Artist whose work is concentrated in video works and performance as a way of reflecting on the nostalgia of socialist modernism and its remaining impressions in today's world. Born 1983 in Prudnik.
A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, she honed her skills under the watchful eye of the renowned artist and professor Grzegorz Kowalski. Today she till lives and works in the Warsaw as an artist specialising in video works. These works are very much filmed performances involving ordinary people, rather than professional actors. This practice gives her work an authenticity and natural spontaneity that is an integral to her characteristic style. She draws her inspiration from the Avant Garde and its relevance for society at large within a post-modernist context. Her works have been shown all over the world, including the Calvert 22 Foundation in London, Malmo Konsthall in Sweden, The Power Plant in Toronto, the New Museum in New York and the Tate Modern in London.
The subject of her early films were inspired in great measure by her professor, who urged Molska to turn the camera on to herself in order to create video self-portraits. Her 2006 film Jesus Loves Me depicts the artist singing along to a popular song by Cocorosie, with headphones on. Yet the gospel-inspired sound of the song is in stark contrast with the demonic expressions taking over Molska's face and body, creating a dichotomous image. For her next film, Perspective (2006), she dressed up in a white jumpsuit and burrows into the snow as she unravels ropes attached to her body, which she tugs at until they break. Visually, the film creates a remarkable perspective of line and form, which breaks with painterly traditions of dimension and perspective.
Her later works shifted the lens from the artist to other subjects. In Tanagram (2006-2007) she presents a five-minute-long video featuring two athletic models, dressed only in boxer briefs and futuristic helmets playing with the enlarged elements of the traditional Chinese game of Tanagram. Her 2008 video works W=FxS (Work) and P=W:T (Power) are shown simultaneously, depicting blue collar workers building a triangular scaffolding in a field in Work, while white balls are set in motion inside a squash court in Power. The two works together examine the potential of the collective and the significance of the individual within that collective. In 2009 these films were shown at the New Museum in New York as part of the The Generational: Younger than Jesus group exhibition.
Molska’s 12-minute film The Weavers (2009), based on the 1894 play by Gerhart Hauptmann takes the themes of the drama set in the tragedy of the disappearing textile industry and adapts them to the degradation of coal mining in the Silesia region of Poland. She refers to the problems of the working class, presenting a painterly, yet still very dreary portrait of the unemployed in their daily life. As Molska said upon completing the film, "I’m very interested in the phenomenon of the working class, in the power of the working class as a group and their collective activity". Later that year she was awarded the Views Prize for Young Polish Art offered jointly by the Deutsche Bank Foundation and the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, launching her into the spotlight.
As Angela Rosenberg wrote of the artist on db-artmag.com,
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In her works, she negotiates strategies of memory, of forgetting, of the nostalgic reactivation of socialist modernism. This leads to the question of art’s potential in the organization and shaping of an individual life, but also the initiation of collective experience and its social relevance today.
In 2010, Anna Molska shot a short mockumentary entitled Płaczki (Mourners, trans. H.Sz.). The film depicts the rehearsals of the Jarzębina choir from the village of Kocudza in the Zamość region. The women meet in the Orangery gallery at the Polish Sculpture Centre in Orońsko and sing mourning songs which refer to the tradition of lamentations at rural funerals. Between the songs, the heroines at times play like children only to get scared. They talk about folk ideas of the devil and death and reminisce about people who have passed away. In one of the scenes the mourners arrange a funeral in line with their folksy, childlike impulsiveness. On one of the benches, they arrange a white fabric so that it resembles a human body and gather around the ‘corpse’; they can leave only after they’ve lamented and cried properly. Although the ritual was staged for the purpose of the film, watching these women deal with death brings the viewer relief.
Molska didn’t care about the fake image of folklore from festivals which is full of embellishments and acting; she wanted to show a rite that is still deeply rooted in folk culture. She decided on a raw visual record to accurately reflect the nature of the meetings. There are two worlds that collide in the mockumentary: traditional customs from the Zamość region and the institutionalised world of art. The artist spoke about the film and cooperating with the women in the following words:
My intention was to change their natural environment, remove all familiar elements from it: family, responsibilities, daily tasks, and traditional clothes. The mourners received a set of rather neutral ‘work clothes’ (grey jackets), and instead of a cosy cottage, they found themselves in a greenhouse which currently serves as a gallery.
At first, the mourners got into their characters so that the theatricality of their first meetings was almost unbearable. They wanted to put their best foot forward – they pretended that they didn’t know each other, gave the impression of being calm and elegant. This confirmed my worst fears: the presence of the camera completely determined their behaviour. The women helplessly walked around the empty space, unable to find their place, not knowing what their role was and what to do.
A day later, a mattress appeared in the middle of the greenhouse, which, as it turned out, organised the space phenomenally. The camera ceased to be the dominant element, and the outcome of our evening conversations was astonishing.
A year later, Molska created a new film entitled Hekatomba (Hecatomb, trans. H.Sz., 2011). Space wasn’t the only element of the film that was similar to Płaczki – a greenhouse with a mattress in the centre, serving as a gathering point – Hekatomba is Molska’s poetic vision of the superstitions and beliefs of mourners. The only character in this film is a young man, a modern version of the devil in the women’s story. Wearing beach shorts and flip flops, with a whip instead of a tail, he sits on an airbed while the summer sun’s rays fall through the greenhouse windows. Unlike the protagonists of Płaczki, who vigorously exchange superstitions, the man manifests his boredom, moves gracefully, and his gestures are refined. From the waist up he’s dressed in strange leather armour and he wanders around the room trying helplessly to attach his tail. He is eventually covered with bath foam poured into the greenhouse. Confused at first, he is not sure how to react until eventually he gives up and fully immerses himself in it.
