From oversized photographs of orchids (taken apart and put back together using a Darwinian scientific method and multicoloured pushpins) to portraits of nerdy teens and their "gaming" rooms, Bownik's photography looks at artificiality through a hyper-realistic lens - and at the impressions technology makes on society at large. In late September 2013 he premieres his latest series of enigmatic portraits at the Starter Gallery as part of the annual Warsaw Gallery Weekend.
Paweł Bownik (born 1977) studied philosophy and sociology in Lublin before getting his degree in photography and multimedia from the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts. He lives and works in Warsaw, drawing inspiration from youth culture and reinterpreting contemporary themes using classic techniques from painting, archival photography and the golden age of 1940s cinema.
His start in photography was inspired by an irrepressible fascination with art. Soon he found his medium of choice, and explains that "large-format photography fulfills all my expectations with regard to the final image. I like a narrow focus, so I only work with this format". He uses the camera as a tool to test the limits of visual conventions, to subvert its canons of representation and presumption, in the process creating a poetic form of photography that is both striking and unsettling. He injects a bit of the remarkable into the everyday, teasing the eye with its characteristic combination of the familiar and the uncanny. When asked about the way he sees the art of photography, he answers, "I don't trust it in and of itself, so I make use of a variety of convention in my works".
Disassembly to disappointment
His latest series, entitled Every Imitation Disappoints, is a gently ironic exercise of the very thing that fascinates him - a highly cinematic collection that stealthily re-creates the suspenseful ambiance of film-noir flicks of the classic days of cinema, while averring its inherent inferiority as a mere "facsimile" of the art of the epoch. Notwithstanding the disclaimer, the images hold a quality of intrigue and mystery that is all their own.
Presented at the Starter Gallery in early autumn 2013, alongside images from Bownik's series Disassembly, Every Imitation Disappoints was created especially for the third edition of Warsaw Gallery Weekend, an event that highlights the best work done by accomplished artists and the most promising young artists from Warsaw's best galleries over three days in late September (27-29.09.2013).
As with all of Bownik's characteristic images, the photographs in the Disassembly (2012) series go beyond the surface. At first glance, these huge images of majestic tropical flowers are simply that - beautiful photographs of plants and flowers reminiscent of 19th-century botanical illustration. A closer look deepens that connection, the numbering of each individual part of the plant, the intricate web of tiny threads, tape and cellophane heightening the scientific quality of these specimens.
Bownik used traditional scientific methods to take each plant apart and put it back together again before recording the image in all its natural perfection, its hues of green, white, lilac, chartreuse and crimson even richer than in life, as rich as painstaking sketches drawn up by Darwin and others. Some plants sport clusters of multicoloured pins among their blooms - he proves he cannot help but playfully extend his reach with regard to his natural subject, pushing the task of photography further into the realm of artistic intervention. The series will be published as a collection in late 2013 by Mundi Publishing, in cooperation with fellow artist and art book publisher Honza Zamojski.
Bownik has said, "What interests me are the transformations we see in culture under the influence of electronics". Arguably his most recognisable series, Gamers (2007-2009) presents a portrait series of young e-sport enthusiasts - teenage boys devoted to computer gaming. Their pale faces and insomniac gazes are captured as they are - pimples and all. These portraits break through the anonymity of digital entertainment, revealing the faces of those whose identities are usually unknown, hidden behind an avatar of their imaginations.
Affiliated with the series is Training Halls, photographs of the rooms inhabited by these cyber-athletes, stocked with "sporting equipment" and other items that come together to tell the story of a particular gamer's identity. The third installment along the same theme is the E-slodowy series that documents a strange panoply of objects and instruments that facilitate the extensive stretches of gaming that these young people endure, such as elbow buffers and home-made extension cords.
These raw, esoteric props are another window into the unknown world of "Gamers" and their inexhaustible pursuit of digital victory and international fame. The series pays heed to Adam Słodowy, a popular proponent of DIY projects in communist times, and the legacy of the geometric abstraction of modernism and the functionalist drive of mankind in the face of necessity - in this case that of "professional cyber-athletes".
Closer to home
Bownik has been working on the Koleżanki i Koledzy / Friends project since 2012, a work-in-progress capturing the photographers close friends in characteristic portraits that reveal elements of the subject's personality, seen through the unorthodox lens of their observer. These images are set in uncommon circumstances - often the subject is backwards to the camera, bending down to adjust a brightly-coloured trainer while sitting on an ornate couch in a baroque interior or splayed across a geometric wooden parquet. As Bownik says, the gist of this ongoing project is simply the idea of "youth".
The Urn as an Hourglass
Apart from human and material losses, the Second World War inflicted enormous cultural losses on Poland, with the destruction of works of art as well as books. Its most telling symbol is an urn with ashes collected from the Okólnik library, a treasure trove of national heritage at the time of the war. Bownik's photograph captures one moment of the perilous process which began in the fires of "bookicide". It is one of the charred books from Okólnik which was put into an urn seventy years ago, and is now mounted in the Palace of the Republic, reminding us of the wartime destruction of books. The urn, which usually stands in a shaded corner of the National Library, has been on display as an enlarged, large-format photograph, as captured by the artist.
Łukasz Wojtysko comments in an article about the piece in Dwutygonik:
Such a magnification brings to mind nature photography, images that present a scaled up picture of an anthill, for example. In this way, it depicts the complicated life which escapes the human eye. Yet, in this case, it is not the insects that are at work, but time, and we observe the process of decay. The charred book is disappearing in front of our eyes. We peek inside through a microscope. The hourglass works, grain by grain. The paradox is that nothing is crumbling on the photograph, and time stands still – because of the impression of reality, and the magnification, it's easy to forget this. In a way, we submit to the illusion, one similar to what Korzeniowski had experienced.
Bownik's photograph has been presented during an opening ceremony at the Rzeczpospolita Palace on the 5th of June, 2014.
Bownik has been active also as a curator, co-founding the IKOON collective, the Teren Osobny Gallery in Poznań, organising the International INTERWENCJE art event there in 2005 and co-curating the fourth edition of the Photography Biennale in Poznań that same year. He has received a scholarship grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heria tage (2008). He has shown his works around the world, including Galeria m55 in Athens (2011), Karlskrona, Sweden (2008), FKSE gallery in Budapest ( 2008) Museum Quartier, Vienna (2007) and Museum for Fotografie Huis Marseille, Amsterdam (2012). He is also a lecturer at the Warsaw Academy of Photography since 2012.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum in Huis Marseille, Amsterdam and the ING Polish Art Foundation, Warsaw. Bownik is represented by the Starter Gallery in Warsaw.
For more on Bownik, see: www.bownik.eu and starter.org.pl
A selection of Bownik's works are available for sale at artvolver.com
Selected solo and group exhibitions
- 2013- Every Imitation Disappoints, Starter Gallery, Warsaw
- 2012- View Point, Museum for Fotografie Huis Marseille,Amsterdam
- E-słodowy – Starter Gallery, Warsaw
- 2011- Gamers – Gallery M55, Athens, Greece
- Gamers – Fotofestiwal OUT OF LIFE, Łódź
- 2009- Lucim żyje – CSW, Toruń
- 2008- Grannar/Sąsiedzi/Neighbours.Contemporary art from Poland - Karlskrona, Szwecja
- New Polish Photography Review - Photomonth Kraków
- Face Lifting - Galeria FKSE, Budapest
- 2007- EPAF - European Performance Festival - CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa
- UMPOLEN - MuseumsQuartier, Wiedeń, Austria
- 2006 - The Diary of Robinson Crusoe - Fotogalleriet, Visby
- UND – With Love From Young Polish Artists, Karlsruhe
- 2005 - Art in the Room - Galerie Zero, Berlin, Niemcy
Author: Agnes Monod-Gayraud,26.09.2013
Source: bownik.eu, starter.org, own sources, interview