Layers of Time 06

museum in progress asks: Agnieszka Kurant

For museum in progress' exhibition series "Layers of Time" in DATUM you chose the date 29 September 2020 as basis for your artwork. What significance does this date have for you, what do you associate with it?

I chose a random day in September 2020. This newspaper is a small piece of future in the present, available to us already now. It's an object from the future that we can read and touch in the present as if it miraculously traveled in time from the year 2020 to the present. I am interested in the existence of the future in the past and present, also in atemporality: phenomena and objects belonging neither to the past nor to the future or present. Atemporal objects and places that Bruce Sterling talks about fascinate me. I chose the year 2020 as a pun on "2020 vision" (the optimal, "objective" vision), but also as a date, which is both far away and close in time. I was interested in embracing the change of status of this object, the newspaper, from 2008 when it was produced, when all its content, based on the clairvoyant's predictions, was fictitious, to 2020 by which date some of the facts that the newspaper features would potentially come true. So in retrospect the newspaper could seem prophetic and even politically important given the multiplicity of sources used nowadays to obtain information. It interested me how much fiction is embedded in reality, in this case: how even paranormal phenomena are being used by governments as a reliable source of information for economics and politics. I wanted to address the fragility of information and its sensitivity to e.g. rumor by printing the newspaper with the disappearing pigment. As a result the newspaper appears and disappears depending on the weather or when touched by human hands. I was also interested in the cognitive bias – how we often make causal relations between things that are not related at all, but it's sometimes easier for us to interpret the world that way, if we believe that certain facts are connected and cause one another even if they don't. 
So the status of this newspaper would change from fictional to possibly real as certain facts described in the articles would come true. Some of them already did, including the catastrophe of the Polish presidential airplane or the Arab spring. Perhaps by September 29th 2020 most of the newspaper will correspond to what will actually have happened in the world and then possibly it will become something else then just an artwork. That's my hope. I am interested in situations or artworks ceasing to be artworks and becoming something else, often more interesting. So my aim here was to create a certain time warping situation. 

Have you worked on this subject before in other pieces of art?

This piece is first and foremost related to my interest in the unknown unknown of knowledge and the uncertainty and speculation connected to it. I am exploring how the unknown unknown can also be capitalized on in contemporary politics and economy. "Unknown Unknown" is the title of my book published by Sternberg Press also in 2008.
I worked with the idea of time warping for the first time in "Future Anterior". But I did work with the idea of changing status, since it is one of the most important points of departure for my practice. My commission for Frieze Projects in 2008 – the "Ready Unmade" – was a piece based on teaching birds to bark like dogs. The work was an illusion of a language in a world where species mutated and were morphed together. The parrots were listening only to dog barking for 3 months, which they eventually started to repeat. But the moment the piece saw daylight and was exposed to visitors, this temporary "language" fell apart as the birds started to repeat other sounds surrounding them such as a mobile phone, the door opening or single words. 
My piece for the Venice Biennale in 2010 (made in collaboration with the architect Aleksandra Wasilkowska) was about abruptly changing the beholders state of mind – participants who were able to perform a safe suicide attempt of jumping from a ski jump-diving board window into the clouds, which was a development of Yves Klein's leap into the void into a contemporary urban sport. The sudden change of mood that the viewers who jumped experienced, was surprising to everyone. From the strong fear of the unknown unknown while jumping into the clouds to the pleasure of a very soft landing. 

Which aspects of your artistic work are especially important to you?

  • Incorporating the change of status of objects into the work
  • Investigating the agency of works as independent living organisms freed from the author, thinking like an artwork and performing its own agenda that cannot be planned or predicted
  • Hybridity and quasi-objects
  • Complex authorship as well as authorless structures, artworks without authors
  • Creating situations of direct experience of something changing, transforming in front of the eyes of the viewers, which destabilizes them in reality. Transformation of objects and of viewers' thoughts or feelings.
  • Time warping and atemporality of certain objects
  • Complexity and emergence of structures out of millions of micro elements or contributions, emergent behaviours and self-organization of systems
  • Circulation/dispersion and how they can transform objects

If you could determine one of your works of art to outlast the course of time and to be still admired in the far future, which would you choose?

