Friday, February 20, 2015

In the Shadow of the Flame

Here is the documentation of my In the Shadow of the Flame solo exhibition at the BWA Warszawa in Warsaw.

In the autumn of 1969 Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory Theater arrives in America for the first time. The troupe puts on three shows: "Acropolis", "The Constant Prince" and "Apocalypsis cum figuris". Performances are a smash. Soon enough, Ryszard Cieślak, the actor playing the "Prince" is awarded the prize for best actor of the season in an Off Broadway show.

Laboratory performances take place in a church space on Washington Square. Just a few streets down, at Union Square, lies the Andy Warhol's famous Factory, where the cream of America's art establishment convenes on a regular basis. Many of their por-traits are captured by the lens of Warhol himself - today these multi-coloured Polaroid series have achieved cult status.

It's not difficult to imagine Cieślak arriving at one of the Factory's innumerable parties and having Warhol take his photo. If such a meeting had actually taken place, the image would have been akin to the works currently on show at BWA Warszawa as part of Karol Radziszewski's latest exhibiton.

In 1975 Margaret Croyden interviews Cieślak. Several years later, fascinated by the Laboratory's craft, the American journalist arrives in Poland. At the beginning of the 1990s she publishes the book "In the Shadow of the Flame". Cieślak is among the main characters in the book. In opposition to the purely academic approach of traditional theater scholars, Croyden reveals her meeting with the actor from a personal point of view. She shares her facination with his physicality, his muscular body, his manliness. She presents Cieślak not only as an actor of experimental theater, but as a star, an idol, a man. The exhibition at BWA Warszawa brings the memories of their meeting back through a fragment of Radziszewski's latest film "The Prince".

"In the Shadow of the Flame" is another in a line of projects by the artist in which he tackles the myth of the "Polish America". Previously, with "America Is Not Ready for This", Radziszewski posed a simple question: Did Natalia LL, an artist who arrived in New York City on a grant in 1977 have a real chance at an international career? Could her local experience be understood and appreciated on the American art scene? The narrative "In the Shadow of the Flame" follows a similar trope, while taking a more fantastic turn. On the one hand, we have the highly spiritual theater of Grotowski, and on the other, the loud, commercial pop produced by the Factory. Could Cieślak be adopted as one of Warhol's classic heroes? Did he possess the sex appeal required to be considered a real icon of pop culture? Was America ready to accept this view? Are we ready for it today?

Photos by Bartosz Górka

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