Agnes Janich

Review 6

An Experience of the Impossible to Experience
OS, April 2010
Monika Bernacka

On April 25th, by the Sola river, we could take part in an unusual artistic event. Lighting the Night is a performative installation of a young Polish artist, Agnes Janich, organized by MOCAK Krakow and the Auschwitz Jewish Center, affiliated with the museum of Jewish Heritage, New York.

9.30pm at the crossroads of Legionow and Leszczynska streets. A crowd is gathering. Everyone is here for a reason - some out of pure curiosity, some consciously, with an intent to take part. After a while, the crowd is joined by a unusual individual. Everything about her is different, both her outfit and her ambiance. Dressed in white, she emanates warmth and gratitude. It's the author of the performance, Agnes Janich. After a short introduction, Agnes invites us to join a piece which lets us be both actors and viewers. She states I'm only the reason, you are the actors. Everyone takes five things with them: a candle, a floating cup, matches, a piece of paper and a pen. The mystic ambiance is much enhanced by the scant moonlight in the dark wood. We form a circle surrounded by torches and listen to the artist's request. Agnes asks us to move 70 years back in time. It's a sunny sunday afternoon. We're strolling down the streets... Then a sperra begins. Some of us run away, some hide, but most end up in the crema and fertilize Sola's waters. These moments, though they touched our grandparents, still hurt. We, being fortunate enough to be alive, should remember. Every one of us lights a candle. We write down the names of our loved ones and burn them in the candle floating down the water. Our eyes follow the tiny little light disappearing in the dark. This ephemeral monument to the living aims to remind us of what happened, but also of those around us today. The piece enriches spiritually, giving us a sense of a deep social bond and a gratitude for participation.

Monika Bernacka - Why did you become an artist?
Agnes Janich - I couldn't help it. It's a calling.
MB - Performance art is hard to grasp. You're so young. Do you think you can handle it, reach every target group?
AJ - Everyone is as old as they think they are. I believe I touch those that want to be touched, those who came here, who follow my shows in person or virtually. Those who care. I hope to reach also passers-by, children, those that God wants me to reach...I care to be open. At the artist's talk in Krakow, I was asked what is my target group. Mankind, I guess.
MB - What are the emotions you hope to raise in the actors and viewers of Lighting the Night?
AJ - One of the essays about my art, by dr Thyrza Nichols Goodeve from Artforum treats about my obsessive need to experience the Annihilation directly, not through my grandparents. The next one, by Lyle Rexer from Aperture, treats on the calling for remembrance. Other issues arise, too. For me it's in the eye of the beholder. Pain, fear, joy, hope - all of us are different and have the right to experience things differently. In their own way. Personally I learn a lot from my interactions with the audience.
MB - You realized similar projects in many parts of the world. Why choose Auschwitz in Poland?
AJ - I always planned this project for Auschwitz. Only since a year I'm in Poland more. Shows and performances in NY, Winterthur and Barcelona gave me a chance to reach different audiences. In Winterthur everybody cried, in Barcelona they were holding hands. The reviews reflected it. For personal reasons, Auschwitz means a lot to me. I don't want to elaborate in order to protect someone's privacy. But above all, for all mankind Auschwitz is a symbol of mass, industrialized murder.
MB - Where do you draw your inspiration from? Are you an optimist, a pessimist or a realist? Can one see it in your works?
AJ - This changed. For five years I was depressed, hair shaved like the women in Ravensbrueck, a black headscarf, black clothes, an obsessive way of visiting the 19 camps I've been to. Barefoot in the snow, hail, thunder, through the forrest. And experience of the impossible to experience. I destroyed every relationship I was offered. I lived for my obsession. Loving those touched by the Annihilation in usually loving from a distance. One can't really get close. Slowly, slowly, I started to get back to life through these projects. Looked for an okey - God's or my calling's - to be a woman and a mother, a lover and a friend. And so I started doing projects about Love, about relationships. Also about violence, but on a different scale, in a different setting. I'm still analyzing pain, only that of a different nature. Prof.Joanna Tokarska-Bakir wrote that unlike Sarah Kane, I get punished for comparing Love to Auschwitz. But then I hear thank you for making Auschwitz a better place to live or thanks for bringing good Energy to the world. And I know it all makes sense after all.

© 2003 - 2018 Agnes Janich