An art group founded in 2007 by graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań. Members: Wojciech Bąkowski (the unofficial leader), Piotr Bosacki, Tomasz Mróz, Konrad Smoleński, Magdalena Starska, Radek Szlaga and Iza Tarasewicz.
An art group founded in 2007 by graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, including Wojciech Bąkowski (the unofficial leader), Piotr Bosacki, Tomasz Mróz, Konrad Smoleński, Magdalena Starska, Radek Szlaga, and Iza Tarasewicz.
Penerstwo is the only formation which has entered the Polish art scene in recent years as a whole bunch. And of course this project involved a lot of contrivance. The commotion caused by the emergence of such a large group of young artists coincided with an intensive search around 2008 for new directions in art. Soon the artists of Penerstwo were being shown at major art exhibitions in Warsaw, such as the Establishment (As a Source of Suffering) exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw and the Ain’t No Sorry show at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw organised by the graduates of Kraków’s Museum Curatorial Studies.
From the beginning of Penerstwo curator Michał Lasota from Poznań and founder of the Transmisja Foundation that realises the group’s projects, was part of the group. Most of the artists (Bąkowski, Bosacki, Starska, Tarasewicz) work with his and Zuzanna Hadryś’s Stereo Gallery in Poznań. Frankly it was a lot thanks to Lasota’s exhibitions such as 'Penerstwo' (PGR ART, Gdańsk, June 2007), Brzuch / Belly (Stary Browar, Poznań, February 2008), Śniące ciała / Dreaming Bodies (Urban Arsenal Gallery, Poznań, June 2008) and Dobre do domu i na dwór / Good For The House And Outdoors (Poznań, November, 2008) that the group managed to fully emerge.
Soon, Warsaw’s Leto Gallery became interested in the group and took on several of its members. It already represented Konrad Smoleński, Radek Szlaga and - until 2010 - Wojciech Bąkowski. Curator Stach Szabłowski was one of the first to include Penerstwo in his group exhibitions organized at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.
The perception of these artists as a group was determined by the exhibitions organised by Lasota and most of all because of his book Dobre do domu i na dwór / Good For The House and Outdoors that explained Penerstwo’s artistic projects. The publication brought about a number of events at art institutes throughout Poland during which the group gained a certain, not quite accurate label - Poznań’s New Expression. After a while, a sharper focus came about on each individual member, resulting in more solo shows, rather than presentations of the group as a whole. Penerstwo’s initial role (arising, attracting attention, support) was taken over by private galleries representing the artists (Stereo, Leto). Wilhelm Sasnal and Rafał Bujnowski that are often in the first place described as former members of the Ładnie Group and the case is the same with the members of Penerstwo, always associated with their activities within the group.
The artists in the group identify with a specific cultural symbolism represented by the word penerstwo (rabble, tramp). Penerstwo is used in the local Poznań dialect and basically isn’t used beyond the Wielkopolska region, a person outside of Poznań would typically be unaware of its meaning. What more, the meaning is fluent. In a text entitled Penerstwo, Piotr Bosacki wrote:
People from Wrocław and Kraków, even people from Warsaw don’t know what penerstwo is. Generally they don’t fully understand the essence of penerstwo even when one tries to articulately describe it to the them. Penerstwo is in fact an ethereal term. Every dictionary definition fails in giving its sense. Only a resident of Poznań can freely use this word.
Bosacki tries to explain the meaning of ‘penerstwo’ and a ‘pener’:
Penerstwo is a certain kind of custom crapiness that is naturally rooted in Poznań’s urban tissue. Penerstwo is not simply a common vulgarity, although a boor can partly be a ‘pener’ and vice versa. (…) For example, a pener is a man who spits and urinates in his own backyard during a conversation with his neighbors. However when someone carries out similar behavior on someone else’s yard it rather be pure riffraff (although it may depend on the neighborhood).
The term that frequently appears on this occasion is "sensitive boorishness". The dictionary definition of ‘pener’ is “bum, dosser, hoodlum, tramp”, a person posing a threat, clearly associated with the dregs of society. On the other hand highlighted are the word’s positive connotations: pener is “a man respected by the streets”. As Bosacki writes "the superficially pejorative designation hides a certain note of pride".
When speaking of art, in their statements Penerstwo builds up a negative identity for themselves on the basis of denial and negative references. Their art is to negate publicity, intellect media. The first example of a negative reference is critical or socially engaged art represented by Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Rajkowska. Bosacki wrote,
If a curator called up the Peners, even from the most respectable exhibition facility and asked them to participate in an exhibition devoted to the issues of sexual minorities, the artists would probably decline this invitation.
However, they associate intellectualism with art that needs a certain degree of support in the form of an explanatory signature and does not speak "for itself". A negative example of such is Bosacki’s text on the works of Mirosław Bałka that refer to the Holocaust, but cannot be understood with out any suggestion. In counterpoint Bosacki circumscribes the Autoportret / Self-Portrait by Tomasz Mróz:
A man on all fours. His red face. His tongue moving around. Penis erect. He wags his tail. The figure is revealed in such a shameless manner, everything in a material sense so put out there that it comes to an astonishing conclusion- the matter ceases to be significant. Basically there is nothing to discuss. The work speaks for itself. It shows its face. The presence of this face mocks the art critic and the art historian.
