Zorka Wollny is a painter, performance artist, and film-maker. She was born in 1980 in Kraków.
Performerka, autorka filmów wideo, malarka. Urodziła się w 1980 roku w Krakowie.
Zorka (actually Zofia) Wollny studied at the Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) in Kraków, graduating with a master’s degree in 2006. In 2016 she completed her doctoral studies. At present, Wollny is an assistant professor at Szczecin Art Academy. She lives and works in Berlin.
Wollny’s films revolve around dream-like states of consciousness. Furthermore, her projects focus on choreography and performance. Music is also part of Wollny’s artistic practice; her concerts are usually collaborative works with Anna Szwajgier.
Wollny also collaborates with the most important Polish contemporary art institutions, such as Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, the Wyspa Institute of Art and the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. In 2017 the artist represented Poland at the Brussels Art Fair. Furthermore, she has twice received a grant from the Ministry of Culture. She also won the Eugeniusz Gepert Competition for painting. In 2009 Wollny was nominated for the Spojrzenia Prize for best young artist by the Deutsche Bank Foundation. In 2010 she was awarded the Artist of the Year title by Arteon magazine. Magdalena Ujma states that:
Zorka Wollny is a heir of the first generation of female artists to emerge in Poland after the 1989 transformation. She is a striking artist. Her work can definitely be characterised by animate intellectual activity, curiosity about the world around her, her unconventional take on many well-known topics and her fondness for collaboration. Hence, it is hard to classify Wollny’s art as she freely crosses boundaries between various art forms, such as literature, theatre, music, and dance. The crucial aspect of her work is undeniably being in contact with other people through conversations and exchanges of ideas. Previous interpretations of Wollny’s work put her in the context of feminist deconstruction as well as institutional critique. Yet, it can be argued that this interpretation reduces her uniqueness.
Wollny’s art has been presented in Poland and abroad, including in Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, Hungary, and Canada. As well as exhibitions, she has also participated in music events (CTM – Festival for Adventurous Music and Art in Berlin, the Heroines of Sound Festival in Berlin, the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, Jazz & Experimental Music From Poland, Audio Art Festival in Krakow) as well as theatre events (Gdansk Shakespeare Festival, Łódź Ballet Festival, and Malta Festival Poznań, amongst others).
As part of Fundacja 36,6, the artist participated in Warsztaty Myślenia (2003, 2004) and Wycieczka do Krakowa (2003). Wollny collaborated closely with Roman Dziadkiewicz, the head of Fundacja 36,6. Together they made the film Martwa Natura (2004), which consists of long, static, almost motionless shots of still life. Unexpectedly, the still life ‘comes to life’, but the motion is so slight that it is quite easy to overlook it.
The element of surprise and humour is a consistent part of Wollny’s artistic practice. For instance, in 2014 she lived for a week in an Ikea in Kraków. The artist slept, bathed, and performed everyday activities there, all while people who went to shop in Ikea could observe and interact with her.
During an artistic residency in Turkey she made several films later presented at the Sabanci exhibition in Krakow’s F.A.I.T. gallery. One of her films depicted girls playing squash, the other was centred around static shots of a university campus in which small movements reveal a pair of lovers in the frame who were previously hidden from the audience’s gaze.
Wollny’s art oscillates between poetic atmosphere and critical inquiry. It is also focused on questioning the nature of oppressive spaces as well as examining what kind of behaviour a certain space can create. This question reoccurs in many of her collaborative performances. For instance, in 2014 the artist, together with composer Anna Szwajgier, created the musical score Koncert Na Wysokie Obcasy. It was performed by eight dancers in the neo-Gothic staircase of Collegium Novum in Kraków. Later on, she also performed similar scores in other art institutions.
In 2015, for Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster, Wollny wrote a musical score, Koncert Na Landesmuseum, composed for fourteen performers who followed her directions in the main hall of the museum. For this peculiar ballet Wollny and Szwajgier developed a choreography based on the behaviour of museum workers and visitors. Performers invited by the artist replicated these movements. Part of the public went to the museum with the intention of watching the performance, other spectators were there by coincidence, thus involuntarily becoming part of the performance.
Wollny organised a similar action in the same year in the National Museum in Kraków as well as in Łódź. Chodzony Na Kolekcję Sztuki XX i XXI Wieku was a performance in the Museum of Art in Łódź, where dancers went through the museum in a rhythmical procession, their pace dictated by a metronome.
Wollny’s performative concert was also held in Zachęta, in which the audience sat on stairs with their eyes closed, listening to the sounds that performers made (i.e., using various objects to create noise and intensify the sound effects). Then, in 2016 the artist created a performance in Cricoteka, a space specifically created to commemorate Tadeusz Kantor and his art. Koncert Kantorowski was based on Kantor’s drama and the aesthetics of his plays, and the composition itself was created by the audience of a workshop organised earlier by Wollny.
Poor, Miserable, Discarded & Found: Objects of the Polish Avant-Garde Theatre
Wollny’s art, especially her films, are often based on observation of the people close to her. For instance, her series of portraits of girls painted with cosmetics which belonged to them (Ewa, Monika, Asia, Marta) had a very intimate character. In one of her first videos Wollny recorded the process of applying make-up (Malowanie). Another film, Córki, is assembled of footage of the women from Wollny’s family. During an interview, the artist said:
Aunt Lena’s love story is the general plot of her life. Aunt Basia’s narration was also similar; in her case it helped her to legitimise the fact that she stayed at home and the way she was raised. The last heroine of the film is my mother, who complains about her daughters never visiting her. I’m giving them platform to speak, but the stories in my film are something different or something more than what its protagonists have to say.
The intersection between what is private and what is intimate is also interesting in the context of theatre. In film Lulu (2008) Wollny recorded actress Marta Ojrzyńska preparing for a role in Frank Wedekind’s play. The actress practises her role in her empty flat. In the film – the play, without the lines of other actors, is transformed into a monodrama, voiced out to the empty walls. This motive of insanity recurs in another Wollny’s film Łucja Szalona (2008).
Critical Art. Selected Issues
Wollny worked with Anna Szwajgier for a decade, and yet music for quite some time wasn’t a key part of her projects, as she stated in an interview with Arkadiusz Półtorak:
In Poland I was mostly part of a visual arts group. I only became fully-fledged composer in Berlin.
A few of Wollny and Szwajgier’s collaborations were featured on a 2015 album mockingly called Greatest Hits.
Acoustic site specific performances have been carried out by Wollny not just in artistic institutions. Słopiewenie was a concert performed by eight people at the lakeside of Jelenia Góra in June 2010. There, the sounds of nature mixed with the voices of boys and girls relating the performance to the intensity of nature; its almost sacral dimension is connected to primeval and folk beliefs, but also to the uncontrollable force of nature.
After her lakeside, performance Wollny transferred to more industrial spaces – in 2014 in Kompozycja na Fabrykę, she brought to life an abandoned factory building in Berlin. The composition was grounded in the factory’s architecture, and the infrastructure and machinery that was left behind. In 2015 the artist carried out the project Zakon in Świeć, in a castle built by the Teutonic Order. The performance was preceded by two weeks of workshops with Świeć’s residents. In this performance the artist used not only sounds generated by the performers but also percussion instruments and electrophones. Wollny created this composition alongside Theresa Stroedges. It was divided into 6 parts, corresponding to Catholic liturgical rites from the Middle Ages.
The Solo Generation. Top Dancers and Choreographers
Resonance Assembly - Composition for Factory
W kolejnych pracach Wollny coraz częściej zaczęły pojawiać się wątki polityczne. Podczas festiwalu Warszawska Jesień w 2011 roku artystka zrealizowała "Oratorium na orkiestrę i chór mieszkańców Warszawy". Przygotowując performans artystka zwróciła się do kilkudziesięciu organizacji pozarządowych, współpracowała również z Later on, Wollny’s art became more politically engaged. During the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music in 2011 the artist created Oratorium Na Orkiestrę i Chór Mieszkańców Warszawy. When creating this performance Wollny collaborated with many NGOs and the National Philharmonic. This secular oratorio was performed by the capital residents talking about issues regarding city and state politics. In the same year at the Alternativa festival in Gdańsk Shipyard, Wollny with Szwajgier presented Piosenka Przy Pracy performed by five shipyard workers. Like Wollny’s other performances, this piece was also based on the contrast between sounds as minimalistic sounds were mixed with the noise of heavy machinery. In Piosenka Przy Pracy Wollny used pre-existing recordings of songs about work for the first time. Previously, Wollny had used electronic music in Ptaki, her concert made for the New Horizons film festival. The concert drew upon Alfred Hitchock’s film The Birds, as a sound generator was built especially for the film.
In 2014 Wollny created Protest Song – an institutional critique made for the W Stronę Instytucji Krytycznej exhibition in Arsenał municipal gallery in Poznań. This work referred to the ambiguous situation of the Arsenał gallery, as at that time the gallery was run by a conservative director who had conspiratorial views regarding contemporary art. Hence, the artist invited three local bands to perform songs about the conflict at the institution and the situation of its workers, who had been fired.
Wollny again analysed the power of voice in the political sphere in 2017 Impossible Opera. The audience participated in the hour-long performance by making various sounds, which were differentiated by intensity and tonality – from whispers to whistling and shouting. Among these abstract sounds, syllables, fragments of manifestos and slogans originated in demonstrations or prayers, were slipped in. The framework of the performance was a choreography which alluded to street protests.
