Karolina Freino is an multimedia artist who creates of installations and site-specific art, mainly in public space. She was born on 15th June, 1978 in Poznań.
From 1998 and 2003 she studied sculpting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, where she earned a degree under the supervision of professor Leon Podsiadły with the diploma titled 'Sztuka jako gra' (translator's note: Art as a Game). In 2002 she received a grant in the Edinburgh College of Art (School of Sculpture). Between 2004 and 2006 she studied Public Art and New Artistic Strategies at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar in Germany. The supervisor of her diploma titled 'Void and Beyond' was prof. Liz Bachhuber. Since 2007 she has been working at the Studio for Designing Sculpture and Modelling Environment of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. From 2014 and 2017 she did a PhD at the Faculty of Media Art of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and the Faculty of Sculpture and Intermedia of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. The supervisor of her PhD dissertation titled 'Miejsce i moment jako tworzywo artystyczne' (translator's note: Place and Time as Artistic Material) was professor Grzegorz Kowalski.
In 2003 she received the 2nd prize in the competition Culture 2000 'Exhibition of Works in Visual Art About Emigration'. In 2013 she was nominated to the cultural prize wARTo awarded by the newspaper 'Gazeta Wyborcza'. She received grants from the Alfred Töpfer Stiftung foundation (from 2005 and 2006) and the Minister of Culture and National Heritage (2012). Since 2006 she has been co-creating an international artistic collective 'usually4' together with Dušica Dražić from Serbia, Sam Hopkins from the UK and Teresa Luzio from Portugal.
Karolina Freino blends different media and fields in her works: sculpture, photography, video, performance art, sound art, natural materials and physico-chemical phenomena. She mostly creates site-specific works. She looks at public space with a critical eye and intervenes in it, often in an unapparent way. She can be called a social activist. However, her actions and installations are not aimed at introducing radical changes. She rather focuses on issues which are forgotten, hushed up, sometimes unwelcome, such as identity, historical memory and excluded groups. She brings back those issues, comments on them and reinterprets them.
One of her first works in public space was the sound installation Ist das meine Holle, ist das mein Himmel? (2005) created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Friedrich Schiller's birth. It was placed in the Paradies Park in Jena, the city where the German poet lived for the biggest part of his life. The title of Freino's work is a paraphrase of Schiller's words in which he said that he is his own heaven and hell. One of the elements of the installation was a device placed in one of the park's paths. It played a recording of a training woman's voice, jumping over hurdles and repeating in German: 'Is this my heaven, is this my hell?'. Freino makes reference to the poet's writings in which he emphasised the duality of human nature and his internal struggle, and he expressed his hope that a conscious life can help to achieve inner freedom.
The sound, recorded or performed live, appears in other works of the artist as well. In 2006 Freino presented the performance Untitled (for Rafał) at the market square in Wrocław. She invited a violin busker named Moona to play a melody that she had created once a day for several weeks. The piece is the result of translating a quotation of Robert Walser, converting it into Braille notation and finally into music notation. A few years later, she created an interactive sound installation Over the Rainbow (2010). She placed a music box in the ventilation hole on the façade of one of the tenement houses in Bystrzyca Kłodzka. The passers-by could play it at any time of day and night and listen to the song Somewhere over the Rainbow performed by Judy Garland in the musical The Wizard of Oz.
Freino's biggest visual and sound installation was the project Chanson de Geste (2012) carried out in collaboration with Radomir Piorun, Cezary Duchnowski and Inga Leśniewska. It was presented at the WRO Media Art Biennale in 2013. Freino made references to medieval epic poems about historical and legendary heroes. She chose film recordings of the most famous speeches in history and substituted the leaders' voices with sounds created by theremin, an electronic device whose sound resembles whistling, sawing, howling, whining and even someone playing flute or other instrument. That's why a speech of Mahatma Gandhi from 1931, where the Indian leader calls himself a soldier of peace, sounds like the whir of an engine of a bomber, and the declaration of martial law in Poland by Wojciech Jaruzelski, which took place exactly 50 years later, resembles a siren's call. In her canto about power Freino neither judges nor valuates attitudes or actions. She presents cult figures, such as Pope John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa, Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin. As Joanna Kobyłt writes in Magazyn Szum, the focus was neither on the political programme nor the image of personalities around whom the cult developed – instead, the artist focused on the mechanism created by the society as such.
In her recent works Freino concentrated on forgotten places and excluded social groups whose stories she recalls or reinterprets. In Walls and Sandpits (2007) she tackled the problem of devastation and profanation of German and Jewish gravestones in Szczecin, where, just like in many other Polish cities, after the World War II the gravestones were used as material to build roads, pavements, walls or even sandpits in the playgrounds. The artist created a photographic documentation of several dozen places where fragments of gravestones were found and then she started publishing photos and obituaries with deciphered information about the deceased in the four most prominent local newspapers.
A critical view on the reality is also visible in her work Dear Guest, We Are Cleaning the Room (2009) created in Bat Jam in Israel. The artist was invited to participate in the project Factory organised just before the conversion of an industrial area into a business district. She hanged hotel door warning messages informing the guests that the staff is cleaning the room on the handles of all doors in the area. The work comments on the process of gentrification taking place in modern cities.
She also carried out a survey on memory and memorialisation in Nairobi where she collaborated with a Kenyan artist James Muriuki and created a project Kenyan Pyramids (2011). The artists wanted to draw people's attention to the absence of women in history, modern politics and public space. The project consisted of a film which documented the life of a saleswoman from a local market and 32 potato pyramids which served as temporary monuments devoted to women and their social role. The pyramids were placed in different parts of the city. Together with Muriuki, Freino also created a phone ringtone How Are You? (2011), which was based on the recordings of children from the Kibera slum in Nairobi.
Freino focused on the exclusion of a part of the society in the project City Transfer (2013). She raised the questions about who belongs to the society and who decides on including or excluding people. She invited the Chechen minority from Lublin to collaborate. For two weeks the 'next-stop' announcements in the Lublin buses were read by the local members of the minority, with their eastern accent indicating other culture. This action was a symbolic incorporation of the Chechen minority into Polish society. In Kaunas in Lithuania Freino called for social justice again and she built a monument for Emma Goldman, an iconic figure of women's fight for their rights. The work Confluence. The Monument to Emma Goldman (2017) has a form of a buoy with a searchlight which flashes out the autobiography of that Jewish activist and anarchist transcribed into the Morse code.
The history of a place and its architecture and the changes that happened there were the starting point for the exhibition Erase Boards in the Kordegarda Project in Warsaw in 2012. In the windows of the gallery the artist placed bass-reliefs which reproduced the no longer existing divisions in the windows of the apartments placed above. Freino commented on the changes in the urban space in the works Birds and Blind Spot. They recalled the view from the gallery of the legendary Skarpa cinema, which was demolished in 2008 and replaced by a luxurious apartment block. The cinema, one of the most interesting examples of modernist architecture, was designed by Zygmunt Stępiński, the creator of the housing estate where one of the locals houses the gallery Kordegarda Project. Melancholy and longing for the lost history also appear in the work Blenda (2016) created in the former Gdańsk Shipyard. It consisted of clashing the time of post-war reconstruction of the city with the post-transformation reality.
The changes in the public space that Freino draws attention to concern not only fulfilling the dreams of modernity and a better, more comfortable life. Her work Cataract (2016), carried out at Plac Wolności (translator's note: Liberty Square) in Katowice emphasised the instrumental and ideological use of history by the authorities. The artist referred to the history of five monuments which were built in the centre of the square during the last 100 years and which represented the systems of different times: from German empire through Silesian insurgents to the monument of gratitude to the Red Army. Today in that place there is an empty pedestal. While waiting for a new attribute assigned by the authorities, Freino covered the massive block with a temporary smokescreen.
Sources: karolinafreino.com, zacheta.wroclaw.pl, zacheta.art.pl, sztukapubliczna.pl, magazynszum.pl, own materials
Originally written in Polish by AS, translated by MW, February 2018.