As an installation and performance artist whose works are characterised by a strong impact, usually created through audiovisual experiments, his focus is on the experience of sound and image, exploring its possibilities and various ways of engaging and experiencing various media.
A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań and a member of the Penerstwo group, he also plays in a few bands, an active member of the PINKPUNK scene. Since 2003 he has been an animator of the Pink Punk scene. In 2001 he became a laureate of the Views award granted by the Deutsche Bank Foundation in a competition organized by the Warsaw Zachęta. Presently he lives and works in Warsaw. He collaborates with the Warsaw Leto gallery.
The membership in Penerstwo is significant. This artistic group, created by a few graduates of the Poznań Academy, appeals to lower instincts and seeks inspiration in the creativity hidden among the projects and in the alleys, far from so-called high art. The term "pener" is a mysterious word from the Poznań dialect used to describe a dreg of society, or as the artists themselves explain a "sensitive boor". Many of the Poznań Peners employ music in their activities.
The Pink Punk scene is another important "institutional"” context of Smoleński’s creativity. It was formed and animated by him and it serves as a focal point for alternative music projects (www.pinkpunk.pl). The scene consists of bands such as K.O.T., Sixa or Czykita, in which Smoleński played together with Wojciech Bąkowski, the best-know of the Peners, and other members of the artistic group.
In many of the artist’s realisations it is impossible to separate the musical component from the visual one. Some of the objects may be considered artifacts and instruments at the same time. The instrument resembling a guitar made from a dog’s skull became especially famous (Niuniuni Plays the Skull). It was used by the artist a number of times since 2003. The approximately half an hour long performances consisted of compositions played by the artist. Other instruments resemble bombs or rocket missiles. They may be used during audio performances or act as elements of sound installations (for instance Bomb 2. Repetitio Est Mater Studiorum, 2004). Smoleński also builds installations from musical equipment itself, as in the case of There’s No God (2009). The monumental sound sculpture was built from huge black speakers, which resonated evoking an atmosphere of doom.
Apart from taking part in various musical projects and animating the Pink Punk scene, Smoleński acted as a visual arts artist. Watch It was one of his first works in that field (2004, repeated later several times). The title inscription was created by knocking plaster off walls and revealing what was underneath (bricks, pipes hidden in the wall or structures of partitions). This technique is similar to sgraffito, but also to a roguish carving of a sign on the bark of a tree. The subject of the inscription is based on emptiness and exposure. The artist plays a semiotic game – he says: "watch this", but at the same time he’s really pointing to something else.
In many projects Smoleński uses fireworks or simply fire. These are often metaphorical actions, which remind about the inevitability of the end or death. The work itself is terminated when it dies in an act of (self)destruction, as if referring to the idea of Gustave Metzger’s self-destructive art.
In 2008 alongside the railway tracks connecting Warsaw with Poznań the artist built the sign Death from planks, which he later put on fire. The action was performed for random viewers – passengers of the passing express train "Jan Kiepura".
Similar pyromaniacal motifs are present in Smoleński’s movies. In one of them three half naked boys go into a terrace, stick firecrackers in flowerpots, put them on fire and retreat to a safe place, leaving the viewers with a mini spectacle of destruction (Flowers, 2009). In the film Guard (2009) we see a burning drum kit, which is thoroughly extinguished by a security guard. Michał Lasota a curator involved with the Penerstwo group wrote:
Smoleński eagerly steers his public into dangerous situations – in the space of a gallery, which is separated from everyday life, he places mean surprises – irritating, taken from life elements, violence on a micro and macro scale, both ordinary and abstract. Konrad confronts the viewers with elementary fears, he arouses their vigilance hoping they will preserve this state for a longer time bringing their anxiety from the gallery to their homes.
