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The Forgetting of Proper Names, Calvert 22


A young blonde woman in a teensy white bandeau top is singing straight to a video camera that ‘Jesus loves her for the Bible tells her so’.

 But her singing is woozily distorted and alarming, and her words muddle our expectations of the song. She sings about how Jesus will bring her a fancy car and a wedding ring. And this: ‘Jesus loves me but not my wife, not my nigger friends or their nigger lives’. Her face starts to become mutated, as though seen through a fish eye lens, bulbous and strange, as though a different self is trying to burst out of her. The woman is, in fact, the artist, Anna Molska, one three Polish artists included in The Forgetting of Proper Names, exhibiting work from a country that has been highly influential on contemporary art over the past few years.

Wojciech Bakowski’s abstract film, which one has to climb into a small cabin to watch, is a set of abstract animations – flickering squares, lines and circles, accompanied by a tense narration. “Everything is unstable in all directions”, he says, “it’s starting to get on my nerves”. Shapes change and flicker – he speaks of how everything that he looks at becomes ‘irradiated’, as though infected. Agnieskzka Polska’s filmMedical Gymnastics (2008) uses photographs of young people exercising from an old photographs, and animates them, so that they elegantly lift their arms and legs as though exercise was nothing strenuous at all but simply a display of beauty. In another film, How the Work is Done (2011), she restages a 1956 student occupation of an art school in Krakow by creating stand-ins for the students using clothes laid out in the shapes of bodies.

Yet my favourite work here is Molska’s The Mourners (2010), a film depicting a group of professional mourners – groups invited to appear at funerals in rural Poland in order to provoke grief – talking and singing in a sculpture gallery. Dressed in ugly puffy coats to keep out the bitter cold, they laugh, cry and tell stories, tickle each other and roll around like friendly, padded sages.

Shows curated by country are always tricky. There’s no necessary connection between the artists and no particular thematic. However, the three artists in this exhibition all have a sense of a constructed world vulnerable to change and adaption, that is deeply rooted in history, something that does seem tied to a generation that has grown up in a country remaking itself after communism. The worlds that these artists create are off kilter, non-sequitous and fantastical, presented in a deadpan, everyday fashion.