Choreographing Empathy: An Interview with Yasmeen Godder
Unmögliche Oper - Trailer
Political themes were part of the CTM Turmoil Berlin festival in 2018, where Wollny performed the opening concert Sprzeciw, concerning a situation of conflict escalation and referring to the main theme of the festival – unrest. Sprzeciw was carried out by two soloists and many performers, who, over the progression of the performance appeared more and more angry – their sound devolved from slogans and shouted syllables to the echo of their voices. In the meantime Wollny turned off the lights in the hall and opened the doors so the situation of growing defiance was experienced to its fullest by the audience.
Similarly, Wollny’s installation Vox Populi, which she collaborated on with Andrzej Wasilewski, revolved around corresponding themes. It was presented in 2016 during the Narracje Art Festival in Gdańsk. Once again, the artist organised workshops with residents of Biskupia Górka (a Gdańsk district). An instrument based on a Tesla coil (and constructed by Wasilewski) was the centre of the installation. Biskupia Górka resident’s chants and singing about their district lead to a spectacular electrical breakdown and noises coming from the machine.
In Wollny’s other artworks such slogans became a starting point to abstract lone sounds. The performance Song of Resistance, produced in Istanbul with students from Boğaziçi University, was connected to the events at Taksim Square. This concert in a city’s public space was composed of deconstructed songs and shouts of protest.
Beside Wollny’s works that combine music and visual art, she also engages with theatre. Her first play Ofelie: Ikonografia Szaleństwa was performed in Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź in 2012. Eleven actresses were part of this hour-long spectacle, all of whom had played the role of Ofelia before, in different stage versions of Hamlet. During the play all of them perform Ophelia’s madness scene, not only re-enacting their former role but also presenting their own portrayal of this character, filtered through their own experiences. Ofelie was also part of her doctoral dissertation at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk.
Can Dance Be the Answer to Contemporary Violence? An Interview with 3 Performance Artists
Ophelias. Iconography of Madness - fragment (Wroclaw)
Another performance inspired by literature was Wszyskie Imiona, performed in 2015 in Bunkier Sztuki. The performance was inspired by José Saramago’s novel All the Names and engaged senior choirs. When walking through gallery warehouses the audience heard the performers repeating dates, names and fragments of songs. These glimpses of memory repeated by performers dispersed, to later become a choir and then to scatter once again.
Celebrating the Heroines of Sound: An Interview with Bettina Wackernagel
contemporary polish artist
socially engaged art
polish female artists
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2008; updated: June 2018 by Piotr Policht (based on the materials provided by the artist)
Selected exhibitions and projects:
- 2003 - 'prowi_zorka i inni' (part of Komisariat project), Galeria Pod Schodami, Kraków
- 2004 - 'Koncert na wysokie obcasy', concert-performance (with Anna Szwajgier), Kraków, 'Mieszkam w IKEA', performance, Ikea, Kraków
- 2005 - 'Sabanci', exhibition, F.A.I.T. Gallery, Kraków, 'Muzeum", dance performance, national Museum, Kraków
- 2008 - 'Muzeum', exhibition, Okna Gallery, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw, 'Ucieczka z kadru', exhibition, Starter Gallery, Poznań
- 2009 - 'Sześć sylwetek na tle kolekcji', dance performance, ms2, Łódź, 'Ballada na Gmach Zachęty', concert-performance with Anna Szwajgier, Zachęta, Warsaw
- 2010 - 'Sonata erozyjna', performance, 'Unhum na 23 muzyków i 53 przechodniów', concert-performance with Anna Szwajgier and Artur Zagajewski, 'Przesilenie letnie', concert and dance performance with Anna Szwajgier and Magdalena Przybysz, Malta festival, Poznań, 'Music from the White Cube', exhibition in collaboration with Anna Szwajgier, Sierra Meteo, Edynburgh, 'Słopiewnie', concert by the lake, Jelenia Góra, 'Ciało w bibliotece', performance, BWA Design, Wrocław
- 2011 - 'Songs of the Sublime', concert , 'Oratorium na orkiestrę i chór mieszkańców Warszawy', concert-performance in collaboration with Anna Szwajgier and Artur Zagajewski, Chmielna Street, Warsaw
- 2012 - 'Czarna seria', video film exhibition, Zona Sztuki Aktualnej, Szczecin
- 2014 - 'Kompozycja na fabrykę', Berlin, 'Song of Resistance', Stambuł
- 2015 - 'Zakon', Świecie, 'Wszystkie imiona', Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- 2016 - 'Vox Populi', Narracje Festival, Gdańsk, 'Koncert Kantorowski', Ośrodek Dokumentacji Sztuki Tadeusza Kantora Cricoteka
- 2017 - 'Sound Seances', Oldenburg, 'Impossible Opera', Oldenburg
- 2018 - 'Sprzeciw', CTM Festival, Berlin
- 2020 - 'Environment: A Future Retrospective, Trafostacja Sztuki, Szczecin