Metaphorically and seasonally, the exhibition 1000 Hands suits the climate of the pre-spring thaw, illuminating a landscape of exhaustion and approaching, intuitively sensed change. In Polish literature this metaphor carries a political dimension. In the works shown together here by Rafał Bujnowski (1974–), Peter Puklus (1980–) and Zofia Rydet (1911–1997), what is vital is the very process of transformation, and the accompanying ambivalence, the temperature of interpersonal relations and the potential of the human hands from the title. All the works result from some type of manual manipulation, whether the process of repainting, cutting out, assembly, composition, or documentation of natural hand gestures. This working, studio nature of the pieces suggests an important message on openness, readiness for change, processing and reuse of old concepts, symbols or objects in a new order.
The photomontages by Zofia Rydet from the series Phantoms, Mannequins and Threat (1975–1979) present a barren landscape with stone attics and unmoving, plastic bodies. This is an echo of wartime reminiscences and fears associated with new global catastrophes, but also a depiction of destroyed social relations. In her works, in line with the title of the overall series, Rydet is guided by feelings and imagination, and the emotional character of the works she created maintains their relevance.
Cold moonlight also falls from the paintings by Rafał Bujnowski. His Moons (2011/2017) conceal an added mystery. Their cosmic, coarse textures are the remnants of dried-up paint; several years earlier, before they were repainted, the artist used these canvases as palettes. A return to artefacts discarded in the studio is a manifestation of faith in the productive, regenerative power of art, characteristic of the artist’s creative economy.
Bujnowski’s exceptional male nude from the series The Last Day of Summer (2018) presents an ambiguous moment of vacillation. The towel hung over the shoulder is an attribute of beach leisure. The black profile of the figure suspends the ability to take any easy reading of the figure’s identity—the colour of the figure’s skin. Seemingly incidentally, this painterly game of hues and lights implies an exploration of equality. The paint reveals a political potential that is obvious but rarely exploited in painting.
At the centre of the exhibition we present one of Peter Puklus’s latest works, A Thousand Polish Hands (2018). In the summer of last year, at the invitation of the Sputnik collective, the Hungarian artist travelled around Poland photographing the hands of contemporary Poles. The catalogue of gestures, comprising a thousand frames, serves as a kind of creation documentary. A loose inspiration for the work was a series of photographs by Janina Mierzecka, Working Hands, realized in the 1930s as an extension of dermatological research by her husband. In an entirely different historical and social context, Puklus takes up again the theme of a “portrait of hands” and observes through them the condition of the contemporary, post-transformation society. This intimist perspective plays with political slogans for hands—“working hands,” “clean hands”—and reveals a mundane, equivocal micro-cosmos of social interactions, from helplessness to pleasure, from violence to sensitivity.