Karska and Went began working together during their studies at the Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts, creating films, visual installations that transform overlooked structures in the public space. Aleksandra Went was born in Gdańsk in 1976. Alicja Karska was born in Malbork in 1978.
Aleksandra Went was born in Gdańsk in 1976. Alicja Karska was born in Malbork in 1978. Karska and Went began working together.
Organising and designing of space, 2002, 9min, Color, Stereo. First project film by Aleksandra Went and Alicja Karska; Women's role in patriarchal spatial order. Women wearing chambermaid uniforms are wandering through the raw structure of a building under demolition. Photo courtesy of www.karska-went.info
Both women studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk between 1998-2003. Karska defended her dissertation at the studio of professor Zdzisław Pidek, and Went completed her course with professor Sławoj Ostrowski. They have worked together since 2002.
Their projects have been used in discussing issues of architecture and public space for a number of years. They take interest in areas and public spaces which have become forgotten over time, such as abandoned and derelict buildings. The artists pose questions regarding the content that derelict architecture may have, but they also make an effort to retrieve its meaning – by regaining its lost identity and calling the public's attention to it. However, works by Karska and Went are not meant to intervene with the status quo as such, the artists do not aim to protect disintegrating buildings, or preserve the ambience of certain places. They are more interested in the issue of time and the marks it leaves on walls, some of which have existed for dozens of years, as well as that of nature, which slowly performs an act of destruction on the constructions of mankind, regardless of the current political system and regime.
Their first joint film project, entitled Projektowanie i organizacja przestrzeni / Designing and organising space (2002), depicted the process of bringing a hotel building - which was meant to be built years earlier, but its construction was never completed - back to life. As the building frame is dismantled, Karska and Went introduce characters to the space, such as ghost-like maids who, blind to the changing reality, repeat their usual actions of changing sheets and making non-existent beds. Their movements are harmonious and precise. With the visual play of white linen, they outline the complex relations within the building. In 2004 Karska and Went nearly literally revitalised a house situated on ul. Stągiewna 45 in Gdańsk. All that remained of the building was its facade. The artists painted it, in accordance with the original colour scheme which was emerging from underneath a layer of plaster. The film they made at the time registered the process of painting, as well as the responses of passersby.
Unwanted and neglected architecture was also the theme of their photographic series entitled Wiadukty / Viaducts (2005-2006) in which Karska and Went took pictures of the remains of former, now-unused commuting routes – of which only small fractions now survive. The objects which used to symbolise modernity became merely a mark of history, and form picturesque ruins in photographs. During their scholarship course in Zilino in Slovakia, the artists created a film entitled Obieg zamknięty / Closed circuit (2006), featuring water flowing in and out of an abandoned swimming pool. The film frame was divided into two sections, which made the pool resemble a living organism. According to Kaja Pawełek:
It depicts a state of constant anxiety, linked to eternal movement which fails to alter anything. The image of water suddenly filling the damaged container introduces an element of danger, as well as a new, not entirely controlled, life, the source of which remains unknown and which returns in waves, making the tension rise and fall.
The artists tend to pay attention to things that pedestrians usually fail to notice. For instance, in 2005 they created a miniature project entitled Inspekty/ Frames, through which they tried to protect small plants and grass blades that grow in the space between pavement slabs. The photographs depicting this process reveal that there are things that do not fit into the tidy, modern, urban spaces. Other projects by Karska and Went convey a similar message, particularly those created in recent years which intervene into the urban tissue. An example of such work includes letters of an unused neon in a small, Slovakian town which the artists substituted with photographs of the interior and the front elevation of the building, on which they were placed (Neon, 2008). In 2007, the artists completed a project aptly named Kurtyna / Curtain, which involved a spectacular act of covering the neoclassical façade of the Brussels opera building with an enormous curtain made of red velvet.
In the 'Kurtyna' project, the aesthetic fiction does not offer a promise of a consolidation of any kind, rather, it introduces elements of uncertainty and ambiguity which slip away from the ready-made scripts outlining the rules of functioning within an urban space, wrote Bożena Czubak.
Subsequently, Karska and Went covered small elements of neglected urban architecture in Racibórz with white cardboard, revealing the original shape, and creating an illusion of perfect, restored surroundings, if slightly angular, resembling a digitalvisualisation. In 2008, the artists put down puddles made out of white wax in the passages between Wrocław blocks of flats (Deszcz / Rain). This intervention, nearly minimalist in its form, apart from its aesthetic aspect, works through the strength of contrast with the surroundings.
The artists also create individual projects, although they are usually similar to their collaborative works in terms of their ambience and themes. Alicja Karska created a film and a series of photographs entitled Drzewa / Trees (2004), depicting the grim fate of nature in grey residential areas, which becomes disciplined and restricted by the buildings - the landscape of run-down blocks of flats includes trimmed tree stumps. Karska was also interested in houses constructed on separate pieces of land that join together, as well as those surrounded by annexes, creating one, hybrid organism (Uczysz się budować domy / You learn to build houses, 2005, models and photographs). Aleksandra Went created photographs of building interiors using parquet planks and floorboards, which placed on a bare floor or propped up against a wall, seemed to maintain an atmosphere of the past (Mo-je po-ko-je / M-y ro-oms, 2004).
In their video project, Opóźnienie / Delay (2010) the slow pace of the narration, almost suspended in time, urges the viewer to focus on the image itself. The meditative rhythm of the frozen-frame video of a train station and, especially, the tension between movement and stillness refer us to a different temporality and memory animated by the memory of the image on screen.
By: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008. Updated October 2010.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 2003 - Laboratory, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2004 - Nie pokoje Królikarnia, Warsaw (Aleksandra Went)
- Przestrzenie powinności / Spaces of obligations - Le Guern Gallery Warsaw
- Sandboxes - Project_1, Gdańsk
- Nie ma rzeczy zupełnych / There are no definite things - Baltic Gallery of Contemporary Art, Słupsk
- Mo-je po-ko-je - Łażnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk (Aleksandra Went)
- 2006 - Galeria Letnia, Galeria Miejska Arsenał, Poznań
Selcted group exhitibions:
- Mode - Wyspa Progress Fundation, Gdańsk
- Reset Media Arts Festival - Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- WRO'03 – 10th WRO Media Art Biennale, Wrocław
- Proximum, National Art Gallery, Sopot
- Supermarket Sztuki 4 / Art Supermarket 4 - Galeria Domu Artysty Plastyka, Warsaw
- Przestrzenie publiczne / Public Spaces - LAZNIA Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk
- Thailand New Media Art Festival 2004 - Bangkok, Thailand
- Rybie Oko 3 - Baltic Gallery of Contemporary Art, Słupsk
- Proximum - El Gallery, Elbląg
- 14th IFHP Film/Video Competition - Oslo, Norway
- Reproduced and Replayed - FIAC 2004, Paris
- Dutchopen. International Festival for Dutch Film - Amsterdam
- Impulse - the Polish Institute, Düsseldorf
- WRO'05 – 11th WRO Media Art Biennale, Wrocław
- Prague Biennale 2 - Prague
- Egocentryczne, niemoralne, przestarzałe / Self-centred, immoral, outdated - Zachęta National Art Gallery, Warsaw
- Wall to be Destroyed - Frac Lorraine, Metz, France
- Absolwent / The graduate - Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdańsk
- 2006 - W Polsce czyli gdzie? / In Poland, meaning where? - Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Agorafolly - Art Walk. Europalia - Europa Festival, Brussels, Belgium
- Model Ad Hoc - Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdańsk
- Trading Places - Hotel Mariakapel, Hoorn
- Efekt świeżości / Freshness effect - Racibórz
- Sztuka - Przestrzeń - Miast / Art – Space – Cities - Brema, Germany
- From Poland - Kasia Kay Art Project Galery, Chicago
- Efekt rzeczywistości / Reality effect - Zachęta National Art. Gallery, Warsaw
- Survival 06 - Wrocław
- Zdzisław Pidek. Pamiętamy / Zdzisław Pidek. We remember - Łażnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk