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Christian Jankowski’s retrospective at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle spans twenty years of the German artist’s most successful videos, performances and participatory experiments. The expansive survey includes sixteen of Jankowski’s most notable works and consumes most of the Centre’s second floor. The comprehensive nature of this survey enables its audience to witness the thematic development of the concepts to which Jankowski has devoted himself since the early ’90s. The evolution of his practice has been elucidated through the curatorial direction of Ewa Gorządek, who resisted a chronological ordering of the artist’s work in favour of establishing thematic links between his projects.
Jankowski has used this survey to debut a new work, which also serves as the exhibition’s title, Heavy-weight History (2013)—a pre-recorded video of a sports competition invented by the artist and complimented by a series of striking photographs taken throughout this pseudo-competition. In the video, a group of Polish heavy-weight lifters attempt to lift a number of Warsaw’s historic monuments. Accompanied by professional sports commentary, the athletes lift several popular statues from around the city, but fail to lift others whose histories are deemed ‘too heavy’ to move. The work asks how we are to digest history and collective identity within a system of globalised capitalism, and what role mass media plays in influencing our consumption of events.
Other works worthy of mention include The China Painters (2007–2008), an extensive series of paintings commissioned by Jankowski and executed by artist laborers from the Chinese city of Dafen, from where the vast majority of forgeries of the Old Masters originate. Jankowski asked the workers to paint a canvas depicting the interior of a partially constructed art gallery, and to insert into this scene paintings they would personally like to see on its walls. The Finest Art on Water (2011–2012) is a video documentation of a collaboration between Jankowski and the luxury Yacht brand Ferretti Group for the Venice Biennale of 2011. Together they designed a yacht, complete with sales video, to be sold to a buyer as a functioning art object. It combines the best of Venetian luxury with the cultural status contemporary art endows upon its owner. Jankowski’s popular video from the 2011 Sydney Biennale, The Will of the Curator, is also included. It takes the viewer through the behind-the-scenes processes of the artist exhibiting in a major international Biennale. Each segment of the video involves reportage from local media sources which explains to the viewer the trials and tribulations Jankowski encounters whilst pitching his proposal for the Biennale.
The conceptual underpinning of Jankowski’s projects has always had a shifting focus on the relationship between the artist and the free market. He reveals the (often contradictory) nature of this relationship by colliding the art world and ‘real’ world in ironic, bizarre, but incredibly clever experiments. Each new work contains its own unique perspective on the transgressions that are inherent within the creation and exhibition of the art object. Jankowski consciously plays the role of ‘The Artist’ within each of his works. The collaborations in which he engages, almost always with individuals outside the art industry, navigate consumption, demand, and speculation within the art world in a way that completely exposes his end ‘product’ as just another cog within the industry machine. This de-elevation of the art object argues against the artist’s complicity within the exploitative machine of the art world and imbues Jankowski’s works with a sense of self-awareness and neurotic honesty. When this reflexiveness is coupled with his absurd sense of humour, it draws the viewer into the spirit of his projects wholeheartedly and makes the darker and dryer seeds of truth within his content easier to digest. Heavy-weight History was a very strong survey exhibition featuring new work from an artist for our time.