Bogna Burska is a versatile visual artist: she creates installations, site-specific projects, photographs, paintings, and video works. She was born in 1974 in Warsaw.
Visual artist, photographer, painter, creator of video works and installations.
In 2001 she graduated from the Painting Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he attended the Visiting Workshop (Gościnna Pracownia) of Leon Tarasewicz. In 2006 she started working at the Intermedia Workshop run by Grzegorz Klaman at the Sculpture Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. She is one of the founders of the Warsaw-based artists' activist group WWA. She lives and works in Warsaw.
The artist applies various forms of expression, creates installations, site-specific projects, photographs, paintings, and video. Her output tends to be described as a combination of critical art and aesthetic issues. Her early works largely focused on the theme of corporeality and the perceptions of it. Since 2004, she has been consistently engaged in analyzing the language of film, its relationship with an image and impact on the viewer's imagination.
Her debut works were blood-coloured paintings, with paint spread all over them by hand. She also created paintings on glass and resin casts (e.g. of hands) dyed red – sometimes the artist had red-coloured water running through them. In Burska's works, the colour red symbolizes blood, which can have multiple meanings: life and vitality, but also death, violence, pain, and female physiology.
In 2001, during an exhibition of works by students from the workshop of Leon Tarasewicz at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Warsaw, Burska constructed a corridor almost entirely covered in blood. Blood ran down the white walls and through three pairs of male and female hands stuck to them. The artist provoked the audience into a brutal confrontation with violence without implying who was the oppressor or the victim.
The artist introduced a similar ambiguity and atmosphere of horror in her work/installation at the Biała Gallery in Lublin (2002). Burska staged a house interior inside the gallery space – she set up a parents' room, and one for a child – a little girl whose portrait decorated a wall. On the empty bed, seemingly just left by someone, one could see blood stains. The stains explained nothing about what had happened in the room, whether it was an act of domestic or sexual violence, whether these showed up as the result of defloration or menstruation.
In 2002, Burska realized the painting project Stained Glasses (Witraże) at the Mariavite church in Pogorzel near Warsaw. This was yet another of her works based on the symbolism of blood, which gains new meanings in this kind of sacral space. The stained glasses, smeared with blood, called to mind agony and suffering, but could also be read in a political context.
In the same year, Bogna Burska created the photo series Life is Beautiful (Życie jest pięne), in which she juxtaposed photographs of flowers with photographs of surgery, and Algorithm (Algorytm), where images of the process of peony flowers in bloom were set aside shots of an amputated leg. The artist successfully managed to depict the unexpected similarity between things that are considered ugly or beautiful, thus foregrounding the aesthetic value of phenomena generally regarded as repulsive. The artist arranged the photos in a grid, where the rectangular photos were formed into larger rectangles. In this way, she contained the emotions permeating these works in a geometric system. Her subsequent photographic series, such as Road (Droga, 9 photographs, 2003), Thaw (Odwilż, 25 photographs, 2003), or Book (Książka, 24 photographs, 2004) explore the motif of blood stains on snow, which the artist contrasts with views of the sky in Book.
In her piece Arachne (2003), comprising a video and a series of photographs, the artist showed a giant, hairy spider, dreaded by many, walking across a female's bedroom. The room is glamorous, the bed is topped with silk linen, and on top of the dressing table we see perfume bottles and jewellery boxes. In Greek mythology, Arachne was the name of a beautiful weaver whom the goddess Athena punished for her pride by turning her into a spider. In this piece, Burska not only touches on feminist issues by referring to women's passions and fears, but also sets another trap in it and shows that things we perceive as beautiful and ugly can be uncanningly alike.