Both films were shown during the solo exhibition Szkarnie (Glasshouses, 2011/2012) at the Foksal Gallery Foundation, and then under the English title Glasshouses (2012) at the Broadway Gallery 1602 in New York. Then, both Płaczki and Hekatomba were included in the joint exhibition of Anna Molska and Ciprian Mureşan entitled Stage and Twist at the Tate Modern. This exhibition – a social seismograph of Central and Eastern Europe tendencies – was prepared in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Both of the artists selected films, sculptures, and installations that cleverly address avant-garde issues, history, and tradition. The Stage and Twist exhibition was the inauguration of a new Tate Modern space called Project Space (formerly the Level 2 Gallery) dedicated to young artists from around the world.
Around the same time some of Anna Molska’s films were screened during the The Forgetting of Proper Names exhibition at London’s Calvert 22 Gallery. However, it was a first such extensive show of the artist’s work at the Tate. With her film Tangram (2006), Molska revived the main idea of the Russian avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century – the belief that art can have a significant impact on society. The Stage and Twist exhibition also included the two-part installation Work – Power from 2008. The films, displayed side by side simultaneously, at first appeared to be completely unrelated images. Work depicts the process of building a triangular scaffolding on which workers eventually stand. This can be interpreted as a caricature of the human sculptures seen at totalitarian ceremonies, photographed, among others by Alexander Rodchenko (Men’s Pyramid, 1936).
Szósty Kontynent (The Sixth Continent) Anna Molska’s project about travelling to the southern pole of the world: the mysterious and not yet not fully explored ’sixth continent’ The artist was inspired by the history of expeditions to the Antarctic organised by Polish scientists in the 1950s. A participant in one of these was the artist’s grandfather, the physics professor Janusz Molski. The material gathered over the course of several months of research – the accounts of participants in the expeditions, photographs, slides, drawings and fragments of documentary films – inspired Molska to create her own image of their encounter with unknown terrain. Anna Molska’s exhibition at Zachęta included sculptures, installations, and a three-part video projection. The main element of the film’s plot is the dialogue between the organiser of multiple expeditions and one of the participants. The artist explores the extreme conditions of interpersonal relations between a group of polar explorers living in a cramped research station. Molska’s project tried to answer the question of what really pushes people into the cold embrace of the ‘sixth continent’. Is it instinct, a need for new sensations, a wrong decision, or simply coincidence?
At the turn of 2014 and 2015 Kraków’s Bunkier Sztuki gallery hosted Molska’s exhibition Obsada (Cast), which comprised of the films Figura (Figure, trans. H.Sz.), Zebranie (Meeting, trans. H.Sz.), Pszczoła Miodna (Honey Bee, trans. H.Sz.) and Martwy Rój (Dead Bees, trans. H.Sz.). The project is the result of her collaboration with retired women living in the House of Veterans of Polish Stages in Skolimów: interviews with actresses that remember the era in question and an in-depth study of the social and cultural position of actors under the communist regime in Poland. The video complemented each by creating a masculine-feminine dialogue. As the author recalls:
'Zebranie' is a record of the stenographic minutes of the meeting that took place in Warsaw in 1953 at the SPATiF Association of Polish Film and Theatre Artists which was devoted to a guest performance of Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble. The film illustrates the problems of power in a ‘People’s Republic’ being held in the hands of men, directed towards men and encompassing all aspects of cultural and artistic life. Against the landscape of the ‘post-war nothingness’, representatives of the government and the literary and artistic communities meet. They pull things down from Mother Courage’s cart and use them to create a formal space for the meeting. There is tea and coffee aplenty – to make up for those absent (because they are no longer alive, or because they haven’t been let in because there is no room for them). A stream of words flows just like the drinks do.
The inspiration for the creation of the films was not only archival materials but also the modernist architecture of Poland under the communist regime, the film Feast of Baltazar by Jerzy Zarzycki and, a whole range of creators from that period, including Adam Ważek, Le Corbousier, and Kazimierz Dejmek.
After being freed from repression and control at the state level, an internal struggle begins. The pattern, though politically changed, remains. This private story told by Anna Molska ends with the loneliness of systematised female bodies. Unwanted, removed from the political and social space, somewhat functioning like monuments of old, now unnecessary stories. Obsada (Cast) is a multi-layered emotional and physical adventure, consisting of memory fragments, theories, fears, and systems.
In 2019 Molska’s next solo exhibition opened in Bunkier Sztuki. In the first of the two exhibition rooms, visitors came across an old desk with recording equipment accompanied by a series of three photos hung on the wall. In the second room was a video installation comprised of six short films which formed a coherent narrative. Molska, in a short interview with the exhibition’s curator Lidia Krawczyk, describes her work as follows:
Viewers have enough imagination to create their own interpretation of my work. The language I use is not a complicated one. I strive for simplicity. I show selected scenes from the script and leave it to others to read between the lines. It is worth asking who the hero of my story is. We can refer here to the issue of how collective consciousness is formed, how a phenomenon such as national spirit should be interpreted and which forces and what potential it entails. I think asking questions is better than giving answers.
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart. Updated: HSz, September, 2019
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