Jakub Woynarowski an artist and curator, and a creator of comic books, visual essays, films, and installations. In his works, he combines visual theory and practice. He was born on 18th November 1982 in Stalowa Wola, south-eastern Poland. He lives and works in Kraków.
Artist, curator, creator of comic books, visual essays, films and installations
Woynarowski studied at the Faculty of Graphic Arts (he received his diploma from the Animated Film Studio in 2007 under the supervision of Professor Jerzy Kucia) and at the Interdisciplinary Department of Intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. He currently teaches at the Department of Narrative Drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
He has received many awards in the field of comic book illustration and graphic design: Grand Prix at the Com.X competition at Festiwal Myśli Drukowanej in Szczecin in 2006 (the Festival of Printed Thought), Grand Prix at the International Festival of Comics and Games in Łódź (2007), and Grand Prix at the National Competition of Art Catalogues and Albums (2011).
In 2014, he was the art director of the Polish Pavilion project at the 14th Biennale of Architecture in Venice (prepared in collaboration with Instytut Architektury).
The most distinctive feature of Woynarowski’s art practice is the way he deals with and presents theoretical reflection by visual means. The artist is an enthusiast of conspiracy theories, according to which there is a secret iconoclastic lodge responsible for the artistic, religious and political revolutions in the history of modern Western culture.
By means of his works, especially comic books and visual essays, the artist rewrites the history of academic art. In projects such as Labyrinth or Novus Ordo Seclorum (New Order of the Ages) (2013), by juxtaposing the achievements of ancient and modern artistic trends with alchemical and Masonic motifs, he presents the history of the art as a conspiracy theory. The artist creates the concept of controlled paranoia - the agent responsible for the writing of art history as a narrative that extracts some trends at the expense of the others, which by this token are marginalized or cut out completely from art discourse.
I propose constructing an alternative version of the well-known story. This does not change the fact that at the source of this vision lie authentic events on the basis of which a creative historian would be able to write a completely different history of art to the one we are used to."- said Woynarowski in an interview with Martha Lisok, curator of the Nigredo exhibition in the BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Katowice.
The vision which Woynarowski proposes is not yet complete. He leaves the viewer space for conjecture and for creating his or her own new order of the narratives of past epochs. The artist explains, for instance, the genealogy of the most far-reaching conspiracy theories about the all-powerful Freemasons and the New World Order (NWO). It originated with the phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" placed on the one dollar note and was caused by the mistranslation of the word seclorum as seculorum that pointed to the idea of a new secular order.
Conspiracy theories are often based on small fallacies and shifts that drive a paranoid chain reaction. I must admit that I would gladly be the agent that sets such a machine in motion
From Ancient to Modern Art
Woynarowski conducts extensive historical research. He explores archives and collects prints in order to use them in his body of work as evidence of the lineage of art from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries up to the modern art of the 21st century.
I try to point out that art which we could call “old” in reference to its age can be very contemporary - both in terms of aesthetics and concept. One can analyse the past in a very modern way, but one can also remain a very conservative advocate of modernity who radically separates the old from the new. Because I'm contrary by nature – I take pleasure in bringing out any incoherences from the visual archives.
In an interview accompanying his exhibition "Nigredo" in BWA Katowice, Woynarowski points out that the roots of the avant-garde can be tracked down to the far past. He observes that a large number of avant-garde artists have referred to the tradition. While exploring the past, they unearthed various phenomena in order to process them and give them a modern context. For instance, the artists Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso drew from Mannerist and Baroque art. The latter was inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s Dresden Sketchbook in which reality is presented as a cluster of geometric forms. Moreover, Woynarowski emphasizes his inclinations towards the ideas of the Incoherent Arts movement that questioned the opposition between popular culture and elite avant-garde. The artist indicates that, although the group was active in the second half of the nineteenth century, the majority of their projects are reminiscent of those of Dadaists and Fluxus.
Such vision obviously strikes at the myth of the avant-garde artist who starts his work ex nihilo, as if the achievements of previous generations didn't exist. It is easy to perform such a gesture of cutting off, but my own historical research proved that it's hard to determine a clear dividing line defined as the beginning of modernity.
Alchemy and Freemasonry
Woynarowski seeks inspiration in the iconography of arcane knowledge systems - alchemy and freemasonry, and more specifically, in the alphabetical characters and themes assigned to them. The slight interference into established connotations allows for the playful recombination of the detached components into one unit. He is also fascinated by the quasi-religious phenomena operating outside the official circulation of ideas, which is an important element of their mystery.
