dr Michal Zawada, Kraków, 17.05.2016

Faculty of Painting

Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków


 

Review

of Mr Mateusz Grymek’s master’s thesis

Written under the supervision of prof. Zbigniew Bajek

(appendix under the supervision of Prof. Zbigniew Salaj and Prof. Grzegorz Sztwiertnia)

 

 

Neurosis is inseparable in my eyes from a flight from the father's desire, for which the subject substitutes the father's demand.

Jacques Lacan, Introduction to the Names-of-the-Father

 

With a clear date, outlined in black and marking the chronology of events, video frames take us through the post-transformation reality of Polish holidays. In trembling hands, persistent playing with the transfocator and aggressive discoloration of poorly balanced white, we recognize the work of an amateur. The frames narrow just to return to a short focal again, losing focus or the object of the video. Who is the invisible amateur holding the camera?

It is in the second shot that we hear his voice. Spoken casually, but firmly: “Calm down,” repeated in a more telling way: “I said calm down!” The following shots are filled with further commands or reprimands. Soon, we meet the person the words are directed to. A little boy, simultaneously fascinated by the mystery of “recording” and uneasy because of the repertoire of gestures he has to make in front of the camera. We begin to feel uneasy ourselves, the display of family training makes us uncomfortable (we are then presented with a sequence of the boy looking at the camera, followed by the look of the black eyes of a resting dog). “Go there!” we hear several times, first in an Athenian Orthodox church, and then in Delphi. The boy finally stands straight in front of a tanker coming into the port. He is, however, subsequently thrown out of the frame by the narrowing focal. In the last shot, the boy stands on a beach, clutching his sneakers tightly to protect them from sea waves. The sequence is suddenly cut short when a particularly strong wave crashes against his legs and the model loses his pose. Perhaps he will fall.

The voice we hear is a father’s voice; it is reproachful, strict. It is the kind of voice that creates an image, image of memory, a choreography of a family memento. It is the voice and the eye of Another, from whom the son tried to escape. Perhaps this is the moment to replace this eye, to try to tame it, to neutralize the reprimanding rule.

Mr Mateusz Grymek writes in his dissertation that he uses the so-called new media because he found them to be extremely potent – something he did not see in a traditional painting workshop. But maybe it was the other way round – maybe he had to find them for his eye to replace the eye of the author of Family cinema. We do not know that and surely we will not be able to get an answer. What we see is a kind of a foundation, founding act, original trauma, which the author exposes with full deliberation. This is why that is the starting point of the story.

Mr Grymek has gone a long way before he reached the production of the dissertation. It was a path full of increased exhibition and organizational activity, as well as self-governmental coordination and enrolling in projects and contests. His studies are finished with a complex, multi-layered installation combining documentary activity, archival works and collections, video, photography, object and performance. The title is ambiguous: Magical theatre – Document of time.

Even the idea of combining „theatre” and „document” creates the first moment of confusion. How does Mr Grymek work with theatre and utilize documents?

The idea of theatre, which describes his whole production, he takes from a literary source – Herman Hesse – however, what is characteristic, he refers to a prose description in Steppenwolf. Therefore, in his interpretation he does not refer to a conventional set of attributes, but focuses more on telling the story rather than the literalness of live participation (eliminating performance in one of the loges). It is a theatre with no actors, no masks, no stage. They are fragments of the theatre brought down to the basics. We can be inclined to reductive etymology, according to which the Greek noun comes from the verb thea, meaning “sight”. Thus we get what is visible, which is visible because of the gesture of extraction from the archives and deposits of memory.

For a narrative axis, we can adopt the character of Toni Kröger from a story by Tomasz Mann, in which he rejects the paternal heritage and decides to bind his future with the south, in Mann’s fashion, feminized artistic area inherited from his mother. It is a process of getting entangled in a classic bourgeoisie conflict of the turn of centuries, in which an artist’s status is paid for by an apparent exclusion from the society. In the central point, Mr Grymek builds the first link of his autobiography on, the autobiographical figure of Mann, belabouring the genesis of his own artistic inclinations. In this search, however, it is us who are located in the area of tension, which is created between the two heroes of the performance – we are thus given the weight of this, Nietzschean by spirit, confrontation. What is interesting, albeit not entirely understandable, is that it separates the presented relation from its erotic context. Maybe in the further process of opening this story, it would be essential to reach deeper – to Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless.

