Breaching the rules or transcending the taboos, Jacek Markiewicz knows how to stirr the public conscience.
Polish visual artist, born on the 3rd of July 1964. Lives and works in Płock.
Table of Contents:Uncanny materials | Infamous diploma | Sex and Religion
Polish visual artist, born on the 3rd of July 1964. Lives and works in Płock. Between 1986 and 1988, Markiewicz studied at the Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts Łódź before moving on to the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he frequented professor Grzegorz Kowalski’s atelier. He completed his master’s thesis in 1993. When asked to describe himself, he says:
I work and live in Płock. With a diploma in Sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, I support myself and my family by working as a wholesaler of single-use packaging.
Markiewicz played an important role in the history of Kowalski’s workshop (the so-called Kowalnia) not only as an artist, but also as an animator. He set up the a.r.t. Gallery in Płock in 1992 when he was still a student, and put on mainly student-produced work.
Living in an old, dilapidated townhouse right by the Vistula river began to fascinate me,’ he reflects. ‘I looked at these apartments with a view to setting up shop there. However, it seemed like a waste to use such beautiful interiors with pretentious stucco as a company warehouse. So it’s here that I eventually opened up my own art gallery.
The gallery has welcomed exhibitions prepared by the likes of Paweł Althamer, Katarzyna Górna, Grzegorz Kowalski, Katarzyna Kozyra, Jacek Malinowski, Roman Stańczak, Artur Żmijewski, and Markiewicz himself. After the closure of the bold Ja i AIDS (I and AIDS) exhibition, created by Żmijewski and Kowalski at the Stolica cinema in Warsaw, the works were transported here and the exhibition was reopened. The gallery exists to this day and is highly esteemed on Płock’s local art scene.
Markiewicz’s work has been surrounded by controversy ever since its early stages. His formally pure works included blood, milk, sperm and period blood. In Kowalski’s atelier, he created – among others – a piece composed of his late mother’s clothes. After soaking them in glue, he used them to form regular space modules. At an on-location set in 1990, he constructed an environment in the cellar of a house, and took the public – fellow students and tutors – on tours around it in a special caddy. An exhibition in 1991 displayed photographs in which he masturbated, as well as an object: a mattress covered with flour. Dorota Monkiewicz interpreted the work as ‘the demonstration of the human ego and its loneliness, daunting and final. There is no way to surpass it, because no higher emotions exist in this realm, and the other sex is equally confounded and perplexing in its remoteness.’
Then, in reaction to a task set for him by Kowalski, Cardinal Markiewicz produced an ensemble of black condoms and a quotation from the Song of Songs. At his individual exhibition at the Dziekanka Gallery, he covered the walls and floor with black and blue foil screens, and then filled the gallery room with the smells of ammonia and baby oil, conjuring up the suggestion of a baby’s wet diapers.
But the greatest public outcry accompanied two other projects: his spurt of excess at the Miejsca na miejscu exhibition at the Polish Sculpture Centre in Orońsko, and his master’s project at university. In Orońsko, the artist exhibited his own excrement.
It was a reaction to everything that was going on in there,’ he explained. ‘I was really frustrated by it. And besides, I was interested in all sorts of waste matter produced by the human body (…) The exhibition really wasn’t very interesting and the artists involved – completely conceited. It gave me satisfaction to know that I shitted there. Anyway, I did it with much care for the form of the object that was being created.
Today, not many remember that exhibition and Markiewicz’s ‘action’, but – who knows – perhaps his was an adequate reaction.
Markiewicz’s master’s project was the ambiguous Adoracja Chrystusa (Adoration of Christ, 1993) – a film on which the naked artist fondles a medieval crucifix with an (almost) naked Christ. Not only does the crucifix rest on the floor – it actually comes from the National Museum in Warsaw. Markiewicz’s university tutor, Grzegorz Kowalski, wrote that this situation ‘makes the spectator face a choice between suspicion or trust towards the artist’s actions. What’s sure is that Markiewicz uses the camera to perform and publicise, or even parade the narcissistic-artistic nature of his actions towards the sculpture, the object of cult. The artist’s ego overshadows everything else.’ The artist himself explained his intentions in an interview with Kozyra and Żmijewski:
When I entered a church in Warsaw and saw people praying to a sculpted pseudo-god, it shocked me. The work in which I fondle Christ was motivated by the desire to insult everything that is not God. And in spite of everything, it is a religious work about the adoration of God. By licking a huge medieval crucifix and touching it with my naked body, by insulting it as it lies beneath me, I pray to the Real God.
Markiewicz introduced yet another factor into this precarious balance between adoration and profanation – the spectators’ reactions. This, of course, produced a complicated situation during the defence of his master’s project. The film was screened in a room built just for that purpose. The artist invited two employees from his company to the screening, including his own father (‘My father had never seen any of my works before’). A camera recorded their reactions, and the subsequent recording was played on a screen outside the room. Markiewicz thus revealed for the first time his double nature: a radical artist, as well as a proper businessman and family member.
It had been impossible to really predict the course of action during this presentation, and Markiewicz probably hadn’t foreseen the dramatic tension brought up by the disclosure of his double biography: the artist in permanent confrontation with society and the businessman living in accordance with social norms and profiting from them - says Grzegorz Kowalski.
