Jacek Malinowski is a visual artist, and an author of films, installations, sculptures and photographs. He was born in 1964 and now lives and works in Warsaw.
Malinowski studied at the Faculty of Visual Arts of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in the US (1995-1997) and the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1987-1992). Twice, in 1992 and 1993, he participated in the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg (Austria). Malinowski is the winner of numerous scholarships and grants, such as: scholarship of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2011); scholarship and artist-in-residence subsidy from the Edvard Munch-Haus, Warnemunde, Germany (2006); Culture Foundation grant (2002); Kosciuszko Foundation scholarship, New York (1995-1997); Batory Foundation grant (1995); Kulturkontakt grant, Vienna, Austria (1992 and 1993); scholarship from the Ministry of Culture of Brandenburg in Kunstlerhaus Wiepersdorf Schloss, Germany (1992).
Jacek Malinowski’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Art in Łódź, the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, the Arsenal Gallery in Białystok and the Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń.
In his films, Malinowski uses a formula called ‘a false documentary’, through which he attempts to decipher the structure of reality and see if art can reflect it. This strategy is based on the construction, deconstruction and simulation of a subjective reality, which then becomes an alternative, reverse or parallel reality. The result is a substitute for reality, built and legitimately expressed through fiction. This unwritten docu-fiction manifesto is among the most original artistic outlooks, having no analogue in the fields of visual arts and film in Poland.
One of the most famous works by Malinowski, in which he used the ‘theory and practice of a false documentary’ for the first time is the triptych HalfAWoman created in the years 2000-2008. The film presents the daily life of Joan, a woman suffering from a rare disease called Pelvic Degeneration Syndrome (PDS), which has caused the disappearance of half of her body. The camera captures the dark and bright sides of the woman’s life, who has fully accepted her disability. In HalfAWoman 2 (2005) and the final part of the triptych HalfAWoman ... three years later (2008), Malinowski documents the personality changes of the protagonist – a flirty and cheerful middle-aged woman, who ends up as a silent and depressed pensioner in a nursing home. The long duration of the filming has its consequences, such as the visible, progressive ageing of the heroine. This ‘unorthodox portrait’ of a person struggling with disease is nevertheless full of humour, which stems not only from the psychological characteristics of Joan, her speech and the situations presented in the film. The narrative method, aiming to maximise the credibility of the story, which is backed by thorough research, goes much further – at the border between authenticity and the restricted area reserved for "orthodox" documentaries.
A key aspect of the artist’s work is examination of the nature of reality, its credibility and artistic representation in the form of a film. Using the classic features of documentaries together with subversive strategies, he attempts to trace how the image of the modern world is constructed in the media, through art, and in the public or private space.
Jarosław Lubiak on Malinowski’s work:
... In each of his films Jacek Malinowski very carefully constructs fiction, only to later discard, undermine, or even annihilate it. This does not really destroy the film story, but it effectively disrupts its functioning, which makes it impossible for Malinowski’s films to be categorised as para-documentaries – something that would seem logical at first.
The artist’s ambiguous works, which do not belong to any film genre, are interesting with their form and content. The protagonists of films such as The Celebration of Erwin Koloczko (2007), Simulation (2002), and SSS (2001) are characters of flesh and blood. Moreover, the narrative structures, which oscillate between the grotesque, the absurd and manipulation, and are created by the author with extraordinary integrity, evoke strong emotion, curiosity, and sometimes violent opposition. The film convention here is deliberately ‘exposed’. We can often see the actor – professional or amateur – talking to the cameraman. Details of the ‘imperfect’, real ‘documentary’ filmed in a hand-held style are deliberately shown through unexpected twists that are sometimes the result of the explosive personality of the characters and of uncontrollable moments of weakness or forgetfulness.
A specific feature of almost all the films created by Jacek Malinowski so far is setting the action in spaces that reveal the private, instead of public or social nature of his art. If they have a broader context, referring to the body, memory, society, history or politics, it fulfils a secondary function, enriching the main themes of the narrative. In return, the staging of fundamental issues regarding film inspiration, film genres, and the properties of the medium he uses provides a sort of an alibi for the artist, which allows him to keep a certain distance.
Simulation (2002) – this is the story of a young couple with an unusual relationship, in which the boy takes care of the sick girl. As the action develops, a camera left in the flat reveals that the girl is only pretending to be ill. Her guardian does not give her the chance to get out of the difficult and embarrassing situation, forcing her to continue playing the role.
This gives the viewer the sense of solving a puzzle – is the girl pretending to be sick and this is life [...], or is the girl – actress – playing a seemingly sick game?