(...) secret knowledge (...) owes its potency to the fact that it embraces elitism, hermeticism and many understatements. To some degree, all these features evoke associations with the art system, which is equally hermetic in its structure. In order to explore it, one needs to surmount its subsequent levels. The art world also operates within its own symbolism, language and tradition. André Rouillé directly compares the effect of the agents of the art world with a magical group, which determines the effectiveness of the artist-magician.
By referring to alchemy, Woynarowski transforms the given reality. The project Wernalina, inspired by Stanisław Lem's story Darkness and Mould and by scientific theories about a hypothetical plant growth hormone, creates a vague story about the relationship between organic and inanimate matter.
When I was working on the Wernalina project, I collected all the dust out of the apartment into a glass, and placed it upside down on a pedestal. For the duration of the exhibition, it became a retort and yet also a contemporary sculpture.
The Black Square
Whenever Woynarowski searches through the archives, he is looking for images that have - as he calls it – "iconoclastic potential”. To give an example, he points to art works that comprise the motif of a black square which in the arts is primarily attributed to Kazimir Malevich's avant-garde painting Black Square. Woynarowski detaches this figure from the legacy of avant-garde art by discerning it in paintings executed in earlier epochs, such as Reverse Side of a Painting by Cornelis Gijsbrechts, The Rare And Extraordinary History of Holy Russia by Gustave Doré and The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.
(...) just as interesting - if not more interesting – is a drawing from Robert Fludd’s treatise of 1617 that resembles the work of the Russian artist. This is a good example of using the language of abstract symbolism in relation to the system of secret knowledge. The first etching in Fludd’s book depicts a black square which represents primordial chaos, described by the formula "Et sic in infinitum" (and so on to infinity) .
Cabinets of Curiosities
Woynarowski pays special attention to themes and motifs in realizations of contemporary art that have been anticipated by the artists in the preceding epochs. In his visual essays, he touches on cabinets of curiosities as a place with a peculiar harmony of things - the concept of unity in diversity. According to him, cabinets of curiosities can be seen as prototypes of contemporary art galleries, and, enclosed in the form of exclusive furniture, reminiscent of today's computers.
A good example is a piece of furniture created in the seventeenth century on the order of Philipp Hainhofer. It had all the features of the modern computer, ranging from a system directories, applications for writing or playing music, to different types of games. Such parallels, however, go back much further - many researchers indicate the comparability between today's internet blogs and cabinets of curiosities. As you know, the internet is a mine of all kinds of oddities, deviations, excesses. In short - everything that does not fit in the canon.
His prints and drawings are made of characters - letters from which you can form any word.
I am interested in images of objects brought to the level of an abstract sign. The degree of figuration is determined by the variable context.
An example of this kind of endeavour is the experimental design of the book Hikikomori, in which Woynarowski attempted to create a visual alphabet of everyday objects. In order to find an analogy between them, he eliminates their sharp contours. The realistic, instructional drawings of those objects reveal their abstract potential. For example, the same drawing depicting a black circle can be perceived as the image of a shadow, a hole or a stain made by some liquid.
Woynarowski develops his language of abstract signs in his experimental comic books whose forms resemble visual essays, atlases or graphic novels. Interestingly, he never portrays a human figure, focusing only on objects that belong to him. The leitmotif of all the projects are the three basic geometric shapes: triangle, square and circle.
In 2010, Woynarowski created Manggha, which was devoted to one of the most famous Polish collectors of Japanese art, Feliks "Manggha" Jasieński. A collection of 40 large-format illustrations is accompanied by fragments of texts written by the collector. In the post-human graphic novel The Story of Gardens (2010), Woynarowski presents a utopian world, which, in the absence of humans, is ruled by objects, insects and plants.
As a curator, Woynarowski perceives an exhibition as a one-time site-specific installation. In 2010, together with Mateusz Okoński and Kuba Skoczek, he devised a project titled Quadratum Nigrum as a part of the Zbiornik Kultury (Culture Tank) event in Kraków. They had at their disposal the Factory Club space, which inspired them to perform an experiment. While analysing the architecture of the gallery, they discovered that it contained all the elements typical of a Masonic Temple: there were three pillars coming out of the wall, the floor was laid with flagstones that created the pattern of a chessboard (a remnant of the bathroom), and the staircase leading to the hall looked like a tall ladder.