During the Ja i AIDS (I and AIDS, 1995/1996) exhibition, Markiewicz went even further. In a darkened room, he put his body on display for the guests. Markiewicz describes his experience in the following terms:
The people that came inside saw me. I was bathed, covered in perfume. The girls were quite brave – they talked to me, hugged me, kissed my penis. But there were others, who, overcome by fear, tried to get out of there in a rather tragic manner. (…) That was my close interaction with people. Meeting them in a completely different, more intimate manner.
Sex and Religion
In the later years, Markiewicz became intrigued by the possibility of exploiting people for money. At his exhibitions, he staged situations akin to peep shows. He hired prostitutes from agencies, who participated in live transmissions in galleries (Aneta, 1998; Kinga, 1999), or recorded them and produced video clips (Aneta II, 2000). One of these exhibitions, at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, was forced to shut after two days. The artist himself used the event to vent some politically incorrect, misogynistic judgments:
I am put off by women, especially prostitutes. Not because they’re bad people, but because of their incredible female body parts. They disgust me, and that infects my perception of the whole person. I perceive women through the things between their legs. Their genitalia are sick. There is hanging skin there, and the clitoris looks like an oversized chunk of meat. A normal woman doesn’t look like that.
The artist confessed to what he did with his protagonists, and then recorded this ‘confession’ in secret. He then published the recording on a publicly available website. What did he have to do to repent? ‘Repeat a popular prayer a few times.’
Markiewicz was also interested in the tattoo-covered bodies of prisoners. That’s how he created a cycle of photographs of torsos with religiously themed tattoos. One of those photographs stated the artist’s answer to Grzegorz Kowalski’s question: ‘What does the dead man’s glassy eye see?’ It showed the torso of a man sentenced to life. The tattoos bore witness to his long imprisonment.
At a 2005 exhibition of the Warsaw Artists Action (of which Markiewicz was a member), the artist made an ironic reference to Radio Maryja (a Polish Catholic radio station) and its effect on the public. He divided the gallery space into two parts. In the first, he played a recording of the rosary coming from the radio station, and in the second, vision complemented sound – a video of the lower part of Markiewicz’s face was screened. His lips pronounced the prayer, as well as the radio presenter’s words, leading to a comical outcome.
In that same year, Markiewicz took part in a project called Wybory.pl (Elections.pl), initiated by Althamer and Żmijewski at the Contemporary Arts Centre in Warsaw. Markiewicz dressed up as a female museum guard.
He befriended the other ladies from the security team. During his work, he sat on the chair, got up sometimes, took a few steps and sat down again.
Wanted for scandal? Read this!
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2010
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 1991 – the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (with Katarzyna Kozyra)
- 1992 – a.r.t. Gallery in Płock; Dziekanka Gallery in Warsaw
- 1994 – a.r.t. Gallery in Płock (with Katarzyna Kozyra); documentation of master’s project – a.r.t. Gallery in Płock
- 2000 – Aneta II, Laboratorium Gallery, Contemporary Arts Centre Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw
- 2004 – a.r.t. Gallery in Płock
- 2005 – Warsaw Artists Action in Warsaw
Selected collective exhibitions:
- 1992 - Dialogi dział i postaw (Dialogues of cannons and stances) at the Polish Sculpture Centre in Orońsko; Miejsca nie miejsca (Places – not places) at the Polish Sculpture Centre in Orońsko; Perseweracja mistyczna i róża (Mystic perseveration and a rose) at the National Art Gallery in Sopot
- 1995 – Transhumacja (Trashumation) at the Galeria Obrazów in Kowno
- 1996 – Ja i AIDS (I and AIDS) at the Stolica cinema in Warsaw; a.r.t. Gallery in Płock; Wieża Ciśnień Artistic Society in Bydgoszcz; Wyspa Gallery in Gdańsk
- 1997 – Fotografia ’97 (Photography ’97) at the Palace of Art in Kraków
- 1998 – Parteitag at the a.r.t. Gallery in Płock
- 1999 – Parteitag at the Contemporary Art Gallery BWA in Katowice
- 2000 – Sexxx at the Academia Theatre in Warsaw
- 2001 – Sexxx at the a.r.t. Gallery in Płock; Irreligia. Morphology of the Non-Sacred in 20th Century Polish Art at the Atelier 240 Museum in Brussels
- 2002 – Co widzi trupa wyszklona źrenica (What does the dead man’s glassy eye see) at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw
- 2003 - Co widzi trupa wyszklona źrenica (What does the dead man’s glassy eye see) at the Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz
- 2004 – Rzeźbiarze fotografują (Sculptors as photographers) at the Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture at the Królikarnia in Warsaw; Inc. Sztuka wobec korporacyjnego przejmowania miejsc publicznej ekspresji (w Polsce) (Inc. Art in the face of the corporate seizure of spaces of public expression (in Poland)) at the XX1 Gallery, Program Art Gallery in Warsaw; BWA in Zielona Góra; Plastyka płocka (Płock art) at the Płock Art Gallery in Płock
- 2005 – Wybory.pl (Elections.pl) at the Contemporary Arts Centre Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw; Egocentryczne, niemoralne, przestarzałe (Egocentric, immoral, obsolete) at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw
- 2006 – Demos kratos at the Klima Bocheńska Gallery in Warsaw
- 2007 – Ciało / geometria. Pracownia Kowalskiego (Body / geometry. Kowalski’s atelier) at the BWA in Zielona Góra