Artur Żmijewski
Life class and still life
24.05 – 13.07.2024

We invite you to the gallery from
Tuesday to Saturday
between 12 and 6 pm


I always found pleasure in something called “cabinets of curiosities.” They consist of peculiarities impossible to see elsewhere, or even to imagine. Visiting them, for example through books, allows one to escape from the oppressive triviality of life and the stream of mundane activities one must perform to exist. For me, that’s what art seems to be — a collection of images that are unusual and moving, sometimes allowing us to look behind the scenes of the world, sometimes explaining it — sensibly yet irrationally.

I thought that maybe there are more people who enjoy such oddities, and this exhibition is for them. The human silhouette is my focal theme — a study of the nude and a study from nature — a subject that is hackneyed, but still attractive. These are the studies I made using photos of live models, anatomical prototypes, medical phantoms, visual quotes derived from books, sculptures, museum exhibits, etc. I obtained the final images by digitally superimposing two photos. A third image emerged from the two specimens. A collection of these images constitutes the slideshow. This is my cabinet of curiosities, constructed using images of the human anatomy: entire and fragmented bodies, faces, torsos, and limbs. This is neither an analysis nor a synthesis. It's a movement of images, fused together and presented in a black-and-white aesthetic. It's quite bleak, so to counterbalance it, I added photos of flowers. This part of the exhibition is colorful and cheerful. Admittedly, the flowers have dark backgrounds, but that's because I took the photos in direct sunlight, creating intense contrasts. The foreground — the flowers — are plainly evident. The rest is lost in deep shadows, which I enhanced digitally. This was a conscious decision — the sun's rays illuminate the main motif, while the background is an empty void. I should add that I obtained the photographic material in museums, photographing the exhibits at Królikarnia in Warsaw, the Museum of the History of Medicine at the Warsaw Medical University, and the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. I also gathered some photographic “bricks” from my private library.

I have some books, full of photos and drawings, which I’m “unsure how to handle.” They focus on the depictions of the body, war, and post-war conditions. I also have a few on human and animal anatomy. Several of them are very old; two on obstetrics date back to the 18th century. I also possess an album documenting victims of the Vietnam War and a publication with photos of victims of the Great Purge in Russia in the 1930s. I have two small books on the so-called “hierarchy of races.” These are known as period books, rich in photos and drawings. I don't intend to boast about my collection here; rather, I want to say that this work came from a certain helplessness I experience when analyzing the contents of these publications. I have looked at them many times, contemplated them, and while I have unknowingly benefited from them, I can't tell where to locate that benefit. Which of my inspirations derive from these visual readings? That’s how I tried to make the process clear for myself. And as for the flowers, they are artificial — only one photo depicts real ones, dried-up roses.

 

text by Artur Żmijewski

 

Artur Żmijewski, Life Class and Still Life, 2024, Foksal Gallery Foundation, installation view, photo Marek Gardulski

 

Artur Żmijewski, Life Class and Still Life, 2024, Foksal Gallery Foundation, installation view, photo Marek Gardulski

Artur Żmijewski, Life Class and Still Life, 2024, Foksal Gallery Foundation, installation view, photo Marek Gardulski