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Photo by Lola Banet
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Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl
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Photo by Lola Banet
pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek
Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl
pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek
Photo by Lola Banet
pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek
Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl
pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek
Photo by Lola Banet
pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek pw-magazine-vienna-zuzanna-bartoszek
Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl

Zuzanna Bartoszek: Art Doesn’t Serve Morality

February 16, 2020
Text by Kasia Jaroch
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Photo by Lola Banet

Zuzanna Bartoszek, an artist and poet living in Warsaw, talks about her most recent exhibition The Sower and other paintings at Pina in Vienna, and references Polish modernist Stanisław Przybyszewski to explain the essence of art she believes was not created in the service of morality.

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Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl

»The Sower« is the key painting in your Vienna exhibition. What made you decide to work with this specific motif?

To be honest, I was intrigued by this motif on a purely aesthetic level. I don’t treat it as a symbol, it’s just an interesting representation. »The Sower« by Millet and then by Van Gogh is associated with the ethos of peasant work and the affirmation of life, while the biblical sower plants proclaims the faith. My sower is rather simple-minded, he doesn’t believe in anything, and just walks around frivolously.

The motives I paint come usually directly out of me. »Snapchat« reclaims the iconic ghost symbol from the eponymous company’s logo and blends it with a tangled, mummified figure. I used a deep frame with wooden bars to emphasize the imprisonment of the body and the sinful dimension of the app, of which I am a user myself.

»The Opium Smoker« refers again to an old motif. From the smoke of a long pipe held by a woman, some vague, bent letters or numbers emerge. It is a vision that I do not understand, that I have no access to.

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Photo by Lola Banet

What personal significance does Christianity have for you?

I don’t believe in God, but I was a very devoted child. I live in a Christian or post-Christian culture, so I am constantly surrounded by Catholic motives and symbols. I often go to churches, but I always avoid masses, which torment and bore me, but the pure contact with sacred architecture is calming and exciting. It would be difficult for me to live in a country where this does not exist or where I would have no access to it.

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Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl

You combine the different forms of expression painting, poetry and performance. Do you consider them interchangeable?

Based on the time I spend with each of these practices, I think poetry and painting mean the same to me. However, what is more important is that poetry is deeply rooted in me. I am afraid of living without writing, more so than without art; and fear is probably the best advisor.

I used to experiment with performative readings, but some time ago, I turned my back on them. When I receive invitations, I just read my poems, though I usually bring a prop. I wrote a rhyme targeting performance art, which I read during the Warsaw Gallery Weekend. That time I brought a metronome with me. At Kunsthalle Zurich, however, I read the poem in a cramped freight elevator, only scarcely lit by an old-fashioned lamp. I think it still has a performative aspect, but it’s not body-related – and it’s really the bodies and the way they behave that usually bothers me the most in performance art.

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Photo by Lola Banet

Through poetry you express what you fear most. Does that apply to your paintings as well?

No, my paintings don’t take on such precise narrative forms. Sometimes they are just an expressive scrawl and can result from a sudden change in mood. Nevertheless, I have also a few works, especially older drawings, which are more problematic and have extensive descriptive titles like »I wish I could fuck up the last Nazi« or »Dancing for someone who … is leaving the party (Saturday / Sunday)«.

For some time now, my art hasn’t been intertwined with writing, and often the titles are based on what is depicted in the painting. Previously, the idea of a picture came first. Now, I usually paint and then add the title. I think it’s good that these media find their separate places.

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Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl

You have managed to find a perfect balance between the depth and the lightness in the picture as well as in the words. You have succeeded in combining an existential theme with self-irony and a sense of humor.

I like this balance, and it’s not always easy to find it. Often, I like a piece in an exhibition that seems clean and light, but its title is too heavy or it is shown by a curator in an awkward context. It is comforting to see that such a work possesses a whole universe of its own, and that it breaks the existing framework anyway. It’s hard to find works free of strict political contexts, especially in Poland, and for me, it’s the only art that makes sense. I like the »Confiteor« manifest of Przybyszewski – of course, the Nietzschean pathos of this text is ridiculous today, but I agree with everything it says about the inutility of art. Art and poetry are made for matters that are more significant than social problems.

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Photo by Lola Banet

In both art and poetry, people often try to capture phenomena they don’t believe in. What might be the reason for this?

I’m fascinated by the ritual of tossing coins into a wishing well. A touching expression of faith. There’s a cool work by Roman Ondak on this ritual entitled »Lucky Day«. I like to mix these motifs. It’s really mostly childish naivety. For example, in one poem I write that you can see angels from a plane, who, by all means, live in heaven. The plane itself is one of the last places where we think about death. I like to look for situations in our culture in which a certain spirituality can still be found.

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Exhibition view, Zuzanna Bartoszek »The Sower and other paintings«, Pina, Vienna, 2019–2020. Photo by Sophie Pölzl

It’s often naïve, childish…

I’m still a baby, and I hope to be one by the time I die. I don’t have frequent contact with real children, but sometimes I catch a cute linguistic mistake. Like, when we recently went to the zoo and my partner’s niece commented on the floating hippos with the words »aw, look how they wash…«.

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Photo by Marie Haefner

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture.