Maciej Stępiński is a photographer, painter, filmmaker, and installation artist. Stępiński was born in 1972 in Warsaw. He is based in Warsaw and Arles, France.
Photographer, painter, filmmaker, and installation artist. Stępiński was born in 1972 in Warsaw. He is based in Arles, France and Warsaw.
Maciej Stępiński graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 1999. Between 2000-2002, he studied at École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, where he realised his first cycle, Paysage Urbain. Since 2003, he has been running photography and video workshops in France, in cooperation with, among others, the Rencontres d'Arles festival and Musée Reattu, also based in Arles. He lectures on photographic techniques at ATEC in France, as well as teaches a class on photography in contemporary art at the Academy of Photography in Kraków and Warsaw. He is a PhD candidate at the Faculties of Media Art and Scenography of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Between 2002-2004, he worked in France on N-113, a series of digitally modified photographs and video pieces maintained in the documentary convention and showing the functional landscapes of high speed motorways. N-113 denotes the number of a national route (Route National) in the south of France, where the artist lives. In his photographs, Stępiński emphasises the dehumanised infrastructure of highways, which, according to Marc Augé's theory belong to the “non-places” that are characteristic of contemporary civilisation. All of their elements are subordinated to the main function, which in this case is the fastest possible connection between places. Paradoxically, the photographer shows these places as motionless, in a strange state of suspension and timelessness. Some of the photographs are digitally manipulate and some of their elements discreetly removed, thus highlighting the merely apparent realism of the views. The “incredible” also surfaces in the photographs that were not interfered with by the author. This is mainly determined by the choice of location and framing, as each time the presented vistas seem to be impossibly familiar.
It ought to be stressed that Stępiński's project is not driven by a sociological inclination or research aspirations, and it is also hard to define the author's engagement. The lack of descriptions, and most of all, the form of the works, encourage reflection on the condition of a photographic document rather than a thorough analysis of the content of the images. N-113 found its continuation in photographic series from 2004-2005, titled LGV (realised in Lorraine) and A1 (in Vienna), as well as video works and oil paintings showing workers, titled 1 km of a Motorway Costs 1 Million Euros. These are also referenced in the project 1 Mile from the series Impossible, exhibited at the exhibition Reality Effect at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. In it, the artist intends to lay out a useless one-mile-long motorway section, unconnected to the road network, thus making an ironic comment on the functionality imperative dominating our reality.
In another series of photographs, Sans titre from 2007, the dehumanised landscapes, modernist blocks, and motorways are photographed by night. Everything registered in these photographic nocturnes seems to be artificial, unnatural – from places transformed through human intervention to the light that describes them. All frames are similarly composed, with the use of juxtapositions of large, coloured areas, road surfaces, dikes, lawns, and a uniform, usually black sky, which normally takes over more than half of the entire image. The number of motifs in individual images was radically limited. Singular buildings or a lonely car appear occasionally, while in many of the photographs, the flat surfaces are only interrupted by a curb, a zebra crossing painted on the road, or some stones. The colours in the photographs are highly contrasting. Warm oranges and saturated greens, boosted by artificial light, are set against the dark patch of sky. The light also evokes an effect of theatralisation, a mise-en-scène, in which individual items, signs, or objects play a role of theatre props.
academy of fine arts in warsaw
academy of photography
Maciej Stępiński also photographs Warsaw. His series titled W, as well as the video piece Polonica from 2008 form representations of rather uninteresting, anonymous architecture, and sometimes even tawdry buildings of Powiśle district and its surroundings. The works presented at the exhibition Backstage at CCA Ujazdowski Castle are dominated by cold, grey and blue colours, foregrounding the rather unpicturesque character of cityscapes. The documentary convention results in a ruthless exposure of each little detail of those unattractive, and often demolished locations. The photographic series Go with Peace (2008) is completely different. It is a project realised on the borderlands of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. The pictures are mostly blurry, which paradoxically makes the views of distant places imperceptible. The viewer initially squints, but after a moment surrenders to the limitations, and most of all to the poetics of the illegible images, which were deliberately subjected to reflection by the photographer.
