warsaw
- Concrete Things, the forgotten bar / Galerie im Regierungsviertel, Berlin
- Hostipitality. Receiving Strangers, Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź
- Ten Years Hunting - The Trophy Room, Parker`s Box, New York
- Things Evoke Feelings, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Painting and Its Environs - About the Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder in Vienna, Palacio de Sástago, Zaragoza
- Czego oczy nie widza?, New Polish Video, Anty-fikcje, Muzeum Sztuki MS2, Łódź
- Territory-body, territory as performance, WRO 09 International Media Art Biennale, Wrocław
- DE-CI DE-LÀ / MEDIA, ÉCOLE SUPÉRIEURE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS, Strasbourg
- Presentations of the WRO ART CENTER, Week of Contemporary Art in Lviv, Centre for Urban History of East Central Europe, Lviv
- Salon I, Galeri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen
- Life? Biomorphic Forms in Sculpture, Kunstahaus Graz
- L'eredita' del cemento, ISTITUTO POLACCO DI ROMA, cooperation with Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
- Mortal Coil, Parker’s box, New York
- System Error - War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena
- DUSK, DIVA MIAMI BEACH O6 - presented by Raul Zamudio, USA
- You Won't Feel a Thing: On Panic, Obsession, Anesthesia and Rituality, Kunsthaus Dresden
- Polyphony of Images - a Night of Cutting-Edge Contemporary Art from Poland, the Consulate General of Poland in New York
- Hot/Cold? Summer Loving, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Ideal # 08, Espace Croise, Roubaix, France, curators: Mo Gourmelon, Eric Deneuville Video'appart, Paris,
- Punkt rosy, Czarna Gallery in Raster Gallery, Warsaw
- Videodyssey, Parker's Box, New York and Galerie Anne Barrault, Paris
- "(…)", BWA Gallery, Zielona Góra
- Blind date, Sector Reforma Gallery, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas UNAM, Cuidad de México, Mexico City
- Beyond the red horizon - New art from Poland and Russia, National Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow
- Wrong expectation, Darmstadt Kunsthalle
- Beyond the red horizon - New art from Poland and Russia, Ujazdowski Castle, Centre of Contemporary Art, Warsaw
- Far west, near east, Forum Kunst & Architektur, Essen
- Rendez-vous Nova Polska, video, Espace Croise, Centre of Contemporary Art, Roubaix
- Blind date, Polish & Mexican artists, Ujazdowski Castle, Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
- Nuit Blanche, Dazibao d'images, Paris
- Palimpsest, Łódź Biennale, Łódź
- Health & Safety, Wyspa Institute of art, Gdansk
- Brooklyn Euphoria, New York
- Affinites electives, Cimaise et Portigue, Centre of Contemporary Art, Albi, France
- Videoformes, show of Polish video, Clermont-Ferrand
- Under Red and White Flag. New art from Poland, Estonian Art Museum, Tallinn; Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius, Lithuania; National Center of Contemporary Art, Moscow; CCA Niznyj Nowgorod, CCA Niznyj Tagil
- 5th International Contemporary Art Exhibition "Extra Strong Super Light", The National Museum, Szczecin
- Architectures of Gender: Contemporary Women's Art in Poland, SculptureCenter, Long Iland City, NY
- The Young Are Realists, Really, Ujazdowski Castle, Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw
- Space, Institute of Contemporary Art, Dunaújváros, Hungary