(...) we drew those found objects, and supplemented them with our own narrative, based on works of art ranging from eighteenth-century volumes to Russian Orthodox icons. This was the process of creating the white cube, which is also a pseudo-Masonic temple. Obviously, it was not our intention to build an authentic lodge, but to create an unspecified metaphorical temple of worship, based on complicated symbolism, and reminiscent of a baroque allegory.
Another example of a show that to a large extent was inspired by the gallery space is the project Ha-ha, realized in the Bunkier Sztuki (Bunker of Art). The title refers to an English term borrowed from the art of gardening and denoting a garden border hidden in the form of a deep, almost invisible ditch that is hard to pass.
This mechanism is also evident in the art world, which - while declaring its openness - also needs this kind of disguised border.
Woynarowski made use of a natural architectural element located in the building – a canal that runs along the longest wall of the gallery, which contained a ten-metre-long quote from Robert Fludd, "Et sic in infinitum."
Since the text was below the floor, it was visible to the viewer only when he or she approached the wall – the effect of the surprise prompted some kind of reaction in viewers, as in the case of the original garden - "ha-ha".
In his hometown, Stalowa Wola, the artist held the exhibition Ostatnia / Last, the core concept of which refers to the pre-war history of the place, as a modern garden city located in the middle of the forest and also a specialized military production centre.
As a part of actions on Wawel Hill (CSW Wawel Castle, coinciding with the ArtBoom festival), together with Aneta Rostkowska, Woynarowski not only appropriated some individual objects of the castle, but also wrote a manifesto Gonzo Applied Arts. In it, he showcased the topic of a magical sect whose critical and curatorial practices resemble improvisations based on aleatoric score. The very space itself is the score, which succumbs to symbolic appropriation by the subject through ritual gestures.
More works of the artist: www.wernalina.blogspot.com
Selected Solo Exhibitions:
- Figury Niemożliwe (Impossible Figures) , Polish Pavilon at the 14th Biennale of Architecture (in collaboration with Instytut Architectury), Venice
- Saturnia Regna, BWA Warszwa, Warsaw
- Corpus Delicti, The Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Nigredo, BWA Gallery, Katowice
- W powietrzu, na lądzie i morzu (In the Air, Ashore and on the Sea), Regional Museum,
Bunkier Sztuki / Zbiornik Kultury, Kraków
- Mundus Subterraneus, Ersatz Gallery, Kraków (with Jakub Skoczek)
- Hydropatia", ANEKS Contemporary Art Gallery, Opole
- Wernalina, Zbiornik Kultury, Kraków
- Hikikomori, Lubelskie Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych, Lublin
Selected Group Exhibitions:
- Oddźwięki (Resonanses) , Bunkier Sztuki, Monthe of Photography,Kraków (curator)
- Co widać. Polska sztuka dzisiaj (As You Can See: Polish Art Today)
, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw
- Czeski papież! (Czech Pope), MeetFactory, Praga
- Będzie się dzieło! Kolekcja 2013 (There will be Artction! Collection 2013) , Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- Midnight Show, BWA Gallery Design, Wrocław
- Impossibility vs. Self-Censorship, Intermediae, Center for Contemporary Creation Matadero, Madryt
- Katalog wypadków ( The Catalogue of Accidents), Zderzak Gallery, Kraków
- Civitas Munita, 5. ArtBoom Festival, Kraków (with Quadratum Nigrum artist collective)
- Curators' Network, MOCAK, Kraków
- CSW Wawel Castle, 4. ArtBoom Festival, Kraków
- Mundus Subterraneus, Ersatz Gallery, Kraków
- Rękawiczki Jeffa Koonsa (Gloves of Jeff Koons), CSW Kronika, Bytom
- Komiks. Legendy miejskie (Cartoon. Urban Legends), MOCAK, Kraków
- White cubes / Black holes, AS Gallery, Kraków (group exhibition)
- Maciej Sieńczyk, Polisario
, ON Gallery, Poznań
, solo exhibition
- Body in the library, BWA Gallery Design, Wrocław
(with Aleksandra Jach
- Quadratum Nigrum, Zbiornik Kultury, Kraków (curator)
- Ostatnia, nowa
; project in urban space, Stalowa Wola
, group exhibition
Source: bwa.katowice.pl, artmuseum.pl, bunkier.art.pl, artist's & own materials, author: Agnieszka Sural, 6.06.2014, trans. GS, 11.06.2014