Zuza Golińska presents an image of an agonal civilization, inspired by the post-apocalyptic cinema and the Foucault’s governmentality.
Zuza Golińska, visual artist and graduate of Mirosław Bałka’s Spatial Activities Studio at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, reveals how her art deals with the relationship between the human body, public space and architecture. Unlike hostile architecture, which often leads to the desertification of public spaces, Golińska invites people to voluntarily interact with her works, play with them and rest in them. Her multi-layered realizations, which draw on the achievements of art history and philosophy, are primarily aimed at making them accessible to all at an elementary level. The meaning of her work is completed at the moment it enters into a viewer’s dialogue – a dialogue that doesn’t necessarily have to be intellectual, but physical.
It seems that your work shares the leitmotif of architectural design. How does architecture influence your art?
Architecture moderates the behavior and movement of social groups. I pay attention to objects in urban spaces that directly affect the human body. These architectural practices force some changes, they redirect marginalized social groups – e.g. homeless people or drug addicts – to districts that are far from the center.
The steel barriers, spikes and divisions that can be seen in Western European cities effectively prevent people from lying on a bench or hiding in sides of the building. They meet certain aesthetic standards, »clean« and minimalist in design, usually made of stainless steel or concrete, they are passive-aggressive sculptures. The abstract and sublime form is intended to divert attention from the objects dehumanizing function. The manipulation, which takes place during the design process, creates a disguise to the way Western societies treat their citizens. It is worth noting that many of the prohibitions imposed are (effectively) ignored.
In Piercers, my series of sculptures from 2018, I use stainless steel and I refer directly to hostile architecture. In my earlier realizations, the dialogue with architecture took place in a broader context. Still, I have always been interested in the aspect of control, discipline and its influence on human bodies.
As in hostile architecture, your works are supposed to interact with the recipient.
Hopefully, unlike in the case with hostile architecture! But yes, many of my works are intended to engage with the recipient. Sculptures are understood in 3D – they are perceived in the relation to their own body and scale. I don’t mind people touching my works, it’s often a natural reflex to check what you are looking at. I touch the works of other artists myself. Most of my installations are designed in such a way that you can walk, touch or lie on them. What matters to me is the relationship between space and body, the choreography invented in the environment.
The meaning of my work is completed the moment it engages in dialogue with people – the dialogue which doesn’t have to be necessarily intellectual, but physical. I like projects that are fun and are also available on a basic level. They don’t require knowledge of art history. I want my installations, sculptures or performances to be accessible to people without such knowledge. Of course, the art historical background and the context in which the work is created makes it possible to read many meanings and references – in relation to the social situation, culture and history. But I don’t expect everyone who is involved with contemporary art to have this knowledge either. I value things that work on an elementary level – a person’s relationship with his own body, positioning oneself in space and with others, touch. That is a frequent starting point for thinking about my realizations.
Last year, we opened the Eye Drop cinema at PLATO Ostrava. It consists of large beds and soft carpets, and it is intended that people would lie on them. Many people come just to relax or lie down. It is such a soft space, accessible to everyone, where you can relax or hide on a hot day.
And yet in Suns you refer to Stanisław Lem’s work and his famous novel »Solaris« as well as to Foucault’s »Discipline and Punish«. What other references are there?
In »Suns« I directly refer to »Solaris« by Stanisław Lem, at the same time I connect with the dystopian and post-apocalyptic vibes of Mad Max. »Suns« are kind of contaminated, toxic totems built after the collapse of civilization, when people turned to sun worship. As my friend Mikołaj Sobczak put it, the exhibition at Piktogram was like »a place of a toxic cult«. The room was filled with intensely colored powder, all sculptures are half-rusty, as if they were made from the remnants of the past world.
I remember watching »Red Desert« by Antonioni when I was a teenager, about 17 years old. I have never rewatched it since then, but the way he depicted factory and industry stayed close to me. I don’t remember the plot, and I think in the movie the noisy factory was more of a metaphor for the anxieties of the character played by Monica Vitti, yet these images stuck with me for years. In the past I’ve watched tons of movies, I think that’s why I often refer to them; »Escape From New York« from 1981, things like that.
Before I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, I spent a year studying Cultural Studies at the University of Gdańsk. When it comes to society and discipline, I often refer, apart from Foucault, to Erich Fromm and other texts from my short theoretical detour. These days I mainly read poetry.
It is important to mention that real life probably plays the biggest part in the creation of my works. »Suns« are connected with a one-month residency in Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine, which I participated in last year. MetaLab is an urban development laboratory and a community led by four women. They are located in a factory that is currently undergoing gentrification, but is still half in operation on the first floor. Then, on the second floor of the building there is an open space for collaboration, a bar, a »progressive« kindergarten, some stores and a gallery.
The whole city is full of post-industrial areas, huge, empty factories and other buildings facilitating the organization of production. The mixture between the wannabe-Western vibe with the poor post-Soviet post-industrial reality is peculiar. With a group of artists, we were allowed to enter the factory and meet the people working there. Spending some time there, walking around and observing, I came up with the form of »Suns«.
I noticed some production leftovers and I asked if I could work with them; I did try runs with Yurii Volman, one of the factory welders, and Ihor Prokopiy, who let me use the powder paint room he was responsible for. It was crazy hot, the heat wave hit Europe… It all came together. I often use materials and tools that are available to me at the moment. These change due to the circumstances in which I find myself.
This practice also applies to your collection, which was designed entirely from second-hand clothes.
I perceive clothes as sculptures. They also have a spatial form. Fashion often creates a silhouette, of which some elements are emphasized or exaggerated while others are hidden. You can build a man in a completely different way, and I like this idea.
It wasn’t exactly a collection, but a series of clothes. During my residency in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, where the only source of clothing is second hand, I learned to use a sewing machine. There was a new industrial machine available in the studio. Somebody explained to me how it works and said: »You can take it from now, right?«. At first, I was mainly interested in deconstructing the clothes and reassembling them in different form.
…but there’s a clear message behind this collection.
I’m not sure whether my art is openly engaged, but as a human being I certainly am. I try to be empathic and support individuals and groups who are not in a privileged position. I am not impressed by ignorance and disinterest in the reality we live in. I was brought up in such an atmosphere, and that has stayed with me. As a sensitive person I want to think about other people and try not to be an asshole.
And how do you manifest your personality through the performative duo with Magdalena Łazarczyk?
Magda and I met in the first year of our MA studies in Mirosław Bałka’s Spatial Activities Studio. In the studio we often worked in groups and pairs. At that time, it was the only studio where community spirit was encouraged. As »twins« we have the opportunity to go beyond ourselves and our individual projects. We give ourselves space to create a new reality. We invent stories, build characters – this is a very literary activity. We always look alike, we act and move in the same way.
During our performances we pay attention to the choreography and the synchronization of our bodies; we even breathe in the same pace. It is a state of extreme focus, which lasted for over three hours in our last performance Sticky Grass at the Zachęta National Gallery. Twins constantly interact with the public, but not through words, but through spatial presence and movement. Performing can be exhausting but doing it together is much more comfortable. Our working process is very chill, we play a lot, joke around, dress up – a bit like kids do. The responsibility for the work is split into two halves. That’s why we allow ourselves to do things we wouldn’t have the courage to do as solo artists.