According to curator Michał Lasota even the subtitle accompanying the exhibition Śniące ciała / Dreaming Bodies aimed to condense the subject and not explain anything.
And finally, the art of Penerstwo, as per Bosacki "has no specific ambition to adapt with its form to media coverage. (It’s most certain that none of the members of Penerstwo will ever perform physical exercises on the background of a control TV)". Paradoxically, ideologically or rather anti-ideologically Penerstwo is closest to the neo surrealist painters described by critic Jakub Banasiak as to be "tired of reality". Penerstwo’s art is to arise from an inner need, not from an intellectual calculation and is to express itself openly. Most of the artists make use of associations with urban culture, with the possible exception of Iza Tarasiewicz. Radek Szlaga, for example, draws from pop culture, urban music and hip-hop to create paintings that have been referred to as examples of Neo-primitivism. Stach Szabłowski sees the group's work as "a contemporary form of urban folklore" because of the returning themes evolving around the projects, public transportation and pop culture. Szabłowski writes that "Penerstwo is the art of the dregs of society, indeed - a haughty anti-social art, provocatively challenging standard norms and sensitivity of the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class.
Michał Lasota countered such assertions, declaring
For all the artists I work with childhood is an important issue meaning the first experience, images and memories. Both individual matters like family stories as well as those common ones like E.T., basketball or rap music. This collectivity can not be deceived and this for me is a generation collectivity. I think it’s good that these artists stayed in Poznań, in the shadow where they could say it by themselves and to themselves how and what they want to do in art.
If Penerstwo’s art is considered anti-intellectual, it is also in this sort of sense that it refers to basic habits and reflexes, characterized by deliberate infantilism and immaturity. It filters reality through the mind of a child, a dotard old man, a naughty school boy or a rebellious, socially unadjusted teenager.
As their inspiration the artists point to the alternative art of the ‘80s (eg. Poznań’s Koło Klipsa) and punk culture. They dissociate from the Poznań conceptual tradition represented by Jarosław Kozłowski , dean of the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts and the trend once described by Raster as The Poznań School of Installations (PSI) referring to its focus on media arts. When speaking of the aforementioned punk connotations some artists work on the border of visual arts and music, eg. Wojciech Bąkowski is the leader of such formations as Czykita, KOT and Niwea while Konrad Smoleński's work is heavily rooted in audio and video, exploring innovative possibilities of sound.
The strongest persona in the group is Wojciech Bąkowski (b.1979) perhaps because he was the first to gain recognition and has achieved the greatest success. He participated in a generational exhibition entitled The Generational. Younger Than Jesus in New York at the New Museum. Bąkowski is the winner of the Views Deutsche Bank Foundation Prize (2009) and the Polityka Passport Award (2010). His commentary drawings are regularly published in Gazeta Wyborcza. The artist naturally combines different themes working in the fields of visual arts, poetry and music creating a coherent output. In his projects he realizes films in which instead of using a camera, he draws directly on the tape where he declaims narrative poetry playing different characters observing the reality from a slightly warped perspective, eg. as a child who tells the adults about what he sees in a picture he made:
Tutaj Cygan drze mordę na wszystkie swoje bachory./
Ja go nie rozumiem, ale wygląda mi że jest głupkiem, trochę robolem./
Tylko że nosi różowe stroje. No to go przynajmniej tam za coś lubię.
Here the gypsy yells at all of his brats./ I don’t understand him, but it looks to me that he’s a dimwit, a bit of a worker./ Except he wears pink outfits. Well, at least I like him for something.
His animated films, audio installations, drawings, poems or KOT songs evince a fascination with Julian Antonisz and Miron Białoszewski and reveal a lyrical subject as if not entirely mentally developed remaining under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, a bit primitive but endowed with a great imagination that allows him to perceive the surrounding banal reality in a new way:
Przegryzłem w nocy muchę./
Bo mi weszła do ten… do buzi./
Ci mówię. Miała smak wszystkiego./
Firan i cioci, kruszonki.
I chewed on a fly at night./ Because it entered my uh... my mouth./ I’m telling ya. It had the taste of everything./ Curtains and aunt, crumbled pie.
Piotr Bosacki (b. 1977), along with Bąkowski is a member of the music band KOT (when Bąkowski gives him the go ahead, he plays the cassette tapes in a recorder slung over his neck). He creates objects and musical compositions, but is most known for his animated films. He presented these films at a solo exhibition Sztaby i zegary / Bars and Clocks at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw (2009). The image itself is usually rather monotonous – Bosacki builds systems and geometric structures within which he experiments with possible configurations, at the same time being a narrator (voice over) telling stories referring to the presented image (eg. The Grimbones, 2008). Unlike the other Peners he’s interested in basic philosophical issues, led by the main question: how does all of this work. He published a book Tramtagebuch with hand-written humorous stories about dreams, illustrated by Bąkowski. Precisely Bosacki’s irrational stories validated by the logic of dreams are closest to represent the spirit of Penerstwo:
And as I stood under the tree with my mother, a young woman came up to me whom I don’t really respect because of her intellect. She insisted that I go somewhere with her, kind of seducing me while at it. And it all seemed weird to me, because in this dream it was only 8:00 in the morning. I told her I couldn't go with her, because I was going with my mother to town. But the girl kept insisting I talk to her in private, but she didn’t actually say anything just wriggled from foot to foot.
