They don’t know why, but they keep doing it

Six artists whose practices reflect on the role of ideology in a post-ideological landscape

Maciek Stępiński, Idea(l), 2009

9 October – 5 November 2011
Waterside Contemporary
2 Clunbury Street
London N1 6TT

They don’t know why, but they keep doing it
Ideas after ideology
Grzegorz Drozd, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, Javier Rodriguez, Konrad Smoleński, Maciek Stępiński, Radek Szlaga
Curated by Piotr Sikora and Pierre d'Alancaisez

Ideologies structure and simplify reality. They emerge where the Symbolic is not able to adequately translate the Real. We resort to using simplification, brand historical concepts, we give names to movements and phenomena.

The artists, aware of these mechanisms, reject the obvious, doubting the potential of ideologised thought and production. Working in paint, installation and video, they expand into the post-participatory, the post-media, and chart the past-punk and the past-colonial.

These artistic narratives are based on the overbearing here and now. Spilling out of context, the artists produce hallucinatory newspaper headlines, trash baroque icons, surreal minefields and post-apocalyptic barbecues. Faced with this fracture of the Real, we are as viewers released from the circumstantial, and are drawn into a world of the unconscious artistic gesture.

The resulting aesthetic/commodity experience illustrates an ultimate paradox of production: the artists’ rejection of the institutionalised fuels the creation of new ideologies. They don’t know why, but they keep doing it.

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with ZOR Foundation, and will travel to Galería Blanca Soto Madrid in November 2011.The exhibition will launch Waterside Contemporary new gallery space in Hoxton.

Grzegorz Drozd is a visual artist who makes use of a wide array of media, from classical forms of painting, to site-specific installations and feature-length films. Drozd’s works grow from a vigilant observation of the absurdities of everyday life. The artist often refers to the utopian ideals of modernism to expose the absence of pragmatic justification for abstract ideas. In his own words, he’s an “artistic nomad, who frequently changes his vantage point on the subject matters he’s working on, in order to create multiple perspectives”. The artist performs a multi-layered analysis: for example, Universal a work that refers to the housing problems an estate in Warsaw, or in his exhibition Lack, which deals with the out-dated methods of teaching at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts. Drozd’s work is permeated by a peculiar wit, used by the artist to put the viewer into situations of ambiguity and to ask a Gogol-like question: “what are you laughing at?”

Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s multi-layered practice consists of filmmaking, drawing, installation, photography, performance, publishing and curating. Their work challenges terms such as participation, collaboration, the social turn and the traditional roles of the artist as producer and the audience as recipient.

Since 2009, Mirza and Butler have been developing a body of work entitled ‘The Museum of Non Participation’. The artists have repeatedly found themselves embedded in pivotal moments of change, protest, non-alignment and debate. Experiencing such spaces of contestation both directly and through the network of art institutions, Mirza and Butler negotiate these influences in video, photography, text and action.

In 2004, Mirza and Butler formed, an artist-run organization that combines film production with critical dialogue about contemporary image making. It supports the production of artist works, runs workshops and critical discussions and actively curated performances, screenings, residencies, publications, events and exhibitions.

Javier Rodriguez’s practice spans the printed word, image, installation and video. His works both appropriate and generate content. The term ‘mixed-media’ aptly describes both the technical composition of the artist’s works and their thematic focus. Using newsprint, for example, Rodriguez brings together messages from a variety of sources, processing them with their own means of mechanical reproduction.

Rodriguez has staged large-scale media interventions, and by living in both the UK and Venezuela, he has been able to find unsettling parallels between the disparate social systems. In 2010, he created ‘Último Mundo Universal’, a guerrilla mash-up of Venezuela’s three largest tabloid newspapers, which was distributed alongside the original titles by street vendors and newsagents. In the UK, he has been creating a series of newspaper headline posters based on the titles of East London press.

Konrad Smoleński works the fields of photography, video art, installation, performance and happening. He is one of the pillars of the Panerstwo group based in Poznan and an animator of the alternative music scene Pink Punk. Smolenski often makes use of spectacular pyrotechnic effects, in contrast minimal with the usually minimal punk aesthetic. A fine, chiselled precision is typical of his works, and this quality that gives them the purified, ascetic character. The artist has also experimented with music production through ‘Sound Booming’, guerrilla concerts by the group BNNT. Konrad Smolenski’s practice brims with surprising objects, such as bombs made out of gymnastic balls, or music instruments constructed from military missiles. Such objects are marked with his intervention (being shot through or burnt, for example) and enter into dialogue with the concept of the ready-mades. A sense of anxiety can be found under the aesthetic layer of Smolenski’s works, drawing the most fundamental questions about fear, death and the ultimate.
Maciek Stępiński is an artist-photographer, painter, and maker of films and installations. For the last ten years, Stępiński has led photographic workshops and lectured contemporary photography in Poland and in France. Stepinski’s original projects are connected with a sense of identity of a place (the south of France, Austria, California, northern Africa, Poland, Israel). His ability to feely use multiple media, with photography in particular, lets the artist thoroughly analyse his own artistic attitudes and their origins. His narratives, drawing from cinema, music, fragments of reality, personal history and memory, acquire the status of universal stories. In his works, Stępiński uses modified photography, illustrating the anonymous spots of modern life. By observing the moonlike landscape of highways from behind a windshield, making photographs of blurred Near East scenery or experiencing flashbacks of his childhood, he questions the fundamental principles of documentary photography. His video-films are hypnotizing projections that focus, above all, on the visual aspect of the medium. Stępiński refers to the issues of intuition and artistic sensitivity, somehow restoring those obscure notions to the discussion about contemporary art.

Radek Szlaga is one of the most distinct young generation Polish artists, and is a co-founder of the art group Panerstwo. Szlaga’s paintings capitalise on the achievements of realism in painting, a mode of expression the artist believes to be the most intellectually expressive.  His work both comments on wider society and self-reflects, using references from widely accepted visual culture. Szlaga’s art is built with elements of pop culture:  the iconic status of painting, common consumer products, faces known from the media (like Charles Manson’s or Tad Kaczynski’s) – elements that leave an ambiguous imprint on the cultural landscape. These elements highlight the boundary of marks made in the conscious and the subconscious by visual culture – and how such a marks create simulacra of their physical origin. The artist engages in a multi-layered analysis of the visual, and is not afraid of drawing on art’s own social involvement and the ideas of postmodernism. Not least, Szlaga’s work, despite the gravity of its content, is not devoid of a sense of humour and typically presents and ironic view of reality.

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