Grzegorz Sztwiertnia - Contemporary Art from Cracow, Poland (2007)

Mariusz Salwinski
artdesigncafé - art | 30 October 2011
This text was previously published in the exhibition catalogue Otwarta pracownia— Offenes Atelier, Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Krakau ("Open studio: Contemporary Art in Cracow" in English) (16 September - 4 November 2007) at the Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany.

Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, The agitator

"Sexuality is a part of our behaviour, of our freedom. It is something we create, reaching far further than discovering the dark side of our desire, namely extending to new forms of relationship, love, creation. Sex is not our undoing: it is a way of creative life. It is not sufficient to affirm that we are gay, we must make a gay way of life." [1]
— Michel Foucault

There is a consensus amongst sexual researchers that the significance of sexuality for people is always linked to their social situation, recognition and acceptance. A person is endlessly open to attack, once he is given the feeling of being an outsider or his sexuality is questioned, or alternatively categorized as abnormal in any way. When sexuality, deviating from the norm, is forced into the ghetto, it results in the minorities in question being stigmatized by those in authority. One of the common means of defamation in the framework of the social order where one is accused of being evil, is the use of judgmental language, for especially words may have social consequences, being important in a political and cultural respect. Consequently, both the intellectual and cultural struggle over language is of decisive significance in these times.

The disrespectful and radical criticism of institutions in the question of the tense relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the homosexual community is scrutinized by Grzegorz Sztwiertnia. In his photo collages entitled Exorcist we find the intended category of pictures from these two worlds, his statement conveying widely varying messages.

This condensing of daring quotes in Sztwiertnia’s art requires some clarification at this point. The Roman Catholic Church is "represented", and that on a world scale, by photographs taken from the funeral ceremony of the Polish Pope in April 2005. Church dignitaries from all over the world, accompanying the Pope on his last journey and photographed by a wide variety of media, were placed by Sztwiertnia in collage form in the rooms of the Kronika Art gallery in Bytom (Upper Silesia) in which Jean Cocteau’s oversized homosexual graphics are exhibited. One photo of the Cardinals taking up their places directly behind the Pope’s coffin for the requiem mass is transposed by the artist to the gallery staircase, making it appear as if this group were part of the opening of the exhibition. In one exhibition hall where a drawing by Cocteau of two almost copulating men, done as an illustration for Genet’s short novel Querelle de Brest (1947) is hanging on the wall, we see several pieces of equipment, suggesting preparations for a lecture. Likewise, Cocteau’s picture Gay variation of Michelangelo’s fresco from the Sistine Chapel The creation of Adam (1508-11) is displayed on the projector screen. In the middle of the room we can make out two members of the clergy from the function at the Vatican, opening up the gospel on the Pope’s coffin, where this time the coffin has been exchanged for the table. With regard to the general atmosphere of the picture, the representatives of the church could be taken for speakers. Another picture represents the main hall of the gallery in which a series of “Oral sex depictions” with young men by Cocteau is exhibited. In the background there are four young people at the information desk, looking fairly neutral. In the centre of the room the body of the Pope may be seen lying in state in the open coffin flanked to the left and right by two churchmen. The man to the right of the coffin is covering the face of the deceased with a white cloth.

The intended sacrilegious and confrontational nature of the whole series and particularly of this picture is quite obvious. The choice of Jean Cocteau’s pictures from the 30’s and 40’s of the last century is not purely coincidental. The majority of theoretical reflections on homosexuality in philosophy and literature: Gide, Proust, Sartre, Foucault and Genet, were actually published in France in that period. Often the artist has placed himself in the pictures, wearing a doctor’s white coat, his hands raised in defence.

With this series of pictures Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, who terms himself as a spiritual healer, educator and instructor, makes his own individual contribution to the topical and socio-politically heated debate on alternative life-styles and the rights of minorities. This has meanwhile not only become a subject of keen observation in a European context, even here in Germany, but has also led to active participation by several German celebrities in events relating to this subject at locations in Poland as well.

Click to see a catalogue introduction to Open studio: Contemporary Art in Cracow.

[1] Michel Foucault (1926-1984), French philosopher.