Interdisciplinary artist. Born in 1967 in Warsaw, she lives and works in London. In 2008, she was among the four nominees for the prestigious Turner Prize, awarded each year to the most outstanding young British artist.
Visual artists whose work method is often referred to as cultural archaeology.
Goshka Macuga has worked out a very unique artistic strategy in which she moves beyond the traditionally perceived role of an artist, although in her work, she does also use traditional media, such as sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and film. She creates installations in which she appropriates the work of other artists, archive materials, ready-mades, but also objects of her own making. She communicates using the techniques and tactics of a museum exhibit or an archive (because of this, her art is often compared to that of Marcel Broodthaers). These are methods that are usually ascribed to curators rather than to artists. Macuga herself has said:
I am an artist who is trying to extend my activities by being a curator, a historian, a history-teller, a critic, archivist, exhibition designer, architect, composer, gallerian, sociologist, biologist, film-maker, collector, photographer, performer, magician etc.
Macuga's work method is often referred to as cultural archaeology as well as being compared to detective work. An exhibition is always preceded by archival research, often linked to the institution for which a given project is being created. The installations are constructed using different elements and are based on changing the context, showing coincidences and interrelations that previously went unnoticed, and recalling facts that have either been forgotten or suppressed.
My work alters the context - explains the artist. - I hope that it can create temporary changes in how the viewer perceives certain concrete items, objects, works of art, pictures and stories. History changes over time, our memories change as a result of new experiences and our experience, in turn, influences our memories.
The aim is to create new meanings and to offer the viewers the possibility to re-read the facts and artefacts. Above all, Macuga reveals the political factor in that which is aesthetic and visual. By doing so, she enters fields like art history, ethnology, psychology or esoteric science.
After completing her studies at the Central Saint Martins School of Art, and at Goldsmiths College in London, she embarked on a professional career as an artist. It was towards the end of the ‘90s that Macuga began using the works of other artists. One of the first of such installations was Cave (1999), in which she incorporated the works of artists like Keith Tyson and Dexter Dalwood. In order to present them, she designed a grotto-like space, the walls of which she covered with crumpled brown paper. The installation as a whole constituted a bitter reflection on the nature of works of art and the manner of their presentation. As Michael Wilson wrote:
the structure and style of a cave seemed to be designed first and foremost to protect and preserve these rare jewels, displaying them with some reluctance to be seen by the viewer.
For the Zawody malarskie (Painting Contest) in Bielsko Biała in 2001, Macuga prepared an installation that was similar in message -Pejzaż (Landscape) - she placed the works of other artists on a photo wallpaper, selecting them according to how their themes correspond with aspects of the landscape. Adam Szymczyk, curator of the exhibition, wrote in the catalogue that
Macuga's Landscape can be viewed as an exaggerated model of a thematic exhibition, where the different works relate to the selected theme by way of clinging. (...) Undermining therefore, the alleged naturalness and neutrality of contemporary culture's standard of 'lovely views', which actually has its roots in the tradition of true painting, Macuga also questions the claims of 'true artists' about being original, by inserting examples of extreme artistic individualism inside the frames of a typical, repetitive picture.
In 2002, for her exhibition in the Galeria Foksal Foundation in Warsaw, she displayed other artists' works inside a folk-styled interior of a traditional cottage, their role being reduced to props. In the same year, in the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow, she displayed selected works by local artists in different kinds of cupboards that gave the impression of being old and associated with traditional museum-like displays. The items on display were in stark contrast to such surroundings. In the Gasworks Gallery in London in 2003, Macuga reconstructed the Picture Room from John Soane's London Museum. The famous eighteenth-century architect stored his art collection there, including sketches by Piranesi, and plans of his own project. In reconstructing Soane's interiors, the artist created an exhibition of work by thirty artists. Macuga's first area of interest therefore, became art ontology and its institutional rooting (and the production and property issues arising therein), while, on the other hand, the problem of being original and the possibility of sourcing from an existing store of paintings.
The use of other artists in Macuga's activities takes on other forms. During her exhibition in Kate MacGarry's Gallery in London in 2005, the artist presented five hefty monographs of famous artists (they were: Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke and Martin Kippenberger) that she covered with a binding of her own design. Each one was based on the artist's unexpected and subjective choice. Her appropriation-based intervention posed questions about ownership, information flow, the possibility of using this information, as well as about the freedom of interpretation when taking advantage of available sources. .
Macuga's later installations used architecture more often and her exhibitions increasingly turned into expanded narratives. In 2006, for example, together with a group of architects, she constructed a huge architectural installation - Sleep of Urlo, inspired by expressionism and the Italian Renaissance. The layout of the rooms, on the other hand, was reminiscent of the Natural History Museum in Paris. Inside, contemporary artists displayed their works. The participants of the Liverpool Biennial, and Macuga herself, presented, among others, a somnambulist sculpture inspired by the film The Office of Dr Caligari. She expanded this esoteric theme in her installation, What's in a name in 2007 at the Andrew Kreps Gallery, in New York. Using sculptures, photos and other items, as well as archive materials, she connected the story of Helen Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, with that of Giuseppe Tartini, an eighteenth-century Italian composer who maintained that Satan haunted him in his dreams. As Michael Wilson wrote, a dream is a metaphor of the creative process, while an archive is a literal manifestation of artistic influences.
During the Biennale in Sao Paulo in 2006, Macuga constructed a small architectural structure inspired by the projects of Oscar Niemeyer who designed the most famous buildings in Brasil. This structure was contained inside some of the works displayed at the Biennale, but there was also a room in which the artist placed books, prints and documents that she had bought in Brazil. They referred to the country's colonial past, to religion, folk heroes, zoology, as well as to art. In front of it, the artist planted a herb, that - as locals believe - is supposed to ward off evil spirits. According to Michael Wilson 'Mula sem cabeca' embodied the tension between Brazilian modernism and the spiritual beliefs that have survived till this very day, as well as the paradoxical co-existence of modernism with that which is metaphysical, of the concept of progress with that which is archaic.
Macuga often uses art history as a point of reference. When she is working in a given institution, she starts by looking through its archives. When examining the archives of the London Tate, she created the exhibition, Objects in Relation (2007). The archive materials exhibited related mainly to the early-modernist British group, Unit One (and in particular, to Paul Nash), which combined progressive ideas with a return to the world of nature. She placed these documents next to natural forms she had looked for in the natural archives of English forests. She searched for the monsters inside. At the Tate exhibition, following her nomination for the Turner prize in 2008, Macuga referred to the story of two artist couples active in Europe during the 1930s: the British Paul Nash and Eileen Agar, and the Germans, Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich.
In her most recent installations, Macuga refers to the sphere of politics in a more uniform way. Her exhibition, I Am Become Death, in Basel in 2009, focused around the problem of the neo-colonial politics of the United States. The artist presented, among others, Aby Warburg's photos of Hop Indians next to photos from the archives of an American Vietnam War veteran. Reconstructions of the sculptures Robert Morris made for his 1971 exhibition in the Tate Gallery dominate this work.
That exhibition - explained the artist - was like a playground, you could climb these sculptures, play inside them, and this released a kind of anarchy or aggression. People ended up in hospital after suffering damage, and five days later, the exhibition was closed. The Vietnam War was still on at the time, and I don't know whether what Morris was exhibiting had any relation to it. However, I am interested not even in why he did it, but its social consequences. It was politically very ambiguous.
Macuga's installation in the Whitechapel Gallery in London (within the framework of The Bloomberg Commission), The Nature of the Beast (2009) focused on similar issues. The artist was interested in that moment of the gallery's history when Pablo Picasso's Guernica served as a stimulus to organize a political manifestation of the communist party, the aim of which was to collect money and shoes for the Republican Army in Spain. This time, an upholstery was placed hanging in the gallery, similar to that which can be found inside the UN headquarters in New York. (This upholstery was much talked about, when, in 2003, it was covered during Colin Powell's speech justifying military intervention in Iraq.) Hence, also, the presence of the bust of the American Secretary of State (ironically, in a cubistic style). In the centre of the gallery, Macuga placed a round table (which was at the same time a display containing archive materials) that was made available to different groups for discussion purposes during the exhibition.
In 2012 she was one of two artists selected for the Documenta 13 survey in Kassel, aimed at artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. These are terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary. Her work Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not is takes the form of a huge tapestry embellished with a banquet in a Kabul garden, with the ruins of a palace in the background and a snake in the foreground. It symbolises the Orient as a beautiful illusion in which peace is only a mirage. The second part of the work is found in Kabul itself, as Documenta stretches its borders across the world with projects scattered across Kassel, Kabul, Alexandria/Cairo and Banff.
Her first solo show in her native Poland didn't take place until 2011. Untitled filled the space of the Zachęta National Gallery with documentation and reflection on Poland's legacy of censorship during communism and immediately after. Macuga uses archival materials to show how the relationship between art and its audience and the museum space itself has changed. It pokes into the mechanisms of censorship and the limitations it has placed, and continues to place, on the artist's freedom and the channels of communication available. Examining certain situations over the past 20 years of exhibiting in Poland's major art institutions, Macuga illustrates how the fall of communism did not immediately entail the fall of censorship, showing how the works of Piotr Uklański or Mauricio Cattelan were destroyed, how artists, curators and works of art were targeted by both the government and the public itself, long nurtured with the tough gruel of propaganda.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 1999 - Cave - Sali Gia, London
- 2000 - Cave - Kunstakuten, Stockholm, Sweden
- 2002 - Friendship of the Peoples - The Project, Dublin, Ireland; Galeria Foksal Foundation, Warsaw; Homeless Furniture - Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, UK
- 2003 - Kabinett der Abstrakten - Bloomberg Space, London; Picture Room - Gasworks Gallery, London
- 2005 - Goshka Macuga - Kate MacGarry, London
- 2006 - Mula sem cabeca - 27th São Paulo Biennial, Brazil; Sleep of Urlo - A Foundation, Liverpool, UK
- 2007 - What's in a name - Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; Objects in Relation. Art Now - Tate Britain, London
- 2008 - Goshka Macuga - Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich; Goshka Macuga - Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland
- 2009 - I Am Become Death - Kunsthalle Basel, Basel; The Bloomberg Commission. The Nature of the Beast - Whitechapel Gallery, London
2011 - Untitled - Zachęta National Gallery, Warsaw; It Broke from Within, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
2012 - Goshka Macuga, Andrew Kreps, NY; Exhibit A, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Goshka Macuga, Kate MacGarry, London; Untitled, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich
2013 - Goshka Macuga: Non-consensual act (in progress), Index, The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm;
Sexuality of Atoms, Andrew Kreps Gallery, NY
2014 - Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy, 8th Berlin Biennale, Museen Dahlem, Berlin; Public Address: Goshka Macuga Tapestries, Lunds Konsthall, Sweden; Madness and Ritual, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich
2016 - Now this, is this the end… the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? (part 1), Schinkel Pavilion, INDEX Berlin, Berlin, Germany;
Time as Fabric, New Museum, NY; To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, Fondazione Prada, Milan
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, July 2009. Updated by Agnieszka Le Nart in January 2013.