A versatile artist who uses various mediums, she take photographs and makes sculptures, drawings, objects, and installations that focus on the interface of art and reality.
Joanna Rajkowska is an artist who is most involved in exploring the creative possibilities of the interface between art and reality, and projects in the public space. Rajkowska's versatility lies in her ability to adapt the language of her artistic statement to the requirements of the message addressed to the viewer. Her work is characterised by a generous dose of irony as well as a certain distance from the issues it tackles. As she says of her own work,
The city, the urban space, is an area that should belong to the people, in which everyone can say – this is my space, I can shape it as I wish, I can make it thrive. A free space for expression that spreads to a fluid narration of identity, the space of games – this is the vision of a city in which I would like to live. Corporations, outdoor firms in no way should commercialise the urban space because they take it away from people. Such a city becomes a dead being, a place for commerce and political recreation, formulated for the needs of media campaigns. We don’t even realise how great an influence this has on our behaviour, how it slowly shapes our own selves.
Between 1987-1992 Rajkowska studied art history at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. She then studied painting from 1988 to1993 at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of professor Jerzy Nowosielski, where she graduated with distinction. In 1994, she went on to attend the year-long Studio Semester Program at the State University of New York.
A major element of Rajkowska's work is the idea of the human body and the mutual relationship between man's physicality and his psychology, his self-knowledge in the physical sphere and in the sensual one. To this end, the artist often uses images of her own body in her art, and in 1994 she put forward the theory of the "body as sculpture." Shortly thereafter she gained critical and public recognition for a collection of her sculptures - life-sized mannequins that were part fantasy and part realism. Aesthetically pleasing on the surface, covered in gleaming, polished epoxy-resin, they attracted the eye with their vivid colours; but what the figures represented were maimed, deformed or mutated bodies, androgynous hybrids, creatures of an undefined sexual identity. To create these pieces, Rajkowska used unconventional techniques. The figures had been made to order by mannequin manufacturers, some incorporating dead animals or insects while others were based on the artist's own body casts. The pieces contrasted material aesthetics with a physical degeneration symbolic of a disturbed psychological state caused, among other things, by sexual pathology (The Ear That Hears. The Ear That Doesn't Hear, 1996), sexual identity-related anxieties (White Spirits Sans Odour, 1995; The Love of a Man Called Dog, 1997/1998) or bodily functions under extreme conditions (Water Tower. Headache, 1996).
In 2000, Rajkowska created Satisfaction Guaranteed, a series of consumer products - soft drinks and cosmetics - based on her own bodily secretions.
The intellectual provocation of this radical project surpassed everything that Rajkowska had done before. At the time, it was one of the most eccentric and perverse artistic concepts ever to appear in Polish art. At first sight Satisfaction Guaranteed (illustrations) appeared to be more of a marketing campaign than art. Rajkowska manufactured her objects using industrial methods, producing hundreds, even thousands of copies. The "product range" included a series of canned soft drinks in six flavours, two types of soap, vaseline and perfume. They had all been made following the dictates of consumer marketing: they had their own brand ("Satisfaction Guaranteed"), a logo and carefully designed packaging. They were also functional: the drinks could be drunk, the soap used to wash, the perfume applied as a scent. But unlike mass production, which is usually impersonal and anonymous, Rajkowska's products conveyed an extremely personal message. The cans, the perfume, the vaseline and the soap together created a kind of intimate self-portrait -- intimate to the extreme in the sense that the raw material used for making them was Rajkowska herself, or rather, her body. As well as containing water, carbon dioxide and preservatives, the drinks made use of ingredients like DNA, grey brain matter, mammary gland extract, vaginal mucus, cornea and endorphins, all collected from the artist's body. The same was true of the cosmetics; the vaseline was based on the artist's saliva, the perfume incorporated her pheromones and the soap was made of her body fat.
Rajkowska's products' "commercial" names and packaging design were equally personal in nature. The artist used photographs from her family albums, pictures of her family members and images of her own body parts, including those commonly regarded as intimate. Plus, it wasn't only the chemical composition of the Satisfaction Guaranteed series products that was unusual. Information about what each product was supposed to do was expressly stated on the packaging, and their advertised effects went far beyond what one would normally expect from a soft drink or a vaseline. The drinks refreshed, but they also enhanced erotic sensations and soothed pain. They could also have more serious effects, such as relieving a sense of loss or boredom, or even transforming the genotype. As for the cosmetics, they could produce even more bizarre results; the Family Life soap caused "fear of family life and watching TV together", with masturbation as a possible side effect. Users of the vaseline would experience "instant relief", but had to take into account possible "degeneration of the reproductive instinct" with the potential side effect being "aversion to animals" and a sense of "constant embarrassment." The perfume would "annul blood ties and produce a sense of absolute individuality", though it may lead to the urge to "suddenly board a bus to go somewhere and meet someone."
