Video artist and photographer. Born in 1985 in Lublin, Poland. Lives and works in Kraków and Berlin.
Agnieszka Polska creates video works employing mainly found material, such as archive photography and illustrations, which she subjects to subtle interventions, whether animating them or working them into the existing image. In the process, the artist changes their primary context, simultaneously creating illusions of documentation. She investigates the impact of documentation on its future reception. Her visually powerful explorations of lost times or half-forgotten figures of the Polish avant-garde, turn to how the past is fictionalised and re-worked. Her animated videos evoke a sense of melancholia, and a longing for something that perhaps never was, but which she makes real at least on film. In an interview with Art Review, Polska said that, 'Slow, unnaturally calm movements are present in most of my videos. I mainly work with animated film so a meditative, contemplative quality is present also in the process of production, which is very important for me. Each project needs a lot of time and concentration (for viewer and maker)'.
As Polska says,
Misunderstandings or erroneous interpretations are all factors, which push art forward creating new values and posing new questions. An archive - as every living organism - is alive and subject to incessant change, forever multiplying images of itself. The elements negated and rejected during the process of archivisation, later appear as the dark matter of our subconsciousness.
She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, studying in Agata Pankiewicz’s photography studio (2005 - 2010) and from the Universitaet der Kunste Berlin in the class of Hito Steyerl (2008 - 2009). Today she is represented by the Żak/ Branicka Gallery in Berlin. She first began exhibiting her works in Kraków in 2007. She has exhibited across Europe and in the United States, most recently at the Calvert 22 Gallery in London.
The series Medical Gymnastics (2008), old photographs moved and stretched illustrating an old gymnastics manual (an animated film) and photographs from a book about children gymnastics, created by removing clothes of the exercising girls with Photoshop (a series of graphics). The Calendar (2008), an animated film based on photographs from German newspapers of the 1930s, shows the tranquil landscape and sounds of nature constantly disrupted by the buzzing of flies, introducing surrealistic accents.
Her project Death of a King (2009), a series of black and white collages, is based on film stills illustrating the sexual revolution. The artist also responds to the rituals described by anthropologists familiar with primitive cultures - the suspension of rights after the death of the king - in order to create a vision of society after a catastrophe. Polska's works explore a history of misunderstandings, omissions and black holes in art history. The animated videos and photo collages are fake documents about pieces of art, or artists that never existed, or those which fell into oblivion for unknown reasons. For her solo exhibition at the Zak | Branicka Gallery in Berlin in 2010, she presented Three Videos with Narration, an ironic triptych exploring a history of misunderstandings, omissions and black holes in art history.
Her most recent videos include The Forgetting of Proper Names, My Favorite Things and Sensitization to Colour. Each is only a few minutes long, whittling down images and the emotions they evoke to a concise dose. The titles of the works also borrow from the past, referencing the conceptual art of the 1960s. The Forgetting of Proper Names (2009) and My Favorite Things (2010) present works by artists including Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria and Wolf Vostell that are pulled from their primary context and, as a consequence, deprived of their ‘artistic’ function. The video Sensitization to Colour (2009) refers to the performance of the same title made in 1968 by an avant-garde artist, Włodzimierz Borowski, one of the key figures of Polish conceptualism. The film is a hypothetical reconstruction of the performance, based on black-and-white photographs documenting it.
In March 2012 several of her films were screened in London as part of a group show at the Calvert 22 Gallery and at the Tate Modern, alongside a retrospective of documentary films about Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow. She was among the 21 finalists for the Pinchuk Future Generation Prize 2012.
In 2013 Agnieszka Gryczkowska and Paul Robertson curated Polska's first solo show in Edinburgh, setting her works into a contemporary context of appropriating found footage and archival materials in art. The curators cite Frederic Jameson's 'historical amnesia' and Hal Foster's assertion that contemporary art is becoming characterised by an 'archival impulse'. According to Foster, 'artists are often drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects, in art and in history alike, that might offer points of departure again'.
2013 was also the year in which the artist was nominated for the prestigious Views competiton. For the nominees' exhibition at Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw, she prepared a video work Future Days, which pictured a heaven for artists. The work featured masked actors representing iconic figures such as Bas Jan Ader, Lee Lozano, Charlotte Posenenske, Włodzimierz Borowski, and Jerzy Ludwiński.
Polska was one of the four artists from Poland invited to participate in the 2014 Biennale of Sydney (21.03-9.06). At the 19 edition of the event, themed 'You Imagine What You Desire', the artist was to show her video How the Work is Done, a re-enactment of a strike led by students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków as they locked themselves in the ceramics workshop for ten days and transformed the everyday activities of artists into an act of protest. Polska, however, resigned from participating in the Biennale, joining a group of artists boycotting the event, in reaction to the organizers' partnership with Transfield, an Australian company managing the offshore detention of asylum seekers.
