WHERE THE BEAST IS BURIED
A giant artificial palm tree erected in the heart of Central Europe, an eradicated language reborn in a public square in Turkey, a child born for the city at the Berlin Biennale, an artificial volcano “erupting” in a Swedish town: Joanna Rajkowska’s approach to art in public spaces is as idiosyncratic as it is complex. Possibly the strongest artistic voice emerging out of Poland today, she works with and within charged contexts in order to shift our aesthetic, ideological and cultural expectations about the places we inhabit, the ways we inhabit them and, consequently, each other. Rajkowska’s strategies, based on the human body, its position in the public space and positioning towards other human bodies, redefine the definitions of the political, the community and relations inside them.
Rajkowska’s unique artistic vision and methodology combines subjective narratives and critical discourses with a deeply felt concern for the spaces in which her works appear and the people they touch. Instead of simply invading or occupying public spaces, she blurs the identities and hidden tensions associated with them, navigating around communal dreams and fears. Historical trauma, cultural discourse, aesthetic relevance and geopolitical references all blend in her works in ways which both distress and heal, challenge and resolve, attack and absolve. Rajkowska deals with all these issues on an intuitive level, digging for desires and myths in ways which are not spoken of directly, far from a discursive level which would disrupt the physical and emotional realms involved. Her works resist interpretations which could offer simple solutions to complex problems. Instead, they are conceived of as social utopias to be tested in practice and frameworks for individuals or communities to experience, discuss and give meaning to.
WHERE THE BEAST IS BURIED is the first English-language book about Joanna Rajkowska and her unique practice of work in public space, in extremely diverse cultures and geographies: from Konya in Anatolia, through Warsaw and Berlin up to Curitiba in Brazil. A collection of stories, essays, interviews and images covers her best-known projects. The most intimate insight into them offer her own stories, which form a dramatic enquiry into both the personal and the conceptual roots of her work.
‘Joanna Rajkowska explores urban spaces and experiential stories. Her concern is with the regeneration of ‘atrophied’ public spaces and their political and social histories. Rajkowska’s art offers new ways of experiencing space and sociality, whether in Berlin, Warsaw, the West Bank, Turkey, Peterborough, London or Copenhagen. She is one of the most significant women creating public art in today’s art world.’
‘To be able to arrive in a city, without the need to feel you had to belong there, but still with the sense that your arrival changes something about the city so that it won‘t be the same as it was before you came: how does this work?’
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Joanna’s Stories / BODY
3. List of projects / SPIRIT
4. Essays and conversations / MIND
EXCERPT FROM BOOK
I’m like a dog which, once it has picked up a scent, goes in the right direction and digs up a decent bone. But when I lose the scent, I lose myself completely. In the mid-1990s, when I started developing a more conscious way of working, all the markers led me towards public art.
The point at which I made some radical personal decisions brought about a revolution. It turned out that, although I had been fixated for years on my own inabilities, I am primarily a herd animal, a social activist and hands-on artist, all in one. And that nothing interested me more than communities and how they are organised, that is, how people are with people. In summary, I now know where the bone is buried.
The world is not a complicated mechanism, it is not architecture, the world is a monster. Unpredictable in its actions and beyond comprehension. Even if we humans believe that we are able to control its movements, it is an illusion. In Eastern Europe, where I come from, people know very well that the monster is ready to devour them at any time, that instead of negotiating with it, it is better to curse it, or just passively submit to its violence.
One of the strategies of public art that I developed through years of working in the public space of post-communist Eastern Europe is the assumption that a sense of power is generated at the very moment of real, physical contact with the project. It is not a moment of control. It is rather a moment of acceptance of oneself in a particular place, time and in given circumstances. Thus confidence and subjectivity are built. And this is when people start to look around themselves more carefully and see each other in a completely different context. The essence of my practice lies in the unifying effect that an unfamiliar object can have on fragmented or antagonistic communities. Unfamiliarity becomes a new, shared point of reference that irreversibly changes the relations between people.