2009 was a breakthrough year for Smoleński as it brought several important exhibitions. The first of them was entitled "I’ll Sell Half a Duplex" and was held at the Arsenal Municipal Gallery in Poznań. Michał Lasota was its curator. Smoleński exhibited here alongside Norman Leto. The title duplex signified an artistic neighbouring, which isn’t always harmonious. Michał Lasota wrote:
Neither Leto nor Smoleński feels fulfilled in univocal situations. That’s why they sow the bacilli of chaos with provoking cynicism. Therefore the exhibition’s narration is "littered" with a multitude of motifs, elements, screens and perspectives. The artists play with scale and display their fiery sense of humour.
"I’ll Sell Half a Duplex" was an installation, which conjoined a rabbit cage (Half a Duplex) with elements from a school gymnasium – medicine balls (Minefield) and a vaulting horse. The balls were however torn up by explosions, as if somebody had turned them into booby-trap bombs, the vaulting horse on the other hand had been shot at. Next to all of this the artist placed a dead fly, which one could view through a magnifying glass.
In the same year at an individual exhibition entitled "Chunks” in the Warsaw Leto gallery, Smoleński – not abandoning the idea of creating an atmosphere of endangerment – critically and humourously analyzed the concepts of manhood. In the installation Parts he juxtaposed a video image showing masked bodybuilders flexing their muscles with a rickety black figure posed as a musician giving a concert (the sculpture was wrapped in black tape) and a burnt drum kit. In the adjacent room he presented on the other hand a movie, in which he aimed from a machine gun. A couple of speakers amplified the sound so that one got the impression of a real shot (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Lunch, 2009). On a wall next to this, the image of the artist was present in a photograph that had been shot at (Take a Bullet, 2009).
In 2012 he presented his 2011 film Energy Hunters at the Paris Triennial. Considered "disturbing" and "contemplative" in its depiction of two masked men in an aggressive confrontation expressed through an intense sound exchange on a drum kit set ablaze, it pushes the limits of expression and communication. At the event he also gave a live performance of his BNNT Sound Bombing on the streets of Paris. The artist and four other performers climb on board a truck, producing electro-mechanical sounds that are basically equivalent to noise - usually and deliberately inciting a negative response in its audience. The sound produced is hard on the ears and nerves to the point of being painful, even unendurable. The truck drives through the streets of Paris, intervening in the public space in a way that onlookers will not find easy to avoid or ignore. This extreme performances of "noise music" challenges the relative calm of the everyday through its unexpected and chaotic means of expression.
In January 2013, the jury selecting the project for the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Bienniale chose Konrad Smoleński's Everything Was Forever, Until IT Was No More - a work that uses sound to explore the impact of a data-flooded and society and how history might be slowed down to a more agreeable pace.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, June 2011; updated January 2013.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 2010 – "Summer Camp 1", Art Roundabout, Katowice (together with Józef Robakowski).
- 2009 -"Chunks", Leto gallery, Warsaw; "I’ll Sell Half a Duplex", Arsenal Municipal Gallery, Poznań (together with Norman Leto); "Watch It", Art Agenda Nova, Cracow; "Evil Hidden Black", Stereo Gallery, Poznań
Selected group exhibitions:
- 2011 – "Peace", Arsenal Gallery, Białystok; "Poachers", Arsenal Municipal Gallery, Poznań.
- 2010 – "Rise of the White Gypsy", Arsenal Municipal Gallery, Poznań; "A Journey around a Skull", Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; "Mature Minors"; Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; "Beyond Mediations", Mediations Biennale, Zamek Culture Centre and National Museum, Poznań; "Träume finden in der Vergangenheit statt", Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk, Cottbus, Germany; "Re:visions", Warsaw
- 2009 – "The Heart Is a Lone Hunter", Gare Saint-Sauver, Lille, France; "About a Boy / Był sobie chłopiec", Leto gallery, Warsaw; "Tribute to Edward Krasiński", Bęc Change, Warsaw; "Difference beyond Difference", Art Stations Foundation, Poznań
- 2008 – "Strike Back. Art towards Climate Change", Poznań; "Asian Gates", Kunsthalle Faust, Hannover, Germany; "Voyage Sentimental", National Museum, Poznań; "Stomach" Słodownia Gallery, Old Brewery, Poznań; "Desiring Machines", Current Art Zone, Łódź