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The Sorrows of Young Arist in the Age of Digital Revolution 0

Review | MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS. INTIMACY AS TEXT at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (26.01 – 02.04.17 )

Weronika Trojańska*

Photos: Bartosz Stawiarski

“I think a poem is like a party. Because it has to end. You’ve got to leave, eventually”, wrote American poet Eileen Myles on one of the last pages of her novel “Inferno (a poet’s novel)”. In a sense, exhibition space is like a party as well – at the end of the day you have to go. One could argue that the difference between a poem and an art show is that you can take the first one home and experience it in intimacy. But just as after every party the recollection of it stays with you, the encounter with a poem and a work of art exist in your memory as more or less vivid remembrances.

What is a poem worth, and who reads poetry nowadays, or for whom is it being written? What is art worth, and does it still have any influence in the current situation of the world? What is life worth, and how could art and poetry help an individual understand his or her value in the 21st century? The “Ministry of Internal Affairs. Intimacy as text” group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw attempts to raise these questions by presenting diverse voices in contemporary poetry and the visual arts. Voices “whose common mode of expression is a first-person narrative and confessional character statement, while self-representation in language”[1] becomes a process of struggle for the artist’s subjectivity. Is this exhibition able to construct the conditions in which a poem, art and life can be one?

Most participants selected for the show (curated by Natalia Sielewicz) are both poets and artists (or at least one or the other), and most of them are still of “party age”, i.e., in their twenties and thirties. Amongst them are a few exceptions, such as twice-their-age Eileen Myles (b. 1949). “People have / always laughed at / my Boston accent / confusing ‘large’ for ‘lodge’, ‘party’ for ‘potty’”, she reads from her half-autobiographical, half-socio-political account “An American Poem” (a 1993 recording of which, produced and directed by Andrea Kirsch, is presented at the exhibition). Originally published in the collection “Not Me”, the poem brings within its body all of the baggage of family roots, AIDS, homosexuality, homelessness, national mythos and politics (“We are all Kennedys. And I am your president”).

“Ministry of Internal Affairs” draws attention to virtually as many issues by observing a turn towards emotions and personal experience, with an emphasis on discourse and a language of protest – both of which have been increasingly visible in contemporary culture in recent years. The show inhabits the whole building of the museum (which is actually just its temporary location at Pańska Street[2]) – in addition to two exhibition levels, it has taken over the basement, the space under the stairs, and a café and bookstore. Various exercises with words, as well as interventions on sensations and reflections, have taken on the shape of different materials and forms of expression (from sculptural objects, image representations, and video and digital projects to variations of text). A diversity of first-person accounts blur fiction and reality, autobiographical records, and invented narrative. Personal avowal becomes a source of communication and identification for the beholder in this maze of private accounts, problems of identity, carnality, feminism, and black theory, where the discourse of public space has been inflected by personal experience.

The latter is the most visible in the miniature journal drawings of Zuzanna Bartoszek, in Aldona Kopkiewicz’s poetry, in the video-essay “Tilia Americana” by Mega Rooney, in Adelajda Truścińska’s photo album in which she collates family pictures with commercial slogans about life’s failures (“Detailed descriptions of the pain of existence” 2016), and in the presented sections of “I Love Dick”, a novel by American writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus (a blend of fiction and reality, a story that happened in real life but which is not a memoir; a manifesto of a new kind of feminism). The issue of women’s rights is also present in the works by Hannah Black, an artist and writer from Manchester. “Intensive Care / Hot New Track” (2013) pairs elements of postcolonial criticism with violence against image and the body, personal narrative with gossip about Rhiannna and the testimonies of US military interrogators. Amalia Ulman (“the great Instagram artist”) presents her installation, the Skype-lecture “Annals of Private History” (2015), which was created after a visit to North Korea; it is a fictionalized history done in the tradition of a diary, as seen from a feminist perspective. Colloborating artists Dorota Gawęda and Eglé Kulbokaité voice their interest in gender and technology, especially the issue of technofeminism; in the show, they express this in the form of textual installations (“She, the Skeleton” and “wbrź sb przstrz dtrrtriz j”), as well as through the nomadic project “Young Girl Reading Group”, an event organized around feminist-inspired theory and fiction, and technology-driven emancipation. The issue of the female body is present in many of the works in the show; just to mention a few of them: Barbara Klicka’s poems (“Cold Wave”, 2017); Audrey Wollen’s video in which she touches upon the difficult subject of her teenage body mutilated by a tumor, and which she presents along with references from art history; and the performative work “My Epidemic (Teaching Bjarne Melgaard's Class)”, by Lily Reynaud Dewar. A dispute between strangeness and identity runs throughout the whole exhibition, coinciding with broader social issues, as in the projects by, among others: Julian Crauzet, Fazal Rizvi (“Teesri manzil kay badaltay nazaaray…”, 2016), and Konrad Góra. In her digital animation, Bunny Roggers impersonates asocial icons from American cartoons as they read out the artist’s poetry at the very spot where the Columbine High School massacre took place. Jaakko Pallasvuo’s new comics, “Easy Rider”, indicate ecology and the esoteric as anti-crisis tools in times of late capitalism, when alienation of the individual is the agenda.   

A feeling of sadness, which seems even more acute on the canvas of recent world events, weaves its way throughout the whole exhibition. It is accompanied by a sense of loneliness, which is typical for our times when online relationships appear more vivid than those in real life. And, befitting these representatives of the younger generation, links to social media are present in many of the works at the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” (especially so in the projects by Caspar Heinemann, Steve Roggenbuck, Adelajda Truścińska, and Amalia Ulman). Do we still need to represent ourselves with art in an era of social media? Have today’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. replaced journals, diaries, and autobiographical accounts? A recent article in The Observer stated that, with the time that the average American spends on social media in one year, he or she could have read around 200 books[3]. James O. Pawelski, Director of Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology program, has remarked that “When you go to the library, you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of books and, on your way out, tweet to your friends: I read 100 books today”[4]. Studies have determined that the time a person spends viewing a piece of art in a museum is between 15 and 30 seconds. That’s probably sufficient time to write a post on Facebook, read a poem, or figure out what the artwork is about. But that’s not enough time to fully experience the work[5]

Both written works and galleries are spaces that one needs to maneuver with the whole baggage of experience and knowledge that one carries. Poetry and art allow us to make use of language in a way that we are not accustomed to. “Perhaps artists are tired of use value,” wrote Quinn Latimer in an issue of Frieze that focused on artists’ poetry. “Maybe it is about the new linguistic currency of the internet: advertorial, adolescent, content-driven, anxiety-ridden, always appeasing, liking, performing, sharing, driving the shares up. Perhaps because words are increasingly not the medium in which we think (…) but in which we live. Perhaps words are the new images[6]”. Perhaps intimacy is text.

[1]                as written in the press release

[2]                The completion of the headquarters of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw at Parade Square is scheduled for Spring 2020

[4]  [5]        Isaak Kaplan, Artsy, How Long Do You Need toworkof art to get it,

[6]                Quinn Latimer, Art Hearts Poetry,

*Bio: Weronika Trojańska is an artist and art writer. She graduated from Academy of Fine Arts (Art Criticism and Art Promotion) in Poznań and Sandberg Instituut (Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. In her practice she investigate the notion of artists’ auto/biography as fictional construct. She writes regularly for art magazine Metropolis My, among others. Currently she lives and works in Poland.