Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MoMA, Projects 91: Artur Zmijewski

Passing through Joan Jonas’ reinstallation of Mirage (1976/2005) at the Museum of Modern Art, one enters a black room with a single screen displaying the film Sculpture Plein-Air Swiecie 2009 (2009). This unostentatious installation, Projects 91: Artur Zmijewski (on view October 28th 2009 through February 1st 2010), deals with the complex situation of the working class, perceptions of such, its place in society, and its relationship to the artistic process. In this film, as a reexamination of similar experiments in 1960’s Poland, the Polish filmmaker Zmijewski presents the situation of seven artists joining forces with steel workers to represent the generic “worker” in large public sculptures. Throughout the project, beginning with the artists explaining their plans and ideas to the steel workers, the focus is on the interaction between the artists, the workers, and the works of art. The two groups gain insight into and understanding of one another as the workers aid in the planning/construction of the steel art sculptures and the artists don worker’s jumpsuits and even operate forklifts. The worker’s plight is presented by the artists in their sculptures which depict the workers as pieces in a puzzle or as human targets from a shooting range. Opinions on the art and the project by the steel workers further contribute to the sense of the worker’s socially misunderstood position. This exhibition takes up the timeless issue of the worker and his/her social image as assigned by others and presents it in a reflective way.


  1. Something which I think could be emphasized/expanded on about the video is that the work is as much (if not far more) about the way that the workers and the public responded to the idea of how to represent a worker as it is about the pieces being created. The video had a number of quotes about how the worker is conceptualized, from the division between workers and specialists (played out in the video via the distinction between the workers and artists) to the idea that a worker is merely a tool "treated as an instrument" and ignored when not needed. The juxtaposition of this against the expected disposition of the artist makes for a kind of meta-dialog within the piece, where the whole thing is shot fairly deadpan, but there's a treatment about the idea of the artist, and the artist's sincerity or seriousness or knowledge that comes through as you observe these artists trying to portray an environment that they seemingly have very little connection to. This is then coupled with the idea that the whole video is itself a work of art, very socially minded, but perhaps less prescriptive or didactic than the works created in the video, which creates another degree of separation and interplay that might attempt to define the role of the artist as much as the artists define the role of the worker.

  2. Response - Joan Jonas’ Mirage

    "Opinions on the art and the project by the steel workers further contribute to the sense of the worker’s socially misunderstood position." I think this is a key observation in your description, through not in the context that you may have intended it to be. The worker’s socially misunderstood position was present, not from the workers but for the artist’s view of them. This was omnipotent when the artists were trying to state their case for their art to the workers. There were points of overt arrogance and being total oblivious to the cause in which they were trying describe the context of their art proposal. Imagine yourself being a hard working machinist or engineer that your job and position in life is the ant in society. That you will never be anything more in life than a number for the Capital Threat. You will always be on the receding end of the Marxist Boot. The reactions from the work crews varied, from rolling their eyes to jaw dropping when the artist was trying to sell them his or her ideal sculpture. Of special note, I did see a parallel with how the artists and workers were presented, very similar to the set up of American Idol!