Aluminum Song explores the lyrical and political properties of matter that co-created certain legends of industry – and its demise. The show is made up of contemporary works by Krzysztof M. Bednarski, Piotr Łakomy, Przemek Matecki, Janek Simon and Jan Smaga, alongside photographs by Paweł Pierściński documenting the bustle of smelting plants in the 1960s and utilitarian objects of the 1970s.
The link between these generically diverse pieces is the relationship between matter and the industrial method in art, the tension between poetry and the economics of physical materials.
Aluminum – a lightweight, non-corrosive metal – appears in a range of forms, both as an artistic medium and an industrial material, a ready-made of sorts. Its artistic legacy is intrinsically connected to the idea of depersonalizing the act of creation. At the same time, in a way that varies from the tradition of minimal art – which in itself was not particularly prevalent in Poland, otherwise finely represented by the famed aluminum objects of Donald Judd – the context for its adoption is the socio-modernist buzz for the poetics of industry, played up by the propaganda machine of socialism. A more contemporary theme related to the use of aluminum is, on the other hand, an eco-minded approach, which includes an analysis of the recycling process wherein works of art might be an integral part (or result) of such processes. Moreover, the tenet of “truth to materials” prevails, a fascination with their coldness and intransigence in the face of conventional, traditional methods of creating an artistic narrative.
This legend was and continues to be crammed down the throats of artists, as if – altogether stereotypically – the male sex found particular enjoyment in the use of tough materials. The aluminum-cast sculptures of Krzysztof M. Bednarski resound with a commentary on explicitly political iconography, the echo of labor ideology, corrupted by communism. Then there are ethereal compositions of Marian Bogusz – titled Erotica, making use of the same material to reveal an entirely opposing idea: using aluminum to convey a rather apolitical purity and innocence.
The industrial fascination with the quality of materials, the production process and practical application, has long sparked an association with the artistic lexicon of abstraction, legible, at the very least, in the documentary photography of Paweł Pierściński. Intuitively he discovers the rhythmic, geometric compositions of factory halls, endowing metal workers with an aspect of artistry as they ply abstract materials into proper forms. A point of contrast among these parallels is Jan Smaga’s MSNKDT photography series. In an abandoned tin stall of a traders’ bazaar on Warsaw’s Defilad Square, Smaga discerns various individual fragments of the construction and remnants of what once was. He endows these objects – not without irony – a new function as artefacts, anticipating the impending construction of a new museum of contemporary art on the site.
The tension related to the use of utilitarian materials arises in a different guise in the works of Piotr Łakomy and Przemek Matecki. These artists pursue contemporary aesthetic values and a new semantic range of associations with aluminum, which is equally cheap and pricey, swift, euphoric, speed-like and – like alucore in the works of Łakomy – ultra-technological and innovative. In Matecki’s paintings, aluminum foil reflects the gleam of Warhol’s Factory. The minimal use of matter and gestures works in favor of the multifaceted expression given off by the silvery material, glimmering, graceful and not entirely predictable.
Then there is Janek Simon’s can of Coca-Cola. One of the most ubiquitous objects made of aluminum becomes a prop in an absurd game of anarchizing the system of everyday consumption. The artist commits an act of reverse shoplifting – he goes from one shop to another, paying for the very same can of coke over and over again.
Against the backdrop of these individual narratives lies a question of the human dimension and artistic endeavor. To what extent can our identity be defined or described by the methods of making, processing and utilizing a particular material?
From the Kielecczyzna przemyslowa cycle. Kielce - Zakłady Urządzeń Chemicznych i Armatury Przemysłowej CHEMAR, 1967-68, bromide photograph