– writes Hanna Wróblewska.
In The Celebration of Erwin Koloczko (2007) the authenticity and artificiality of the story is problematised to the limit of possibility. We follow the story of a miner as he talks about the difficult path to fame and the relationships with his colleagues, who discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the protagonist. The actors are real miners, and all statements are quotes by movie stars. As noted by Jarosław Lubiak, it is difficult to judge whether:
miners are genuinely interested in films about celebrities, whether they would like to be like them and achieve the same fame, or the opposite – they mock these movies, because they know that it is the hard and dangerous work they do that is worthy of glory.
In the movie As Usual (2003), a young woman, an employee of a corporation, talks about her financial situation, about the loan she has taken out, and reveals details of corporate existence. At some point, for the purpose of contrast, her character is dubbed by the voice of an old simple woman, singing an archaic folk song. Artur Żmijewski characterised the film as a story:
... about the mythical basis of the world that sneaks from beneath corporate regulations, which have turned work into rivalry, and competition into a game of power – about the mythical structure behind the reality of the free market.
Although the artist distances himself from critical art, pointing to the individuality or even divergence of his own ‘theory practice’, Małgorzata Heymer, in the catalogue for the exhibition Fitness, draws attention to elements in his work that are in line with this artistic trend.
The selection of fundamental, and sometimes even pretextual topics would suggest that Malinowski’s work belongs to the critical art trend: disability (HalfAWoman), loneliness and alienation of the individual (SSS), hypocrisy in the relationship between two people (Simulation), the cult of the body and the rat race (As Usual), the reality of the media (HalfAWoman 2), the cult of the celebrity (The Celebration of Erwin Koloczko). Each of these films is a voice on the matter, but (...) an inconclusive one.
This has also been noticed by the German curator Friederike Fast, who writes that by considering themes such as aging or death Malinowski’s films ‘serve as a metaphor for fundamental social issues’.
The newest works by Jacek Malinowski are two multifarious projects, each of which forms a sort of a triptych. The first is the Białystok Trilogy created in the years 2009-2013 not in chronological order, as part of an educational programme of the Arsenal Gallery in Białystok. Its historical, psychological and futuristic character results from the collective nature of the work carried out during the film workshops conducted by the artist. In the first – ‘historical’ part of the project, entitled Meeting (2013), taking place in March 1989, the characters of the cycle shown as children accompanied by adults meet in the Planty Park in Białystok. The parents, being the witnesses of major political changes, share their fears about the future. In the second – ‘psychological’ part of the film titled The Crisis in My Head (2009), 20 years after the Round Table the already grown-up characters talk about their internal dilemmas, using as a pretext the current economic crisis. In the last – ‘futuristic’ part – called 2039 (2010) and actually taking place in the year 2039 – the characters, who are in their fifties and live in a surprising future reality, in new reincarnations and with a new anchor to reality – are completely different people. None of the events shown ever happened, nothing has real consequences for real people, and yet the content of the film is understandable, as it uses plausible analogies and predictions that are unintendedly credible.
His most recent project, which is still in development and in which the artist experiments with the film convention and his own experience in this field, is a series of three works that have also their expanded versions in the form of a multi-channel and three-dimensional film installations. They are: Marker (2009), Nosferatu. The Fearful Dictator (2011), and Judas (2015), which is currently in production.
The protagonist of the film Marker is a representative of a group of anti-globalists who rebels against global capitalism. As a sign of protest to the existing order he systematically marks his territory with urine. The story takes place in Warsaw, but that does not mean that the presented socio-economic reality is confined to Poland. Writing about this work, Monika Szewczyk draws attention to the global character of the problem presented through a controversial narrative typical of Malinowski.
The markers’ manifesto, or rather, a list of claims made by the protagonist, becomes obvious in the third part of the film and sounds just as true in the United States, Britain or Poland, 20 years after it regained its independence. Although a question arises as to the substance of independence: it is not enough to get it back – you need to know how to live with it.