The film tells the story of a group of actors gathered around a charismatic Director. The actors are ready to brutally compete with oneanother just to be in his favour, as well as live together in a group resembling a commune, just to be closer to him At the same time, during the film, the Director himself is absent – we only hear about him in the conversations of the actors who are eagerly waiting to meet him.
In an interview for Szum Magazine Agnieszka Polska spoke about her most recent project – the full-length movie Hurra! (2017):
I am finishing a feature-length film entitled ‘Hurra!’ which portrays the dilemmas of artists trying to choose the best way of protest. In the film, we see a group of filmmakers, who represent something like a hipster-left, completing a movie about Rosa Luxemburg. At some point, they are visited by an old friend who’s now a member of a radical left-wing, violent organisation modelled on the Red Army Faction. The woman demands that they return the money the organisation had deposited with them. As it turns out, the money is gone, because it has all been spent on the Luxemburg project. And now, obviously enough, the filmmakers are in trouble. Their biggest problem, however, is the dilemma of where to draw the line with regards to political commitment and the efficiency of applied means.
In 2017, AgnieszkaPolska, Sol Calero, ImanIssa and Juman Mann won the Preis der Nationalgalerie prize, which is awarded every two years and pays tribute to artists under 40 who live and work in Germany. All four artists presented their work during a joint exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof. The women produce art spanning several media at once, using their work to reflect social processes. Polska described her film New Sun in the following way:
A sort of ‘immersion’ can be found in a film I’m now presenting at the Preis der Nationalgalerie exhibition. It consists of a half-sung poetic monologue of an anthropomorphic sun speaking to a lover.
Polska's recent work is based on the principle of bringing the recipient into a state of so-called ‘immersion of the senses’. Although they involve topics such as environmental disasters or the rise of nationalistic sentiments, they have no unequivocal political potential that could directly lead to change. However, Polska sees a different potential within the works’ immersive nature, whose atmosphere could rival, for example, the one found in a church. Polska remarks:
Mass is also a combination of sounds and vocal monotony. I imagine a situation when an audience, after having visited a contemporary art exhibition, will no longer feel the need to go to a temple of an organised religion.
Selected Solo Exhibitions:
- 2019 – Geppert – Sprawdzam, BWA Wrocław
- 2018 –I Am The Mouth, Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb
- 2017 – Syrena Herbem Twym Zwodnicza (The Beguiling Siren Is Thy Crest), Museum on the Vistula, Warsaw
- 2016 – Screens Series: Agnieszka Polska, New Museum, New York, USA
- 2015 – The Moving Finger: A Performative Lecture with Agnieszka Polska, MoMA, Nowy Jork; US The Body of Words – Gallery Weekend Berlin, Gallery ZAK | BRANICKA, Berlin
- 2014 – I Am the Mouth, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham
- 2013 – Pseudoword Hazards, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg; Nonsense Syllables, Hope Park Gallery, Summerhall, Edinburgh, Scotland
- 2011 – The Gardener’s Responsibility, Georg Kargl BOX, Vienna, Austria; Duet (with Tomasz Kowalski), Goldex Poldex, Krakow, Poland; The Garden, BWA Zielona Góra, Poland
- 2010 – Solo presentation, abc art berlin contemporary, ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Decades, Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus, Germany; Three Films with Narration, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow, Poland; SPLACE, TV Tower, Berlin, Germany (with Antje Majewski); Three Videos with Narration, ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin, Germany
- 2008 – Towards Oskar Hansen’s Open Form, Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych, Lublin, Poland; The Calendar, Art Agenda Nova, Krakow, Poland
Selected Group Exhibitions:
- 2016 – 11. Gwangju Biennale, South Korea; Winter Is Coming (Homage To The Future), Georg Kargl Fine Arts & Georg Kargl Box, Vienna; Common Affairs: Revisting The Views Award – Contemporary Art From Poland, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin; Laughter and Forgetting, MeetFactory, Prague; Generationsübergreifend – Polish Art in Marl, Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten, Marl, Germany; De – Mo – Kra – Cja, Galeria Labirynt, Lublin; Shape of Time – Future of Nostalgia, MNAC, Bucharest; La Memoria Finalmente – Arte in Polonia 1989 – 2016, Modena, Italy; Canal Grande, Kulturhalle Pfaffenhofen, Germany; AMOR, OI Futuro Cultural Center, Rio de Janeiro; #iwillmedievalfutureyou4, Museum for Contemporary Art, Roskilde; Open Frame Award 2016, go East Festival of Central and East European Film, Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden; Projections, Film & Video: Spring, 2016, RISD Museum, Providence; Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue, The Mistake Room, Los Angeles; Lost in the Archive, Riga Art Space, Ryga; Suspended Animation, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington; I LOVE YOU, Foundation Art and Science Videoinsight, Turin
