“Piotr Uklański – Life as it should be ™”

28 February 2013 – 5 April 2013

Piotr Uklański graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He studied photography at Cooper Union School for Advancement of Science and Art in New York. He is a photographer, author of installations, video works and performances. Lives and works in New York and Warsaw. He participated in the São Paulo Art Biennial (2004) and in the Berlin Biennial (2008). Piotr Uklański’s works can be found in private and public collections of, inter alia, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Tate Modern in London, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

“Piotr Uklański – Life as it should be TM is a curatorial project that is an interpretation of Piotr Uklański’s exhibition “Life as it should be TM” held in 1995 in the BWA Gallery in Lublin. Uklański performed then a series of interventions in urban spaces that constituted a commentary on consumer culture entering the space of provincial, post-Communist Poland. Uklański was interested in changes occurring in the visual sphere accompanying political and social transformations. A sudden glut of pictures, signs and images from the West overlapping with the background of the times of People’s Republic of Poland (PRL, Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa). On the occasion of the exhibition, a catalogue consisting of a series of pictures in the form of a visual essay was published. In the catalogue the artist showed the absurdity revealed in the clash between two systems. One of them, with its aesthetics of publicity aggressively and chaotically enters the world of another, highlighting its dullness and emphasizing the lack of compatibility of these two realities. It constitutes a promise of freedom and prosperity as much as it is a colonizer of mass imagination.

The theme that has appeared at the exhibition in Lublin at an early stage of the artist’s career is constantly recurring in his creation. Since the graduation from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 1991, Uklański has been developing his interest in the iconosphere of pop culture, iconographies used by the media or in issues related to the aesthetics of publicity.

In many of his works the artist exploits and transforms images taken from popular culture. In the Nazis (Naziści) work exhibited in 2000 in the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, a series of 164 images of Polish and foreign actors portraying Nazis in the films was presented. By using film stills and putting them together, the artist showed how the imagination of the audience is being shaped and how contemporary myths are being born. Drawing on visual culture, transforming images and making references to commonly known images, works and figures constitute Uklański’s artistic strategy. Its potential is being tested by the artist in a number of ways. At the end of October and the beginning of November 2012 his solo exhibition Polish Neo-avantgarde (Polska Neo-Awangarda) was held in the London Carlson Gallery. In the exhibited project, Uklański used the images of works of the following Polish artists: Grzegorz Kowalski, Natalia LL, Zofia Kulik, Ewa Partum, Zbigniew Warpechowski, Krzysztof Zarębski. Through a peculiar manipulation of works’ representations, the artist pursues new contexts and meanings. By adopting the ‘borrowing’ strategy, he takes a stand on issues related to functioning of images in culture, their creation as well as their exploitation and (re)interpretation.

Presentation “Piotr Uklański – Life as it should be TM” (Życie jakie powinno być) is inspired by an abovementioned project of the artist, “Polish Neo-avantgarde“, as well as by the strategy of ‘borrowing’ – appropriation art – employed by the artist. The beginnings of this phenomenon can be traced in the famous Fountain of Marcel Duchamp and in the activities of the Avant-garde. However, the art historians point sometimes to earlier examples of such activity. Such a practice gained immense popularity at the turn of the 70s and 80s of the 20th century among New York artists who were highly sceptical about the issue of originality, repetition and authorship. The issues of the author’s rights, freedom or restrictions on exploiting ‘borrowed’ materials are related to the strategy of appropriation art.

Exposition in the Labirynt Gallery was organised without the artist’s knowledge. It includes a documentation of the opening of the 1995 exhibition, a video of artist’s interventions in the city’s bars as well as photographs previously published in the catalogue. It constitutes a ‘curatorial’ voice in the discussion on ‘appropriation art’ and on the status of an image, it renews the question about its way of functioning and exploitation in the system of culture as well as its legal and ethical aspects. Who, in what form and under what conditions can exploit, transform and present images?