The whole project was designed according to the principles of artistic fiction, except that in this case the fiction was shockingly realistic. The articles physically exist, as does the idea of transforming a human being into consumer products and the technical possibility of turning the idea into reality. Rajkowska had gathered together everything that was most intimate and dear to her: her childhood, her loved ones, her daily life, her residential address, her anxieties and experiences, and finally, her body. She then processed all those things into commodities and fast-moving consumer goods.
In a 2001 project called Dream Diary (illustrations), Rajkowska once again tackled the issue of communication between the artist and the viewer. Over the course of six days, some 300 young people took turns sleeping in groups during the day at Galeria XXI, then wrote down their dreams. Dream Diary was both the artist's response to a growing sense of alienation, and an attempt to cope with it. The experience was transposed on a randomly selected group of strangers who decided to spend time together through an activity as intimate as sleep.
"I wanted them to cut off the entire sphere of consciousness, so that contact would be based solely on the act of tolerating another body next to them."
In 2002, following two years of preparation, Rajkowska carried out an urban-space public project called Greetings From Jerusalem Avenue (photos) in the very heart of Warsaw, at Rondo Charles de Gaulle.
Greetings From Jerusalem Avenue
In the centre of the busy roundabout she placed an artificial 15-metre tall palm tree. Originally, the tree was slated to remain in place for only twelve months, but later the city hall agreed to postpone the deadline for its removal. Rajkowska got the idea to place an artificial palm tree in Warsaw following a trip to Israel, and she wanted to transfer what had been preserved in her memory to Warsaw's Aleje Jerozolimskie – a street whose name refers both to Warsaw's Jewish community and to Israel itself. The idea's apparent absurdity corresponds on a conceptual level to the Polish idiom palma mu odbiła, meaning "he's gone nuts" or "he's got a screw loose." The project stirred up a lot of controversy even in its planning phase, but since its completion it has become one of Warsaw's showpieces, a symbol of the belief that the seemingly impossible can be made possible after all.
I dreamed up nothing. I don’t wish for anything at all. I don’t make anything up. I just perceive things: from outside. When the palm was created, it was created with the place – Jerusalem Avenue. Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue is an idea drawn from language, specifically an attempt to describe a trip to Israel. Several frames of memory overlapped. The view from the small hotel in Jerusalem, a postcard with the words ‘Greetings from Hebron’ written under a photograph of a rather bald hill with a rickety palm tree, and Jerusalem Avenue, which for me is the axis of Warsaw. There’s also a frame filled with helplessness, an incapability of understanding the situation in Israel with a single logic. In a quite literal way, it’s the transference of a view – which in Jerusalem is quite expected – to Warsaw, to a street whose name, in turn, brings us back to Israel.
In 2003 in Berlin, Rajkowska created an action called Artist For Rent (photos), which explored more deeply the issue of interpersonal relationships and of relating to someone on strictly-defined terms. Over a period of twenty-five days, the artist performed simple tasks for people who responded to her ad: she mailed letters, renovated furniture, decorated a room for a dance party, helped cast off an evil "spell" from an apartment, etc.
Her next project was the Oxygenator – a series of installations in public places meant to provide fresh air and, most importantly, a place to lounge around, observing their surroundings and interacting with others. Rajkowska’s projects create a setting for people to come together and have a greater chance to get to know one another as fellow residents. One of these installations was set up in the area of the former Jewish district, providing a place for respite in an area with a very troubled historic legacy and inadequate urban planning. Today the area is being expanded and improved, with Rajkowska’s little square still a focal point for those who want to take a break while bustling around Warsaw.
In 2007 she was also awarded the prestigious Passport Award given by the Polityka weekly for "remarkable projects realised in the public space, for lending a hand to the human being wandering about the city". Rajkowska’s work stretches itself across the realms of nature, politics and life itself. She’s an artist working for the community, an artist who is not focused on herself, but rather on her audience, on the people who are the ultimate recipients of her works. Her goal is to create something that will provide joy, entertainment and food for thought for anyone who happens to stroll past one of her projects. Her goal is to give the city back to its residents, wrenching it away from corporations who want to twist and turn it in every way just to make a profit and giving it back to the people who make the city a living thing, a vibrant being pulsating with life and activity.
In 2010 Rajkowska joined five other artists from Europe in Konya, Turkey in a project meant to explore the complex relationship between tradition and modernity in the country today. Her project was founded on the academic theories of Walter Benjamin on translation and the linguistic legacy of Ottoman Turkish. In 2011 she took part in the Journey to the East project as part of the cultural programme of the Polish Presidency, participating in the creation of an installation that once again takes up the subject of cultural consciousness and social links. She is among the featured artists at the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012, presenting her Born in Berlin - Letter to Rosa project, a video work dedicated to her newborn daughter.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, October 2004; Updated: January 2007
The photographs and the list of exhibitions are published courtesy of the artist.
For more photos and detailed project descriptions visit www.rajkowska.com.