I am much more interested in the transformation of my works than in their permanent existence. I would rather be curious what some of my works could morph into or what would happen to them if they changed their status from artworks to something else.

Are significant personal experiences important for your art? If yes: Could you give an example?

The passing away of my mother coincided precisely in time with perhaps the biggest Polish national political tragedy since the 2nd world war: the catastrophe of the presidential airplane with some of the members of the government and many important intellectuals and politicians in the country. The entire nation was in mourning. I experienced an almost sci-fi situation of switching on the TV and seeing the entire nation weeping for many days as I was going through my personal tragedy. It felt very unreal. I was stripped of my personal, individual mourning as if it became a public thing. Polish television authorities decided to change the broadcast for a few days into solely black and white image, which was very interesting. This airplane crash happened exactly on the anniversary date and on the site of an even bigger national tragedy: the genocide of 30.000 Polish intellectuals and soldiers by the Stalinist NKWD in the Soviet Russia.
The worst thing to accept for the Polish nation in 2010 seemed to be the fact that despite the apparent coincidence in time there is absolutely no causal relation between these facts, these two tragedies 70 years apart, there is no hidden sense or meaning in this coincidence. Nothing. It makes no sense at all. People prefer fiction to truth and invent stories post-factum to help them to organize memories and facts. That's also how memes are created. The workers' movement in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc. did not supply any image that would be sexy or catchy enough to become the iconic image of the fall of communism. Instead an event which happened much later than the actual workers' movement – the fall of the Berlin wall – was easier to market as an iconic image, since the visual aspect of it was very attractive – a falling wall, a living metaphor – so that is what stuck with history and entered into the language. We are now talking of the fall of the Berlin wall as the fall of communism, which in a way hijacks this victory from Poland, Check Republic etc. and grants it to former East Germany, or Germany in general, which is a certain oversimplification. 

What is the appeal in creating a work of art for public spaces or the media?

The loss of control over the work. The distribution and dispersion that may transform the work, the accessibility of the work for thousands of viewers, which is so much more democratic than operating in the ghetto of the artworld.

To what extent should art fulfil any socio-political tasks?

Any art can be or become politically depending on the context. Abstract art can be political. Daniel Buren's stripes were often more political than hundreds of art videos including real documentary footage of Rwanda, Kosovo etc. Choosing a political subject is not enough. What is political for me is causing a transformation of thought. Art should trigger people to think for themselves and ask questions, their own questions and not the given artists' questions, about reality around them so that they stop to take it for granted. But art should not tell people what to think or feel. Art should encourage curiosity about the world and question the world and not become propaganda telling people what is good and what isn't. Art is first and foremost a catalyst for thought, but where the thoughts of the beholders drift should not be controlled or planned by the authors of artworks. I believe in the freeing of an artwork from the author and the loss of control of the authors over artworks. I am also interested in artworks that cease to be artworks and become something else. But it is this transformation that is interesting. And not creating a political manifestation or riot at a museum or in the art context because it may end up as both an ineffective political manifestation and a bad artwork.

How would you characterise good art?

Good art becomes a catalyst for thought. There are no fixed criteria for what is good and this can change over time. As long as the work causes people to have critical reflections on life, themselves and the surrounding reality or transforms someone’s thoughts or feelings.

What are the limits of art?

Limits of art are constantly being pushed, moved and blurred but for me the limits of art are where human dignity and human life are. I think using human beings, humiliating them or stripping them of dignity is the limit. That is why I am critical of many "political" art practices which strip people of their dignity and use them for the sake of creating an interesting work. We live in societies which protect human life and human dignity, so art should not exceed these rules or it becomes a dangerous instrument of power.

All participating artists of "Layers of Time" are asked to answer the same questions. In this way the serial character of the project is emphasised as well as the artists' individual points of view, and the interested readership gets additional information about the works and their creators.