Sławomir Rumiak is a photographer, video and installation artist, and draughtsman. He is a graduate of the Katowice branch of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (1999). Rumiak was born in 1972 in Bielsko-Biała.
Photographer, video and installation artist, draughtsman.
He gained international recognition very early on, when he was still a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice (which at the time still formed part of the Kraków Academy). In 1998, Koichi Sato, a Japanese poster designer visited the school upon Jan Sawka’s invitation, and was drawn to Rumiak’s expressive black and white photographs. As a result, the young artist was invited to Tokyo by the prominent photography theoretician Kōtarō Iizawa and the legendary photographer Eikoh Hosoe. In 1999, the Polish artist gave a series of lectures for the latter’s students, while the Il Tempo gallery (owned by the renowned collector Etsuro Ishihara) organised a solo exhibition by Rumiak.
Sławomir Rumiak approaches his early works from the series Prêt-à-Porter and Love Book with a distance:
Those photographs were created while I was still at school. I didn’t treat them as a fully developed project. The problem is that they became very popular at international shows and were often reproduced online, which sometimes also made people suspect me of having an aversion towards women and misogyny. These accusations resulted from a misreading of my intentions, which are treated arbitrarily in painting – case in point being when someone who wasn’t aware of my sex treated them as an example of feminist art.
In 2005, after several exhibitions in Poland and other countries (including further shows in Japan), the artist decided to completely change the direction of his discourse.
The following Tokyo show confirmed the large popularity of my works, also, among collectors. For me, however, it was the end of that aesthetic and I never went back to those photographs again.
– he explains.
The camera as a foreign body
The intermedia project Journey (2007) was an important symbol of Rumiak’s departure from his hitherto established aesthetic. The artist cycled from Poland to Venice for this work. He slept in a miniature dummy of the Polish Pavilion from the Art Biennale, which he'd created especially for this occasion. The project was documented on a blog, and in 2008 it was presented in the form of an exhibition at the Kronika gallery in Bytom.
With time, the artist was becoming increasingly interested in film – especially the relationship between film and still photography, as well as between film and space (both the screening and recording site).
The inspirations resulting from the limitations of the medium are crucial, for instance, the camera as a ‘foreign body,’ disrupting the natural course of the observed events, an unknown outside of the frame borders, the time shift between the recording and screening, etc.
– said Rumiak on the occasion of the exhibition Haxenabkratzen Cinema, presented in 2010 at the Bielska BWA Gallery
The aforementioned exhibition comprised three separate works, out of which the titular installation was key. ‘Haxen abkratzen’ (German: wipe your feet) was printed on a plaque mounted on the entrance door to the artist’s grandparents’ apartment.
The order inside the apartment, based on the contract among its occupants, has managed to resist the external historical changes for a baffling amount of time. Objects, stuck in their designated places for years, seem to ignore the laws of entropy – all of which gives the impression of stopped time, permanent values. With time, the slogan ‘Haxen abkratzen’ found on the front door of the grandparents’ apartment began to sound like ‘abracadabra’ – a spell allowing one to cross the doorstep of our little cosmos one more time, before it inevitably vanishes.
For the sake of the project, he artist shot some ten minutes of footage showing a summer Sunday afternoon at his grandparents’ place, although the film’s protagonists are present only through sound. The camera is set up behind the doorway, as if it was peeking into the room. We can hear conversations, but no one appears in the frame described by open door. Another part of the installation was a faithful replica of the spatial composition in the frame – fragments of furniture, objects, walls – except everything was cast in resin with white pigment or sculpted in a white material. The film begins with this sterile reconstruction, to gradually gain colours, life, and sound, and eventually loop back to the plain dummy.
This looped, short journey from the exhibited copy to the original – the real apartment – contains a story about the attempt to portray the grandparents. The video frame shows an armchair, to which I am trying to invite them from outside of the frame, while they, aware of the fact that the chair is within the camera’s field of vision, continue to refuse to ‘enter’ the film. The installation was conceived as my personal time machine. However, the part that is missing upon a return from this journey to the past is the most important thing – images of loved ones.
Culture as a product of nature
Sławomir Rumiak is currently working on medium- and full-length film projects. One of them was presented at the collaborative exhibition with Cristiano Mascaro titled Traces of People, which took place in 2015 at the International Cultural Centre in Kraków. The show featured Rumiak’s film essay Macunaima Returns to São Paulo.
Macunaima is a Brazilian literary classic – written in 1928, it is a story about a hero of Amazonian legends who makes a trip to São Paulo. The biggest jungle in the world is located in Brazil, while the biggest city in the southern hemisphere is São Paolo. I interpreted that book as a telling mental shortcut – the history of our species’ journey from the wilderness to the city, or rather a history of developing the urban system, as I believe in the evolutionary continuum; in the film, I treat São Paulo as a natural creation, similar to other self-organising systems, such as for instance an ant colony or a termite mound.
However, the perversity in Rumiak’s film lies in the fact that it is almost entirely devoid of physical presence of humans. There are no cars, no public transport – the city seems deserted.
I wasn’t interested in a yet another urban dystopia based on a hypothetical disaster. Having followed the evolutionary mindset and read the current data on the condition of grand metropoleis, I made a film about a slow and completely natural threat to cities. Nowadays, half of the world’s population lives in cities, in Latin America it is two thirds of all residents. This is related to a rapid growth of the number of those who, while living in cities, do not form part of this system, do not sustain it, neither are they supported by it. Macunaima returns to São Paulo after nearly one hundred years, but the period of prosperity is over. The city’s buildings are occupied by the homeless, the streets are filled with dumpster divers carrying their possessions. This situation is already very apparent in São Paulo, but it is also possible that sooner or later it will also knock on our door. This is why I incorporated a template from the field of evolutionary psychology in the poster slogan: the story of a slum-building animal.
The protagonists of Rumiak’s film are homeless people, who occupy a number of the city’s skyscrapers, many of which become homes to alternative urban and community institutions: there is water (sourced illegally), electricity, a surveillance system, there are even elevator operators.
I created a portrait of a city which doesn’t have so-called ordinary residents, one inhabited exclusively by homeless people. I used a graffito found in one of the occupied buildings, showing three wise monkeys, as the film’s backbone. The bright side of the city refuses to acknowledge the dark one. I imagined an opposite situation – I only showed the homeless in the film, whereas the thousands of other inhabitants, together with the insignia of their wellbeing – cars, elegant outfits, etc. – I erased digitally in postproduction.
Sławomir Rumiak has remained close to Japan to this day. He has also curated two exhibitions of Japanese art in Poland: Bellmer found in Japan – Simon Yotsuya and Friends (2010, Kronika Gallery in Bytom) and Atokata (2012) – a showcase of Kishin Shinoyama’s photographs illustrating the landscape of the Tohoku region after the 2011 tsunami.
Krzysztof Miękus, June 2016, transl. AM