Agnes Janich

Review 3

A nice and pretty gesture bringing remorse to those taking part
Dorota Jarecka
Gazeta Wyborcza, May 31st 2010

I've seen Rafal Betlejewski on Youtube in a short trailer of his barn burning action in Jedwabne. There he is in his Boryna's outfit, at the foreground of a barn finally not enflamed, and looks at me as if I wanted to scratch his beloved motorbike. Just to be sure - all that Betlejewski says is correct. I'ld really love for him to demistify the word Jew and for no boy again to do a graffiti of a hanging Star of David. Yet I can't help thinking that I miss you, Jew takes from the circus, voodoo and country markets and leads me to common emotions I just don't want to share.

Let's burn the barn - says Betlejewski - and in it, papers with our sins written on them. It's Jedwabne in reverse - a murder of bad emotions instead of people. Plus a theatralized mass redemption. It gets fishy here. Can we solve our problem this way? Can we go home now? I know there's only a thin red line between using and abusing, a provocation and a lie. Contemporary art has been attacked many times because of feeding on emotions. When Artur Zmijewski asked naked people to play hide-and-seek in a gas chamber, Santiago Sierra filled a Stommel synagogue with gas fumes and asked the audience to wear gas masks or when Zbigniew Libera showed Lego bricks in the shape of a concentration camp, there was always someone accusing them of defraying Holocaust's victims’ memory. What's the difference? Those projects offer no chance of emotional satisfaction. It's different with Betlejewski. He wants to the wound to heal and that's how he describes it in his Piotr Pacewicz interview - as psychotherapy. I think art doesn't offer such easy ways out.

I visit an Auschwitz performance inaugurating MOCAK Krakow. Agnes Janich, a young artist from New York, asks me to descend a river by the former camps. There I'm to light a candle, burning in its flame the names of my loved ones. And let them float in a river. I don't take part, I find it too easy, too naive. I visit London for the Tate Modern opening of Miroslaw Balka's work on the Holocaust. Because it's form relates to that of cattle car. It's similar in Berlin - when Kusmirowski showed a wagon, it meant he's talking about the Annihilation. Which is why Betlejewski should beware - he acts as a copyrighter, and not an artist. He tells people exactly what they want to hear.

Which is why I'ld like for us to remember that Balka and Zmijewski were before, that Oskar Dawicki wrote for a reason I will never do a work about the Holocaust. That 2 years ago Yael Bartana did Mary Koszmary, where Slawek Sierakowki shouts for 3 million Jews to come back to Poland and live with us again. I'm asking Betlejewski to watch this film and the works of above mentioned artists and to delve into the idea of originality in art.

I'ld also like for him to ponder upon what burning the Jedwabne barn does for the Chechens in the Lomza refugee camp, hunted by the local folk? How does fighting old Polish demons affect current ones?

I think it doesn't and that what Rafal Betlejewski does has no meaning whatsoever. Or otherwise - it has as much meaning as putting flowers on a statue's pedestal. How is it close to deeper feelings? Well, what can you expect, kitsch is the art of happiness.

© 2003 - 2018 Agnes Janich