In 2004, the artist began creating film works that included found footage, and were based on the artist's own selection and editing of excerpts from films – mainly ones that were widely popular and recognizable. Her first project that she compiled out of ready sequences, was the film Rain in Paris (Deszcz w Paryżu, 2004). When invited to take part in an exhibition in Paris, the artist decided to make a piece about that city from the perspective of a person that had never been there. She based it on scenes from romantic and erotic movies set in Paris: Queen Margot, Marquise, Dangerous Liaisons, Frantic, Henry & June, Poison Pen, The Lovers on the Bridge, and Night Wind. Her intention was to confront the myth of French erotica and the myth of Paris as the city of love. The passages chosen by the artist show impassioned and wild relationships between men and women, always accompanied by blood. In this project, the artist points to our visual habits and the ease of manipulating a viewer, the procedures appearing in the Hollywood productions that border on kitsch and continually replicate well-known patterns. She also introduces them, thus revealing the mythology of film, firmly grounded in the contemporary culture. When editing Rain in Paris, Burska collaborated with Michał Januszaniec, who ended up being the co-producer of her later films as well.
In the video piece Margaret (Małgorzata, 2006), the artist touched on the theme of the archetypical figure of Margaret, epitomized by the characters of Gretchen (Faust's lover), Margot (the Queen of France), and Margarita (from Bulgakov's famous novel). All of these characters are connected by the motif of blood, which features in the film as the material of a necklace – just like the one Faust saw on his beloved in his vision. The blood may be interpreted here as a symbol of cursed legacy weighing on all three Margarets; the fluid was presented in the video in an extremely aesthetic manner, which is typical of the artist.
Between 2006-2008, the artist created a series of works titled A Game with the Shifting Mirrors (Gra z przemieszczającymi się zwierciadłami). Burska borrowed this title from Jorge Luis Borges' review of a non-existent book The Conversation with the man called Al-Mu'tasin, whose protagonist tries to find a perfect human in the reflections of other people. Borges perceived language as a collection of quotations. Burska treats the language of film in an analogous manner, and constructs her works out of film cut outs. For her, film is a medium that fuels mass imagination. The artist searches through various films, with all sorts of aesthetic styles and narratives, for similar motifs and scenes. In her works, she uses well-known scenes from both arthouse and Hollywood films to build new worlds and manipulate them into labyrinths of space and time.
The plots of her films are based on already existing narratives shifted to new contexts. Burska exposes the mechanisms that dominate the film reality, in which scenes or gestures, once created, are perpetually reproduced and inserted into all sorts of pictures. The artist claims to investigate the relationship between the language of film, its image, and influence on viewer's imagination. As Tomasz Fudala noted, in Burska's works, film observes its own mirror image through film. By juggling quotations and manipulating the contexts in her collage-films, the artist continues to engage in a game of repetitions, as well as constructs new themes and searches for new meanings.
I was fascinated by the possible existence of imagined visions, that there was a second, parallel world, regardless of whether it was more or less real. That is where all cinema narratives take place and form a uniform reality. We only think of them as separate stories because we watch them one by one, individually. It is as if we looked through single holes or windows, which inevitably would limit our field of vision. There are so many of those stories, but each of them is also enacted over and over again. We could imagine that that other world exists and what we see are just scraps, which are seemingly unconnected to one another, however if you look closely enough, everything comes together.
– the artist said.
The artist split her series A Game with the Shifting Mirrors into three thematic parts: the first one includes the films One More (Jeszcze raz), A Very Bad Dream of Count of Monte Christo (Bardzo zły sen hrabiego Monte Christo), Piece of Jade (Kawałek jadeitu), and Found Footage (Materiał znaleziony), the second part: A Heart So White (Serce takie białe), God is Vain (Bóg jest próżny), and Wind (Wiatr), while the third part – Shooting Star (Gwiazda). Bogna Burska says that “from the artistic point of view, she is interested in assuming a role of a detective whose assumption is that all the connections between the characters and events may not be a matter of coincidence.”
Her found footage films illustrate that idea very well: the artist searches for similarities and interplays among surprisingly, as it would seem, varied films. In the film A Very Bad Dream of Count of Monte Christo, Burska brought together two very distinct film genres (Kevin Reynold's The Count of Monte Christo, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ) and combined the scenes of lynching the Christ and Count Monte Christo, both of whom were played by the same actor – James Caviezel. One More is a montage of excerpts from two gangster films: Kansas City by Robert Altman and The Boondock Saints by Tory Dufffy. She picked out scenes in which a similar joke is told, however in two different versions. In Piece of Jade, the artist combined fragments from three films with Jeremy Irons – Chinese Box by Wayne Wong, Lolita by Adrian Lyne, and Damage by Louis Malle. With the use of three different roles by Irons, Burska manages to create a coherent plot, especially that it turns out that in all three the actor has a very similar way of playing a lover. In Found Footage, Burska focused on meanings and images injected into a viewers' consciousness without their knowledge and showed how film fiction is astonishingly close to the reality outside of it.
The structure of the next three films from that series – Wind, A Heart So White, and God is Vain – was based on mirror pairings of two visually analogous motifs, which however had differing, or perhaps even opposite, meanings. In A Heart So White, whose title is a quotation from Macbeth, Burska chose blood as the leading motif – whether it appears in certain circumstances, or is being cleaned off one's body. In this piece, Burska fuses scenes involving love and hatred, loving and killing, selected out of films by Coppola, Herzog, and Jordan.
Wind revolves around the act of flying: in reference to the dream of flying and as a suicidal jump into space. On a visual level, these two can be almost identical: the artist was thus interested in trying to bring out the differences in their significance by means of combining them. God is Vain is a piece about symmetry, reflections, doubling, which at the same time applies the archetypical motif of beauty and self-admiration. It includes mirrors in which the protagonists constantly try to look at themselves. They also try to find themselves in other people, here – in the symmetry of homosexual couples, since same-sex couples may be perceived as mirroring images.
Burska's films are autonomous works, detached from the original sources of footage. The artist also manages to reveal striking similarities between various roles of such actors as Jeremy Irons (in Piece of Jade) or Al Pacino (in Shooting Star). She exposes patterns that govern multiple film productions. In Shooting Star, the artist uses various film plots to create a consistent image of the main protagonist as enacted by Al Pacino, even though he plays people from various social environments. She also analyzes visions of individual directors, captures recurrent motifs, copied situations, and scenes that contribute to the sphere of collective memory of the audience, sated with cinema images, quotes, and film afterimages.
In A Game with the Shifting Mirrors, she carries out an in-depth analysis of film reality, which relies on specific topoi, and shows how the world of film fiction affects its audiences and their perception of their surroundings.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- Bogna Burska & Anna Orlikowska, Studio BWA, Wrocław
- A Game with the Shifting Mirrors / Gra z przemieszczającymi się zwierciadłami, Warszawski Aktyw Artystów, Warsaw; Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków; 2008: Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdańsk; BWA, Zielona Góra
- Piece of Jade / Kawałek Jadeitu, ON Gallery, Poznań
- Vazante, Giedre Bartelt Galerie, Berlin
- A Heart So White / Serce takie białe, PL Gallery, Rome
- Precipitations / Opady, Kronika, Bytom
- Margaret / Małgorzata, Biała Gallery, Lublin
- Interiors / Wnętrza, Arsenał Gallery, Białystok
- Winter is Gone, Change and Partner Contemporary Art, Rome
