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Observe, Analyze, Realize
A conversation with Maciej Kurak, Winner of the Prize for Young Polish Art

Maciej Kurak, Preis für junge polnische Kunst 2005

"Parergon," meaning decoration or embellishment, is the title of Maciej Kurak’s interactive installation for the exhibition "Views 2005" at the Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw. Visitors to the show of works by the artists nominated for the Prize for Young Polish Art passed through an old picture frame and entered what at first sight seemed to be an average apartment in a post-war building. The furniture, however, had been partially sawn apart by the 33 year-old artist. Surprising interventions into existing rooms characterize Kurak’s works, which convinced the prize jury. Ariane Grigoteit, Director of Deutsche Bank Art, spoke with the winner of the award, which is endowed with 10,000 Euros.

Ariane Grigoteit und Maciej Kurak,
Zacheta Galerie, November 2005

Ariane Grigoteit: Are you happy with the jury’s decision?

Maciej Kurak: Of course I am. The nomination alone was a pleasant surprise for me.

When did you first start creating your spatial works referring to architecture, and what works came out of this?

The first of my spacial works was Praktiker . This work was shown in the Inner Space Gallery on February 29 2000 and presented in two rooms. In the first room, a life-sized (12cm/ 7cm/ 6cm) Lipton tea box was set up together with furniture, a table and chairs, scaled down to its size. The second room contained a tea box enlarged to match life-sized furniture. This was a production which, in a certain way, combined earlier graphic investigations into questions of space. I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan with a degree in graphic design, which is why the graphic issues raised, for instance, copy, scale, print run, are deeply familiar to me. I made the large replica of the box by hand, using silkscreen. Following that piece, I came to realize fully that when executing any kind of action, it’s important to select the right medium for what you want to express and not the other way around.

Maciej Kurak, Praktiker, 2000

That’s why the works that followed were spatial pieces, albeit in the broad sense of the term. Some of my productions can be regarded as performance art or artistic action, such as a work I executed at the Passe-partout art fair. This work included, among other things, an actor I hired, a mime. It was the same with the realization of Pojedynek (Duel), in which a crowd of older ladies blocking the entrance to the gallery constituted the artistic work.
Undoubtedly, in the standard threesome artist, work, viewer, it’s the last element – that is, the interpreter – that is the most important for me. That’s also why I take care to ensure that every work allows for multiple layers of interpretation.

Although the formal changes you undertake are very delicate and subtle, the meaning of the object you work on becomes significantly altered – as a result, in terms of the meaning, nothing is left as it was. Does the viewer immediately notice the change?

Yes, the intent behind my works is reminiscent of Baudrillard’s simulacra. These actions are not only copies of reality, but modified repeat versions. My works fit their surroundings so that it’s sometimes hard to notice which element of the work has been added by me. In this way, I enable viewers to participate and discover the reality I’m suggesting. The viewer becomes the important person. It seems to me that this is a very important element that should be taken into consideration in the working process. After all, everyone wants to feel that he or she is a creator, a discoverer. If nothing else, this is testified to by the enormous number of artists today. I always try to make changes in a fragment of reality so that, on the one hand, it seems that almost nothing has changed, but on the other hand, the changes highlight problems concerning the world we live in. This is another reason why my works often take place outside the gallery space, in an urban environment, and remain unsigned.

Maciej Kurak, Parergon, 2005; Foto (c) Sebastian Madejski

By imparting a new shape to architecture and space, you also change their meaning. How important is this in today’s art production in Poland?

These are, of course, important creative elements. It seems to me that many artists, not only in Poland, exploit this issue – the shaping of architecture and space. Currently, changes are often made in the organization of urban space. It’s often forgotten how this process exerts a great influence not only on each person’s manner of functioning, but also on their perception of the reality surrounding them. In November 2000, I realized the work Przestrzen (Space). In Garbary 48, a municipal gallery in Poznan, I set up a department store whose styling referred to the 1980s, communist-era aesthetic. An important element of this work was the brief time of its realization and its brief duration. The creation of various spatial arrangements in the same place in a short time might well induce viewers to ask themselves a number of questions relating to their perception of the world and ways of remembering it.

Maciej Kurak, Przestrzen, 2000,
Galeria Garbary 48

The reaction of those viewing the work was important. For the residents of Garbary street and chance passers-by, the fact that the gallery had changed into a store, and then changed back into a gallery again, caused a certain kind of consternation. Some thought, for instance, that they had imagined the changes. People invited to the exhibit reacted differently. They sought the image they had of the gallery prior to its change. Many of these people tried to locate the place by means of the color of the gallery’s facade they remembered. Which explains why these persons gravitated to the place that had remained that color, the gate next door. The place where this artistic event was held was also very important. In the first place, the character of the gallery had changed diametrically over the course of 10 years, from a place where works on a high artistic level were displayed to a store selling fancy art products. Added to which was the fact that a department store had occupied the site before a gallery became established there. By presenting my work at the Garbary 48 Gallery, the history of the place came full circle. That work was an ideal match for a reality in which rapid changes are taking place. Many things are disappearing quickly and are being replaced by new things; at the same time, they can appear through a mere click on a computer keyboard or the return of a new wave of fashion.

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