This exhibition takes place in a country whose society has a rather poor opinion of itself. The society is mean, the society is aging, and the force which is driving us toward all this is the progressive stabilization, which seems to have effectively conquered us after years of fighting on various fronts. Life in Poland has become terrifyingly ordinary. We use the word “terrifyingly,” because for the majority of us, “ordinariness” is a state of contentment and relative well-being, which we are in no hurry to get rid of. It is terrifying because, in striving for egalitarianism, the ordinary often assumes brutal and oppressive forms.
The artists whose works we are presenting give us a wholesale revision of this consensus; the sphere of their confrontation with society is its language, its living space, and its dominant, stereotypical interpersonal relationships.
The works making up the Society Is Mean exhibition are not essentially asocial, but they do brilliantly render the distance between the individual and the society around him or her. This distance is not the result of attempted escapism; on the contrary, it is born through an effort to create mutual relationships, it is a sincere diagnosis of the situation.
The exhibition is, to a large degree, performative; it includes a documentation of an action that took several weeks, music videos, a CD with songs and one object. The artists are aiming for radical and effective ways of confronting society. They are coming out on stage, coming out into Poland, investing their physical energy, their images and anxiety in search of a direct experience and relationship with the imagined audience, at extreme close quarters.
The central space of the exhibition is occupied by an epic documentation of an action by Honorata Martin, Going out into Poland. On 15 July 2013 the artist left her apartment in Gdańsk, going out alone, on an aimless, directionless walk. Avoiding the larger cities, spending the night at the houses of people she stumbled across, the artist lived one day at a time, dealing with places and people that are generally invisible to the urban social elite. After nearly two months the march was concluded in Dzierżoniów in Lower Silesia. The content of this project, created as part of the Curator Libera: The Artist in Hopeless Times project at Wrocław’s BWA Gallery, was the experience itself, confronting her own fears and uncertainties about the road onward, and friendly or hostile encounters between a “stranger” and the “locals” – testing the basic social relationships.
Leaving the city and entering the Polish interior, Martin suspends her social status as an artist, becoming a stranger who arouses surprise, disquiet, and even aggression – the “other.” Dominika Olszowy and Maria Toboła, who create radical hip-hop as Cipedrapskuad, begin with a similar gesture of departure in their video for the Raster – this time into the streets of Warsaw’s Praga district. Here the video convention is transcended in the simplest of ways. This typical walk lasts eighteen minutes – as much as all the various works in the compilation – and is filmed in a single take. The dreamlike and ordinary scenery of these infamous streets serves as a backdrop for the aggressive, emancipated narrative, which uses the hip-hop form, but essentially transcends it. According to the artists’ statement, “the seemingly vulgar lyrics have a pure, timeless message (…) revealing the real face of these people, their anxieties and desires.”
The title of this exhibition was borrowed from the debut album by Mister D. – the new musical incarnation of writer Dorota Masłowska. Society Is Mean, released by Raster, will premiere with the opening of the exhibition and is an integral part of it. Mister D is a home-brewed mix of rap, punk, and dance music, whose lyrics are a psychedelic stew of tales from popular gazettes, delivered in a stark Polish, with its particular mode of communicating. For Masłowska, leaving literature for the world of songwriting was a gesture that opened not only rhetorical possibilities, it was also liberating: “I believe that Polish society is very mean. But I was unable to write a book about this, because I hate political literature. But here I could suddenly express all my bleak reflections on prostitutes, pimps, dough, and cruising around in Audis. I felt free and happy.”
The exhibition is opened and closed by a monumental work by Maria Toboła, Garlic Sauce (2013), which condenses, as it were, the local, Polish taste, and is also an apotheosis of the local, proud, and revolting society.