Nosferatu. The Fearful Dictator
One of the artist’s latest and most complex works in terms of content and possibilities of interpretation is the film Nosferatu. The Fearful Dictator (2011). This is a quasi-documentary video-remake, inspired by two classic feature films: the silent film Nosferatu – a Symphony of Horror by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau from 1922 and its modern remake – Nosferatu the Vampire filmed in 1979 by Werner Herzog. The author attempted to create a mix of several genres: fiction, documentary, silent and sound film, works from the video art genre and a multi-channel film installation. Shown in 2012 in the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw the exhibition of the artist was accompanied by an essay, in which Andrzej Wajs wrote:
If I understand this work correctly, there has always been at the heart of it a sense of something that could be defined as a decrease in potential, loss of energy and a state of seeming inertia, followed by a revival. The same is true about Nosferatu. Referring directly to Murnau, the first scene taking place around the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the observation, almost sniffing of the cuboids – empty, symbolic tombstones – is a moving image of evil in the form of decay, where evil meets the evil that has been done. The sequence of steps, listening gestures, touching and sinister glances has been filmed so admirably that it is hard to avoid the impression that we are taking part in a trip to the past. A stray demon-tourist in a land already ravaged by his ancestors. (...) Nosferatu by Jacek Malinowski is neither fiction nor a documentary. And at the same time it is both, in the noblest meaning of these words. The iconography of evil, even in its initial prenatal stage of life, where it is often a delusion, desire and a fruitless will of power, constructs a reality, which is indisputably real. The strength of this film lies especially in the fact that it is a record of disposition, potential and projection. It registers a possibility which has been achieved.
Malinowski’s film works are a direct result of his previous three-dimensional installations, sculptures or photographs. The artist has been recently trying to return to sculpture, leaving the symbolic film space and coming back to a totally real one. Works such as Abstract 1: By the Window (2012) and Abstract 2: Psycho (2013) are built on the basis of film props, which the artist calls un-found objects, as if they had not been found to be used in the film, but designed and produced especially for it. They are shown as independent works in conjunction with fragments of architecture, and arranged in the form of three-dimensional installations. The works include a part of a radiator or a ‘gutted’ bed from HalfAWoman ... Three Years Later and Adolf Eichmann’s slippers visible in the murderer’s death cell in the film Nosferatu. The Fearful Dictator. These objects change their decoration status, gaining an abstract or symbolic meaning. This, on the one hand, reveals the film background of the artist, and, on the other, it exposes the ambivalent status of the reality constructed by him.
Author: Michał Jachuła, February 2015, transl. Bozhana Nikolova
- 2013 - Jacek Malinowski. Film Screening, CSW Łaźnia, Gdańsk
- 2012 - Nosferatu. The Fearful Dictator, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
- 2011 - Jacek Malinowski – films, Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków, Poland
- 2009 - Fitness, Arsenal Gallery, Białystok, Poland
- 2007 - The Celebration of Erwin Koloczek, NOVA Gallery, Kraków, Poland
- 2005 - HalfAWoman, Instituto Polacco di Rome, Italy
- 2001 - HalfAWoman, Mały Salon, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
- 1998 - Shame And Humiliation, Lukacs Gallery, Fairfield University, USA
- 1997 - Collapsing, MFA Thesis Exhibition, MGSA / Rutgers University, USA
Selected collective exhibitions:
- 2014 - Corpus – Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
- 2014 - Risowat (To Draw) – White Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia
- 2013 - Focus Poland - Take 5, curated by Friederike Fast, CCA, Toruń, Poland
- 2013 - Correspondences. Modern Art and Universalism, Museum of Art ms2, Łódź, Poland
- 2012 - Fathers of Church and Masters of Suspicion, Polish Institute, Rome, Italy
- 2012 - Happiness is a warm gun, Rizzordi Art Foundation, St. Petersburg, Russia
- 2012 - Coming soon (arriere-garde), Temporary Gallery, Cologne, Germany
- 2012 - The Games Poles Play, CCA Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland
- 2011 - Spectrum. From the Zachęta Video Collection, Ursula Blickle Videolounge, KUNSTHALLE Vien, Austria
- 2010 - Derangement, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, USA
- 2010 - A Part of No-Part: Parallelisms Between Then and Now, The Chelsea Art Museum, New York, USA
- 2009 - Agent Absurd, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland
- 2008 - The Art of XX and XXI century – permanent collection, Museum of Art, Łódź, Poland
- 2008 - Beyond the Rules of Reality, Museum of Art, Łódź, Poland
- 2008 - Blankly Perfect Summer, VertexList, New York, USA
- 2007 - Mirror Matter, MOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, USA
- 2006 - Poza (Pose), Real Art Ways, Hartford, USA
- 2005 - Prague Biennale 2, Prague, Czech Republic
- 2005 - XI International Media Art Biennale – WRO 05, Wrocław, Poland
- 2004 - New New Yorkers, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland
- 2001 - Anymore, Real Art Ways, Hartford, USA
- 1998 - Common Mysteries, Buckham Gallery, Flint, USA