Agnes Janich

I could be made into 21 soaps, Gazeta Wyborcza

I could be made into 21 soaps
Paulina Nodzynska
Gazeta Wyborcza, March 2nd, 2012

An important if at times shocking show of Agnes Janich in BWA Zielona Gora. Brave, erotic imagery at times bordering on kitsch. How would you love in the shadow of Auschwitz's chimneys, asks the artist.

Agnes Janich, a pretty, petite blonde let go her colorful clothes and shaved her hair. For five years. She slept for 4 hours, ate apples and potatoes and walked barefoot on the snow. She didn't use taxis even when it took a 4 hour walk through the blizzard to get to a concentration camp. She decided that once deciphering WW2 and the Holocaust, it is her obligation to attempt to experience it herself.

She dug through the archives in Washington, London and Auschwitz. Read 500 diaries of concentration camp survivors. Paid attention to the rough, the non beautified, the honest. She ended up with more questions than answers.

That is how the project, of which the Zielona Gora exhibition is a part, came to life. The pictures portray sex, in a kitsch way, through pink looking glasses. The texts depict war and dying. Agnes photographs herself with her [-ex]partner. The intimate diary is interrupted by violent quotes.

The first one: Anka, a mother of two girls with curly hair, arranged to throw them over the fence. When it came to jumping herself, she resisted. A year later she met a friend, who said: "Now I can't help you anymore. You're in the transport for tomorrow". "I don't need help", she said. All my life I lived for that year with that man.

One more: Two lovers were parted for the whole war. She was waiting in neutral Sweden, he was hiding in Lithouania. He slept for a woman there. He cared for her gardens. A German soldier lost on the Eastern front shot him. For the next 60 years, she remained alone.

Why does the artist combine eroticism with cruelty?

You don't talk about love during the war by pictures of corpses and severed heads. Emotionally healthy people just don't take it. Being indirect, that works. The simpler the solution, the better it speaks for itself, says Agnes Janich.

At the end of the day, her decisions are based on instinct. Whether this looks good, this reads, that one works., she says. And then: I sometimes envy these people. I long to take their place. [Though in reality, I suppose I wouldn't. A sane person surely would not.] They had a chance to test their love in black-and-white situations that we hardly encounter these days.

She doesn't consider her pictures shocking or provocative.

It's hard to think about social norms when you consider these stories. At the Zielona Gora opening, I heard from a student that these pictures are so simple and everyday when clashed with the war stories. I agree, love is a thing of one's own. I'm sure growing up would much be easier outside the social context of what one should do: in bed, going out, dating.

Agnes Janich is 25 [26] years old. She was born in Lodz and grew up in RSA. She graduated from a NY college and continues to live there. She does photography, films, performances and installations. She has exhibited her work in the US, [Europe, Asia] and Africa. In Auschwitz, at a site of mass killings by the river, she asked the audience to put the names of their loved ones on a piece of paper and burn it in a candle later floating to the sea.

Now she is headed for Moscow. In one of the galleries, she will check how many soaps she could do from which audience member. All it takes is a simple, 20-second nutritive ingredients test. I counted I would make 21 soaps., she says.

How did her exhibition in Zielona Gora came about?

I'm one of the artists really conscious about my CV. I say no quite often. But then, there are places which you never shun. BWA Zielona Gora is certainly one of them. It is one of the most prestigious, explains Janich.

© 2003 - 2018 Agnes Janich