Selected solo exhibitions:
- "O przebywaniu w dwóch pomieszczeniach" (graduation project), ASP, Cracow
- "Osiem stacji", Galeria Miejsce, Cieszyn
- 1994 - "Płyny", Galeria Zderzak, Cracow
- "No Sign of Dying Soon. The Past - The Physical Presence", State University of New York, New York (USA)
- "Podrażnienie", Galeria Zderzak, Cracow
- "Tercet na Skórę, Głos i Szaleńca", Teatr Bückleina, Cracow
- "Przypadłości. Nauka o chorobach wewnętrznych", Galeria Prowincjonalna, Słubice
- "Wieża ciśnień. Ból głowy", CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
- "Midget House", Galeria Biała, Lublin
- "Lobster Lovers", Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo, USA
- "Miłość zwanego Psem", Galeria Zachęta, Warsaw
- "To nie byłem ja", Galeria Kronika, Bytom
- Galeria Starmach, Cracow
- "Menu of Desires", Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, Cracow
- "On Saturday I Eat Sweets and I Masturbate", Galeria Otwarta, Cracow
- "Things I Do in the Evenings", Manhattan Gallery, Łódź
- 2000 - "Satysfakcja gwarantowana / Satisfaction Guaranteed", Galeria Zewnętrzna AMS
- 2001 - Stockholm International Art Fair, Stockholm, Sweden
- 2002/2003 - "Pozdrowienia z Alej Jerozolimskich / Greetings from the Jerusalem Avenue", Warsaw
- 2003 - "Formal Promise. Artist For Rent", Mullerdechiara Gallery, Berlin, Germany
- 2004 - "Tylko Miłość / Only Love" (public project), Warsaw
- 2005 - "Dwadzieścia dwa zlecenia", Galeria Program, Warsaw
- "Umea Volcano", Galeria Verkligheten, Umea, Sweden
- "Zostaw to / Leave it", Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej, Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
- "Miejsca nie miejsca", Centrum Rzeźby Polskiej, Orońsko
- "Being at Home", Vereinshaus-Kunsthaus, Horn, Austria
- 1994 - "Let Me Wash Your Hands", Sauce Place, New York, USA
- 1995 - "Unter Einem Dach", Podewil, Berlin, Germany
- "Art in Poland: New Directions", UB Art Gallery, Buffalo, USA
- "Sensitive", Galeria Arsenał, Białystok
- "Solvay, Blok A/D", L'Atelier, Cracow
- 1997 - "Re-Bates", The L.C.Bates Museum, Hinckley, Maine, USA
- 1999 - "Blue Fire", 3rd Biennial Prague, Young Artists from Central Europe, Prague, Czech Republic
- "Satysfakcja gwarantowana / Satisfaction Guaranteed", Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
- "In Freiheit endlich, Polnische Kunst nach 1989", Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany
- "Irreligia", Muzeum Atelier 340, Brussels, Belgium
- "Ostensiv", Kunstraum B/2, Leipzig, Germany
- "Rzeczywiście, młodzi są realistami / Really, young are realists", Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
- "Oder-Sprung", Kunsthalle Essen, Germany
- "Ostensiv-Moscow", Central House of Artists, Moscow, Russia
- "Photofestival", Skulpturen Hus, Stockholm, Sweden
- "Global Priority", Jamaica Arts Center, New York (USA)
- "Open House", Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg
- Stockholm International Art Fair, Stockholm, Sweden
- "White Mazur", Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, Germany
- "Logo! No Logo?", Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen, Brussels, Belgium
- "Operacja myszy", Bunkier Sztuki, Cracow
- Busan Biennale, Busan, Korea
- Passage de Retz, Paris, France
- Łódź Biennale, Łódź
- "Spectator T", Art Sheffield 05, Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum, UK
- "Egocentryczne, niemoralne, przestarzałe. Współczesne wizerunki artystów", Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, Warsaw
- "Jakoś to będzie. Wybory A.D. 2005", Galeria Piotra Nowickiego, Warsaw
- "Site-ations 2005", Cardiff, UK
- "Czas Kultury", Galeria Arsenał, Poznań
- "Horyzont zderzeń", Stara Rzeźnia, Art Poznań 2005, Poznań
- "Jak rozmawiać o sztuce współczesnej?", Galeria Arsenał, Białystok
- "Paris Is Burning", Galeria Laurin, Zurich, Switzerland
- "Architektura intymna / Architektura porzucona", Galeria Kronika, Bytom
- "Ulica Próżna 2006 / Próżna Street 2006", Fundacja Shalom, Warsaw
- "W Polsce czyli gdzie?", Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
- "Southeast Passages", PAC, Ferrara, Italy
- "Zostaw to", CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw
Awards and scholarships:
- 1992 - Kunsthaus Horn (Austria)
- 1996 - The ArtsLink Partnership, Buffalo (NY)
- 1996 - President of the City of Cracow Award
- 1997 - The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship
- 1998 - Civitella Ranieri Fellowship
- 2001 - Minister of Culture and National Heritage Fellowship
- 2006 - Minister of Culture and National Heritage Fellowship; Fellowship, IASPIS Foundation, Umea, Sweden
Artist for Rent
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exhibition in müllerdechiara gallery in Berlin
exhibition in müllerdechiara gallery in Berlin