- 2015 – Rijksakademie OPEN, Amsterdam; Project 35: The Last Act, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moskwa; Copenhagen International Film Festival, Kopenhaga; Laughter and Forgetting – Bucharest Art Week, Bucharest; Time Lapse, Kunsthalle Tallinn, Talin; Workshops of Culture, Lublin; We rather look back to futures past, Lajevardi Collection, Teheran, Iran; Untitled, Turbinenhalle, Hennickendorf, Germany; The Shadow of the Dome of Pleasure, Artspace, Auckland, Nowa Zelandia; Double Feature, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt; NKVextra Agnieszka Polska / Future Days, Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden, Germany; Sport, Sport, Sport – A Screening Programme of Soviet–Era Cinema and Artist Moving Image, Birkbeck University of London; High Line Channel 14, New York; Procedures For The Head / Polish Art Today, National Cultural Centre, Bratislavia
- 2014 – Zbrodnia W Sztuce, MOCAK, Kraków; Fragile Sense of Hope – Art Collection Telekom, me Collectors Room / Olbricht Foundation, Berlin; Apple. Introduction, Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi; Future does not wait, La Capella, Barcelona; The Sky is Blue in Some Other Way: A Diagram of a Possible Misreading, Galeria Elba Benitez, Hiszpania; The Night of the Great Season, La Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Mulhouse, Francja; Co widać. Polska sztuka dzisiaj, Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie; Everybody is Nobody for Somebody, Santander Foundation, Madryt; Imagine What You Desire, 19th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Still bewegt. Videokunst und alte Meister, Altana Kultur Stiftung, Bad Homburg, Germany; Kolekcja. Fragment, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
- 2013 – All About These…Ladies and Gentlemen, Viafarini DOCVA, Mediolan; Microutopias of the everyday, CSW Znaki Czasu, Toruń; 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts, International Centre of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana; BRITISH BRITISH POLISH POLISH, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw; The Black Moon, Palais de Tokyo, Paryż; Photo–Collections. Real–illusory, Gestures, Images, BWA Lublin; The Future Generation Art Price @ Venice 2013, PinchukArtCenter & Victor Pinchuk Foundation (wydarzenie towarzyszące 55. Biennale w Wenecji); Six Memo’s for the Next…, Bregenzer Kunstverein, Bregenz; Focus Poland 3: Take 5, CSW Znaki Czasu, Toruń; Leisure, Discipline and Punishment, Contour–Biennial of Moving Image, Mechelen, Belgia; Views 2013, Zachęta, Warsaw; INTERRUPTION, 30th Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana
- 2012 – Sport w sztuce, MOCAK, Kraków; Misplaced, Displaced, Replaced, Rotwand Gallery, Zürich; In PRL only Military Academies, Militia Academies and PWSSP aren’t on strike, Galeria Pies, Poznań; 21 Artists Shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre, Kijów; The Call for Fashion, MSN w Warszawie; Project 35 – Volume 2, Independent Curators Internationational; Soundworks, ICA, Londyn; Grey Peak of the Wave, Harris Lieberman Gallery, New York; Objects and Disintegrations, Galeria Miejska w Gdańsku; Air de Pologne, De Garage, Mechelen, Belgia; The Poster Show, Carlier | Gebauer, Berlin; The Forgetting of Proper Names, Calvert 22 Gallery, Londyn
- 2012 – The Forgetting of Proper Names (with Wojciech Bąkowski, Anna Molska), Calvert 22, London, UK
- 2011 – The world of Gimel (with Antje Majewski), Kunsthaus Graz, Austria; Based in Berlin, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany; Gone to Croatan, Strategien des Verschwindens, Hardware Medien Kunstverein, Dortmund, Germany; Passion of an Ornithologist: On Myth Making, Galeria Sztuki Wspolczesnej BWA, Nowy Sacz, Poland; The Promise, Crèvecœur Gallery, Paris, France; 2010 Early Years, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany; Vedo Cose Che Non Ci Sono, Polish Institute by MOMA Warsaw, Rome, Italy; Un seminaire a la campagne, France Fiction, Paris, France; Disobedience, LMAKprojects, New York, USA; The Good Old Days, The Aarhus Kunstbygning, Aarhus, Denmark; The Past is a Foreign Land, Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu, Torun, Poland
- 2009 – Anabasis: Rituals of Homecoming, Festival of Dialogue of Four Cultures, Łódź, Poland; Wolność Od-zysku (Freedom from Profit), Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland; A!, Arsenał Municipal Gallery, Poznań, Poland; Breathless, Market Hall, Vienna, Austria. Curator: Adam Budak; Sport dla Niewysportowanych (Sport for Couch Potatoes), Galeria ZPAF i s-ka, Krakow, PL.
- 2008 – Medical Gymnastics, Video point, ŻAK | BRANICKA Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Ain’t no Sorry, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland; Bewegte Stilleben: Junge polnische Videokunst (Animated Still Lifes: Young Polish Video Art), Brandenburgischer Kunstverein Potsdam, Germany; The last, the New, Site-Specific Project in Stalowa Wola, Poland; Blankly Perfect Summer, VertexList Gallery, New York, USA.
- 2007 – 16 Things that May Not Happen, artpol, Krakow, Poland
Editor: Agnieszka Le Nart, March 2012, Update: Ania Micińska, March 2014