Tomasz Mróz (b. 1979) creates silicone sculptures, often arranged in elaborated installations. The object merges with surrealist poetry; a three-toed alien holds a projector which presents a image of Virgin Mary entering the gates of heaven (Objawienie / Revelation, 2007); a huge green insect with bulging red eyes sits on a little chair among a heap of dung – a comic balloon next to his head presents a heart (Ommmmmmm…, 2008); disgusting naked men with protruding penises, on all fours on a leash surrounded by rats (Autoportret / Self-Portrait, 2006); and Little Red Riding Hood despairing over the hunter’s drunkenness (A.A., 2007). Mróz’s sculptures are often accompanied by a soundtrack.
Konrad Smoleński (b. 1977) creates installations with the use of fireworks and explosives: in his work Śmierć / Death he burned the sinister eponymous sign made out of planks alongside a railway track; in other installations and operations he referred to a typical ending of a movie with The End. In a film entitled Flowers he blew up flower pots on a porch. His projects involve a lot of boyish excesses and such pranks do not need any justification. Smoleński also creates ominous sculptures with the crucial matter of energy that could explode at any moment and is therefore a potential threat (as in the video Chunks).
Zuzannna Hadryś and Michał Lasota have said that Konrad's works
avoid metaphor and rather provokes/releases energy which works parallel in the social life, or simply in the world. This hidden power that imperceptibly seeps (like the sound of electricity from a turned on speaker) is both a driving force of reality and liberated, out of control and is capable to capsize the whole current ‘status quo’.
Smoleński is a also musician in several bands and performs concerts using hand-made instruments for example out of a missile or a dog’s skull or at other times turns them into audio-objects to which he also uses amplifiers and speakers. In 2011 he won the Views Deutsche Bank Foundation Award.
Magdalena Starska (b.1980) makes drawings, installations, performances and videos. Some of her drawings contain simple yet surprising thoughts (Cebula ma czasem trzy środki / An Onion Often Has Three Midsections), inspired by dream-like mythological figures. In her video works Starska inter alia elaborates ‘mysterious rituals’ that are inspired by everyday household activities.
Radek Szlaga (b. 1979) is the only member of Penerstwo who primarily works in the field of painting, although his paintings rather resemble collages- he uses the technique of broadly understood contemporary iconography, loosely combining themes and styles. For example, in his work Malarstwo olejne / Oil Painting (2008) on a heather-colored European wood bison he put the word Malarstwo / Painting like the cow in the Milka advertisments. He is inspired by pop culture, by sports (eg. his Teamgeist sculpture, 2008) and children’s or school aesthetics. Generally speaking Szlaga’s work features boyish fascinations and interests. "Yeah, tanks, cowboys, knights, marines, Germans always easy, good times", the artist says of his work and inspirations. In another interview, he says,
My work is based on the documentation of a certain process, recording of a state of consciousness, a reflection of a mythology that I create and update continuously. It's an endemic, complex world. I'm talking about a small section of reality. And yet I describe it not by looking out the window onto the playing field, I'm talking about a reality perceived through the prism of culture, its bits and pieces, both the high and the pop, drawn from literature, films, music and even art itself in all its manifestations. Cultural models traveling from distant cities to the periphery often end up slightly drab, deformed, wrinkled. As they make their way from the source to my studio they curve or flatten, they are imperfect, crippled, weak. And here they are subjected to a process. It is a process of degradation, simultaneously a source of inspiration and the subject of my work.
Iza Tarasewicz (b. 1981) creates abjective (neither subjective, nor objective) sculptures, operating the “poetics of meat” often with the use of animal blood and offal, but also works in the fields of drawing and performance (eg. together with Magdalena Starska). She displays what is generally perceived as disgusting but also presents contrasting statements of what is innocent, undefiled with something dirty and sick. Her works often take up the topic of violence – white, infantile sculptures are tainted in bloody red. Żywicielka / Breadwinner presented at the Starter Gallery in 2008 was a display pork cuts filled with rotting fruit or pig skin thrown over a hanger. In her recent projects the artist repudiates from the using organic materials, instead she refers to her personal experience of growing up in a village near Białystok and that direct, somewhat aboriginal contact with nature. She has said that at a certain time she found her activities somewhat insignificant, but that "today they work for me in entirely new ways like complicated braiding. What I once felt as fumbling, now has a clear outline and meaning.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, March 2011. Updated in December 2011. Translated by Sylwia Wojda, March 2012.