"Santo subito" is a reflection about the values shared by contemporaries, and about who or what becomes an object of cult status. The artist faithfully reproduces portraits of celebrities - James Dean, Frida Kahlo, Lady Di or Michal Jackson - taken from tabloid covers. Within the ironic process of "canonisation", the figures are accessorised with a halo typical of religious iconography.
Bartek Jarmoliński, "James D - patron kierowców"/"James D: the Patron Saint of Motorists". Source: press materials
"Santo subito" is a reflection about the values shared by contemporaries, and about who or what becomes an object of cult status
Bartek Jarmoliński faithfully reproduces portraits of celebrities - James Dean, Frida Kahlo, Lady Di or Michal Jackson - taken from tabloid covers. Within the ironic process of "canonisation", the figures are accessorised with a halo typical of religious iconography.
In modern society, as the profane gets tangled up and often confused with the sacred, popular mass culture appears to have spread into the religious world, adopting many of its customs and rituals. Moreover, consumerism and the entertainment industry have created a form of religious commerce. Places of cult and temples have been substituted by shopping malls, concert halls, sports arenas - the role of priests taken up by television hosts and presenters.
Pop culture creates its own churches, gods and saints. The Presleyterian Church of Elvis in Memphis, The Chuch of Diego Maradona in Argentina or Jediism, a religious movement based on the concept of the Jedi from the "Star Wars" film series, are amongst those extreme and literal interpretations of mass culture. A less explicit, yet not so subtle global assimilation of spiritual customs within profane society is the subject of Bartek Jarmolinski's "Cooltowi".
Contemporary saints and role models are incarnated by celebrities of all kinds: from movie stars to sportsmen or musicians, politicians, designers and writers, charismatic figures get to achieve the status of icons whether it is a conscious strategic move fuelled and fuelling power and money, or a beatification originated by global public adoration. Somewhere between those interchangeable alternatives lies the new authority dethroning the pope - the media.
Bartek Jarmoliński has dedicated his series of paintings to selected deceased celebrities of the Twentieth Century, where the idols of Pop culture serve as a commentary of the system's mechanisms. Following the traditional Christian rites, the artist canonises his subjects after their death. In parallel to the analysis of mass culture iconography, the association of those stars to a specific craft of activity, directly associated with their history or ultimate passing, is also an ironic commentary directly addressed to the public as a reminder of the absurdity of the system.
Hence Marilyn Monroe is named patron of politicians, John Lennon is for the desperate, Freddy Mercury is a reminder of safe sex, Lady Di is the guardian of the paparazzi, James Dean takes the place of Saint Christopher and watches over motorists, while Michael Jackson becomes the patron of doctors.
However, the acid, irreverent, sarcastic and nostalgic pantheon of stars presented by the artist within the show is not blasphemous. Somehow, that adjective tends to appears irrelevant in the debate Jarmolinski tries to create, as the process of raising dead celebrities into holy figures seems automatic and common nowadays. Initially, the Christian Church chose only martyrs to be honoured as saints, and pious legends of their demise were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in the Christ, while formalisation and celebration of these legends served to legitimise and propagate the doctrines of the Church and serve as examples.
Translated into modern society, the sanctification of a star or politician via promotion and media coverage after their passing helps generate interest in the product, object, ideal or message associated with their name. Relying on the versatility and power of the mass medias, the "implicit" system obviously aims on profit, re-adapting and recycling the tone of their communication tools. This standard scheme can be observed in a stripped down and stereotyped version the Santo subito series: from tabloid covers with scandalous titles, celebrities are promoted to canvas with a halo around their head.
This interpretation hardly sacrilegious as it only demystifies what lies beneath, standing alongside organised, codified and controlled religion today: the pagan idolatrous cults of materialism, entertainment and power. As a result of the media revolution in the Twentieth Century, the phenomenon of pop culture and its characteristics (easy, breezy, beautiful, light, agreeable and lucrative) became a lifestyle, as everything and everyone is turned into a product. The customer creates his identity, the "mosaic of his style" (as describes Mariusz Czubaj) as a sum of what he owns and consumes, which not only includes objects and material products, but also performers, movie stars, sportsmen and other kinds of celebrities along with everything they stand for.
Since religion has been taken over by consumerism (the commercial character of Christmas and other holidays, televised masses and ceremonies promoted as spectacles), a more unfathomable and insidious trend has risen, represented by laic pop-religion without a Father God, assassinated by Nietsche. Holy artefacts around which temples and churches were built in the past are today's memorabilia, from autographs to clothing and furniture, sold for astonishing prices at auctions after their owner's death.
The contemporary definition of saints has erased the traditional paths of martyrdom, poverty, prayer, empathy and sacrifice leading to perfection and salvation; today, in the scale of modern values, those humble qualities fade in comparison to global admiration, sensationalism, success, power and glamour. Most celebrities have their names trademarked, as aside from an album, concert ticket or film, they promote and sell their own self, their image and lifestyle through product endorsement, official merchandising and licenses. The charismatic idol's power and role model status is promoted and enhanced by the media, who create a need for imitation, reproduction and assimilation of the stars' appearance, attitude and customs.
The laic saints of Jarmoliński are depicted in a very precise, almost hyper-realistic style as they appeared on magazine covers photographs, materialising their sanctity in a very literal, traditional way. In addition to the previously mentioned portraits, the icons represented in the exhibition include Grace Kelly, Romy Schneider, JFK, Benazir Bhutto, Eva Peron, Gianni Versace. All of the figures painted by the artist can be considered martyrs and victims of the entertainment industry and the show business, of global (pop)culture consumerism, who paid for their fame and success with a premature death. Some of them fell under the gun of political opponents or crazy fans, some lost their lives in car accidents. All the others died of drug overdose or a terrible disease. Jarmolinski's "Coolt" figures died in the public eye, sometimes because of it, because of jealousy or excessive admiration, crushed by the pressure, exhaustion or depression. They all embody the ultimate new definition of a legend, celebrated via mini chapels in motion/television and the new bibles/tabloids.
Two figures stand out of in the pantheon created by Jarmolinski: artists Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso. Victims of fame on a different level, they are placed above all other figures. Their names were sold post mortem to become synonyms of brands and products not related to their work in any way: alcohol, cosmetics, cars. Their names will potentially, if not inevitably become exclusively associated with those goods, erasing the memory of their artistic legacy. From icons of contemporary art to icons of consumerism, the tragic examples of both painters introduce an identification game of duality. Consequently, the techniques of traditional iconography are empathized in the portraits of Kahlo and Picasso, as the realistic brush based on majestic photographs is completed by semi precious stones ornamenting their clothing and silver background. Also, as according to icon theology, Jarmolinski added slogans associated with both figures: Santa Frida got "Tequila" and "Cosmetics", while Santo Pablo Got "Citroen Xara".
Protected by little altars and a couple of candles, the portraits of the painters are placed on the central wall of the installation designed as a chapel, while the 10 other icons hang on the side.
Through 12 examples of pop culture martyrdom, Bartek Jarmolinski analyses the modern passion for mediatisation, stereotyping and merchandising all aspects of our reality. In the world of simulacrum and appearances, one only exists when presented and watched, promoted and sold via medias and advertising. This is a world where the boundaries between sacred and profane have disappeared, where the elevated values subjected to cult are the image, the logo, the brand. The perfect icon embodies that trinity all in one.
Opening: February 4, 2011.
The exhibition runs through February 28, 2011.
ul. Dietla 11
Sources: press release