Artur Zmijewski, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art 30 July – 16th October 2010


I swear I will remain loyal to my Country the Republic of Poland

Excerpt from audio of video art “Democracies: re-enactment of the Warsaw uprising, Battle of the Mokotow Ditrict” (2009) A Zmijewski

Zmijewski’s solo exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary art is bursting at the seams. It is jam packed with emotive, controversial, powerful video art.

Exploring themes of personal and national identies each piece I spent time with had the power to shock, provoke and make me question.

The first piece that confronts you gives you a good flavour of what is in the bulk of the exhibited pieces “Democracies: re-enactment of the Warsaw uprising, Battle of the Mokotow Ditrict” (2009) A Zmijewski sits alongside “Democracies:Semi-final of the 2008 European Football Championship Germany vs Turkey” both stir the same uneasy feelings. These are echoed in Zmijewski’s work in Northern Ireland etc

I think in particular Zmijewski’s work with the elderly was particularly resonante. “Our Songbook” (2003) showed the artists of camera interacting with Polish Jews who had fled Poland at the outbreak of the 2nd World War and moved to Irael. The elderly and sometimes infirm individuals recount their story and then try to recall songs from their youth, songs from a land and language they are now estranged from.

A lady in a hospital bed quietly sings

“Poland has not perished as long as we live”

A gentleman with a face staining to recall the lyrics sings

“From our hardship Poland with rise and live”

, video still © Artur Zmijewski & Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zürich available at http://www.sonambiente.net/images/4M2zmi_werk.jpg”%5D

“80064” shows Jazel Tarnawa a 92 year old Auschwitz survivor having his tattoo reinked and refreshed. He talks of Auschwitz as vernichtungslager the camp where no one left alive. But Jazel did make it. He talks of seeing naked bodies lying dead and how he felt no disgust. It was as if he switched part of himself off. He describes how he tried to stay out of conflicts to stay alive.

Zmijewski persuades the reluctant Jazel to have the tattoo he had of his prisoner number restored… to make it clearer. Jazel initially objects saying it won’t be original, that other survivors will say, “You did not have that done at Auchwitz.” Zmijewski argues you can’t change a tattoo it will always be there and the original ink and outline will still be there… as jazel  had previously agreed to have the tattoo reinked he lets Zmijewski re-colour the prisinor number.

It seems to bring his emotions to the fore when weeks later he shows the healed refreshed number. You feel that Zmijewski wants us not to let the memory fade but by employing such a tactic in his art has put Jazel’s feelings second to waht undoubtedly makes a striking artwork.

"80064" Artur Zmijewski (2004) still from video available at http://www.artnet.com/artwork/424916112/138114/80064.html

Read more about the exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art‘s website.

Zmijewski is represented by Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.

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