- TV Room / Salon telewizyjny, Mały Salon, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Life is Beautiful / Życie jest piękne – ctd. , Szara Gallery, Cieszyn
- Life is Beautiful / Życie jest piękne, CO2 Gallery, Gliwice
- Stained Glasses / Witraże, Mariavite church in Pogorzel near Warsaw
- Biała Gallery, Lublin
- The Visiting Workshop of Leon Tarasewicz, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
- VI Biennale of Photography, Poznań
- Lust, Looking, Terror / Pożądanie, patrzenie, przerażenie,, 1 Złota St., Warsaw
- What can't be seen. Bloody art – bloody stories experts talk, Mobile Academy, Warsaw
- no news is good news - Art for the Leftists / Sztuka w służbie lewaków? Czyli: no news is good news, Kronika, Bytom
- ZOO~ La Centrale Électrique, European Center for Contemporary Art, Brussels
- The Passing of Beauty / Przemijanie piękna, Stadthalle Görlitz, Görlitz
- Na własną rękę, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Love and Democracy / Miłość i demokracja, CCA Łaźnia, Gdańsk
- 1st Exhibition of Works from the Regional Zacheta Contemporary Art Collection in Szczecin, Museum of Contemporary Art, Branch of the National Museum, Szczecin
- Videovetrina #4 - Wonder Women, Studio Lipoli&Lopez, Rome
- Potential. Contemporary Art Collections for the Museum… / Potencjał. Kolekcje sztuki współczesnej dla muzeum... , The Metropolitan Building, Warsaw
- Love and Democracy / Miłość i demokracja, Stary Browar, Art Poznań 2005 Poznań
- Polish Video Art After 1989 / Całe życie zrywam się i padam. Polska sztuka wideo po 1989 roku - projection, Film Center Skalvija, Wilno
- Polish abstract film 1970 – 2004 / Polski film abstrakcyjny lat 1970-2004, CCA Łaźnia Gdańsk; CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Beauty, or Painting Effects / Piękno, czyli efekty malarskie, BWA Gallery, Wrocław
- Beauty, or Painting Effects / Piękno, czyli efekty malarskie, BWA Gallery, Zielona Góra
- Beauty, or Painting Effects / Piękno, czyli efekty malarskie, BWA Bielska Gallery, Bielsko-Biała
- As White as Snow, as Red as Blood, Giedre Bartelt Galerie, Berlin
- Test Card. Latest Polish Video / Obraz kontrolny. Najnowsze wideo polskie, Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- Duty and Rebelion. The Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw 1944 / Powinność i bunt. Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie 1944-2004, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- Continental Breakfast, Planetarium, Belgrade
- Kunstprojekt-Goetzen, Friedenskirche, Frankfurt / Oder
- Anne, Marie, Madeleine, Polish Contemporary Photography, Espace Apollonia, Strasbourg; 2005: Thessaloniki, Museum of Photography, Thessaloniki; National Museum, Szczecin
- Under the White and Red Flag. New Art from Poland / Pod flagą biało-czerwoną. Nowa sztuka z Polski, Estonian Art Museum, Tallin; The Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), Vilnius; National Centre for Contemporary Arts – Arsenal, Nizhny Novgorod; Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Arts, Nizhny Tagil; National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow
- The Age of Romanticism / Doba romantyzmu, The Palace of Arts, Lviv; 2004: CDA, Kiev
- White Mazurka / Biały Mazur, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; Berlin Art Forum, Berlin; 2004: Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- Seduced, Prague Biennale 1, Prague
- Tenderness, Center for Contemporary Art, Kiev
- Polish Brand, Art Moscow 2003, Moscow
- Cultural Territories, Galerie fur Zeitgenossische Kunst, Leipzig
- The Manner of Living / Sposób na życie, CCA Łaźnia, Gdańsk
- Poland / Polska, Academia Theatre, Warsaw
- Look at me, novart.pl, Kraków
- Painting / Malarstwo, Polish Institute, Stockholm
- diploma exhibition, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Fort Legionów, Warsaw
- The Visiting Workshop of Leon Tarasewicz, Pogranicze Foundation, Sejny; 2001: BWA, Zielona Góra 1999
- The Visiting Workshop of Leon Tarasewicz, Górnośląskie Centrum Kultury, Katowice
- The Visiting Workshop of Leon Tarasewicz, Inny Śląsk Gallery, Tarnowskie Góry
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, May 2004, update: June 2009. Transl. AM, May 2015
All images were published courtesy of the artist.