In Warsaw City Tennis Clubs, a project presented at Warsaw's Kordegarda Gallery in 2009, the photographer presents the places he was connected to as a child. These are the capital's tennis courts, which he discovered as a young tennis player during training or tournaments. The title of the exhibition derives from an English name of one of the clubs and highlights the elitist dimension of tennis, a sport which in the last decade of the Polish People's Republic was associated with the Western lifestyle, generally regarded as better. Back in the dull reality of the 1980s, Warsaw's tennis clubs were perceived as luxurious and exclusive places, while Stępiński's photographs show desolated and degraded spaces. These images have nothing in common with the nostalgic visions of the bygone past; they are quite gloomy and slightly dark. Other urban sports sites photographed by Stępiński, such as the 10th-Anniversary Stadium during reconstruction or a springboard of a now defunct swimming pool of Warsaw's Legia football club, give a similar impression. The visual quality consciously achieved by the artist is also worthy of attention. His frames are spare, as usual, but nevertheless carefully selected, while the perfectly balanced motifs build up to a harmonious whole. A part of them, in sophisticated colours, was created in a Cibachrome technique, which guarantees a precise sharpness and depth of field, further emphasising the aesthetic values of these photographs. The remaining black and white digital photographs were mounted directly onto a wall and window at Kordegarda. The presentation was complemented by two short films, CWKS 1 and CWKS 2, showing workers seen on a Legia tennis court, drawing a pattern on the tartan surface.
CWKS I / CWKS II / 2009 from Maciek Stepinski on Vimeo.
Maciej Stępiński has received several awards for his works. He was a laureate of the Art Contemporain 2000 contest (Paris, 2001), the Main Prize of the Oneminutes international video competition (Amsterdam, 2003), the creative scholarship Aide individuelle à la création (Drac Paca, France, 2006), and the award for a catalogue publication, Aide à l'édition de la Direction de la Culture (Marseille, 2003).
He has also published the book titled Loop, comprising a selection of the his major works, accompanied by critical texts.
His works can be viewed on his blog: thisisnotdocumentary.tumblr.com and website: www.stepinski.com
Selected solo exhibitions
- 2013 – The Artificiality of Nature, Lookout Gallery, Warsaw
- 2012 – Rendez-vous à Poznań, Arsenał City Art Gallery, Poznań
- 2011 – Go with peace, Saffir Galerie Nomade, Printemps de l'Art Contemporain, Marseille
- 2010 – Car Culture in California, 18th Street Arts Center, Los Angeles
- 2010 – 200 years, Saffir Galerie Nomade, Marseille
- 2009 – Warsaw City Tennis Clubs, Kordegarda, Warsaw
- 2009 – Sclerosis, Leto Gallery, Warsaw
- 2008 – Backstage, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2008 – PF Zamek Gallery, Poznań
- 2007 – Galerie AL/MA, Montpellier
- 2004 – N-113, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2002 – N-113 Visa pour l’image, Perpignan
- 2002 – N-113, Akademia Theatre, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions
- 2014 – Photography Biennale, Zamek Culture Centre, Poznań
- 2013 – Midnight Show, BWA Wrocław, 13th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival, Wrocław
- 2012 – Rencontres Ephémères, Galerie Brumaire, Paris
- 2011 – They don't know why, but they keep doing it Ideas after ideology, Blanca Soto Arte, Madrid
- 2011 – They don't know why... Waterside Contemporary, London, UK
- 2011 – Enclave, National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad, Russia
- 2011 – Monobandes II, Galerie Les Territories, Montreal, Québec
- 2011 – WRO Media Art Biennale, Wrocław
- 2010 – Nature et Paysage, Espace d'Art, Societe-generale, Casablanca, Morocco
- 2009 – Underround City, DIVIUS Unit 30, London
- 2009 – One Minutes, Today Art Museum in Beijing, China
- 2008 – Berliner LISTE 08, Berlin
- 2008 – Volta Wa-wa, Leto Galley, Warsaw
- 2008 – Red Eyes Effect, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2008 – Photomonth, Kraków
- 2007 – Photography Biennale, BWA Arsenal, Poznań
- 2007 – Reality Effect, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- 2006 – Hapax, Aperto, Montpellier
- 2005 – Clubcube, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2004 – Haags Gemeente Museum, Hague, Pays-Bas
- 2003 – Jeune création 2003, Grande halle de la Villette, Paris
- 2002 – Voies-OFF, Rencontres internationales de la photographie, Arles
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, July 2010, update: AW, April 2015. transl. AM, December 2015.