A pendant to the discussion over Tomasz Mann’s character could come in the form of a slideshow, once again drawing from the title of the German novel. This time we come across a series of photographs from the digital memory of Mr Grymek’s phone – photographs presented with no pre-selection, chronologically, creating a sort of a stream of visualness (but not necessarily consciousness). Banal recordings of parties, body parts, flowers, drinks, bottles. If there is something that connects those figurative images, it is a perpetually mutilated, fragmented body. Always lacking the face, always impossible to identify. Some of the photographs were sent to Mr Mateusz’s phone, but it is hard to determine which of them are not his creations, for they are mixed in the trivial magma of modern digital documentation. The author writes that the material assumes the unlimited image of relations between people, but is it not rather a relation with his alter ego, Tonio Kröger?

 

However, at this point there forcefully appears the second link of the project’s title – the author introduces a document, an archive which will mark the subsequent productions as well.

In the productions Single Man and Only for the Mad, we are once again an object of a sort of transfer – a transfer of the author’s memory or experiences. Recollections of holidays, hermetically packed together or projections of foreign items that we feel no connection to – they are to become the theatre, a spectacle of the author’s not entirely conscious obsessions. We are the witnesses to a process in which the artist asks himself questions and desperately searches for answers, reconstructions or the consciousness of his own story. 

Magical theatre then appears to be internal theatre, inbred theatre – hermetic, non-participatory. Even as we get into specific situations, we remain outside as passive observers, for we cannot influence the result of the searches. It is a kind of a mystery play, in which we witness the painful process of recall and reconstruction. Theatre functions here as a document, a record, an archive. It is a collection of items and images of the past, captured on the artificial memory of a telephone or a camera, exposed to the sight of Another, a viewer who does not and cannot play a role in any of the acts of the play.

 

The fullest idea of the theatre as document is achieved in the last link of Mr Grymek’s dissertation – video material prepared in the workshop of prof. Zbigniew Sałaj and Grzegorz Sztwiertnia – a collection of recordings created by the author together with Ms Izabela Liżewska. It is here that the items and the characters take part in the performance. Even though they document chronologically arranged real-life situations, the directing behind it for the first time becomes clearly discernible, several times even made evident through commentary. In this blatant dramatization, they resemble the realisations of Paul McCarthy or Ryan Trecartin. The opening shots are a sequence of silent takes of an abandoned and eventually overgrown swimming pool. Except for a blue water surface, we see branches and dry leaves. Remains, ruins, ersatz. A little later we see dry flowers, “watered” with cigarette ash and alcohol. The story begins with a mediated story – the recollections of the grandfather of the author, the latter becoming the one telling the story.

 

It seems to me that the video No title becomes the moment with the highest exposure level in the process of discovering one’s own history, but also discovering oneself. Paradoxically, this truth (like the truth of dry flowers) comes to light not at the moment of taking off the mask and showing one’s true nature. The truth becomes the act of donning the mask (personage), so keeping one’s face in a specific role, presented for the camera. It is as if the author knew that the so-called inside truth, the true personality, is yet another fantasy, the purpose of which is to cope with real problems of everyday, even psychological, life. Only the act of game, artificiality, and spectacle makes it possible to face what is real. Mr Grymek knows that there is no truth of recording – it is always directed beforehand. Only the reality that is mixed with one’s own adaptation can become reliable. The more the character exposes the “plot”, the more he exposes the doubles, the directing process; the more this process falls apart in front of us, the more we are affected by the power of the created or performed story. The stronger we are hit by the final sequence, which is an archival recording, recovered from the collection of family cinema. Yet again we see the same outlined date, taking us back to the moment of the recording. The characters come back, and so does the insight of Another, this time mute, non-strict, as if the rules of the father were disarmed in this act of theatrical exorcism. The circle, initiated and closed with an archival home movie, gains surprising and moving creative development.

 

I consider Mr Mateusz Grymek’s dissertation a brave attempt to confront his own experience, a difficult attempt at dealing with the past. It is a summary of years of studying, but also a long process of becoming, creating an identity. In this process, Mr Mateusz was looking for appropriate language, and eventually found it in antitheatrical, hermatic theatre, supplying the invisible stage with only one actor – himself. The author’s thesis sets up a private, internal performance, exposed to the look of Another – a performance that became this demand, an escape from the desire of something different, sometimes painful confrontation, obsessive collecting and recycling of family archives. Because of this boldness in the confrontation with the viewer, which is rarely seen at this stage, I have decided to grade this production highly. It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly recommend Mr Mateusz Grymek’s dissertation and thus ask the thesis defence committee to allow it to pass on to further stages of the defence.


Michal Zawada