Photo reportage from the exhibition ‘Blindspots’ by Artur Żmijewski at the Riga Pauls Stradiņš Museum for History of Medicine

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Curator Māris Vītols (on the left) and Artur Żmijewski

Blindspots at the Riga Pauls Stradiņš Museum for History of Medicine is the first solo exhibition by the internationally acclaimed Polish artist Artur Żmijewski in Baltic countries. The title of the exhibition references the approach dominating Żmijewski’s oeuvre, namely, his belief that art should illuminate the blind spots in the society’s field of vision ‒ the areas which, according to him, attract insufficient attention. The artist is convinced that contemporary art has to be “socially applied”; it should attempt to change the values of society, “infect” various parts of the social system just like viruses infect an organism[1]. Żmijewski’s works primarily focus on those social groups whose are most frequently subjected to risks of exclusion (for example, the disabled, destitute people, prisoners, etc.).

The solo exhibition Blindspots by Artur Żmijewski assembles and exposes artist’s films and photos dedicated to representation of people with disabilities and their integration capabilities in today’s society. In his works the artist calls for recognition and respect for the otherness of disabled people, including their right for self-expression. One of the meanings of the term “blind spots” denotes subjects that is very difficult to understand[2], things that demand effort and immersion to be perceived and understood. In Żmijewski’s opinion accepting the otherness of other people is a very hard task, sometimes because we do not make the necessary effort or we do not feel inclined to.

In his works, Żmijewski brings to the foreground the social model of disability, raising public awareness of the fact that limitations are caused not by disability but by the society and the barriers it erects, restricting the lives of people with disabilities. The artist involves disabled people in various practices (for instance, holding choral singing sessions for the deaf or painting workshops for the blind), not only encouraging them to transcend the boundaries of their everyday experiences, but also calling for the viewers to question the roles normally assigned to people with disabilities. Like a skilled surgeon, Żmijewski makes exact incisions in the viewers’ perception, striving to release the disabled from the stifling grip of prejudice to which the preconceptions of their fellow men have confined them. In his films, the artist provides the disabled with a platform of self-expression, giving them a voice; he invites us to see them, hear them and accept their otherness.

Alike the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who in his Being and Nothingness focuses on shame as the subject of his analysis, for Żmijewski the daily embarrassment experienced by the disabled constantly sensing the eyes of others on themselves also serves as a significant point of departure. Sartre describes the shame felt by someone caught behaving in an inappropriate way, for instance, looking through a keyhole, as ‘an immediate shudder which runs through [one] from head to foot’.[3] Żmijewski centres his An Eye for an Eye on the problem of shame felt by the disabled every day when they catch others looking at them. He wants to emancipate the disabled, liberate them from the feeling of shame haunting them, encouraging them to stop being embarrassed by their imperfect bodies. The grotesque nakedness of the bodies, which is the tool that the artist uses, resists social and aesthetic marginalisation to which the disabled are subjected to barriers and prejudice created by the society. According to Żmijewski, the different can be attractive because of its otherness.

The exhibition was designed using the temporary exhibition halls of the Museum for History of Medicine as well as integrating separate works of contemporary art into the permanent display of the museum, simultaneously accentuating the connection of several permanent exhibits with the subjects explored in Żmijewski’s work. The interdisciplinary approach interlinking matters of history of medicine and contemporary art serves to call the visitors’ attention to the exhibits from the museum collection while expanding the context of contemporary art.

Text by Māris Vītols, curator of the exhibition

Artur Żmijewski (born in 1966 in Warsaw, Poland) is one of the most vivid and relevant figures of the contemporary art scene in Europe. Żmijewski made his artistic debut in the early 1990s, after graduating from the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, but it was his studies of various narrative structures in the media of video that actually brought him international recognition. An active contributor to group exhibitions, the artist has mounted over sixty solo exhibitions worldwide since 1994. Artur Żmijewski has taken part in several editions of the Venice Biennale and shown his works at the Sao Paulo, Istanbul and Gwangju biennials, as well as the Manifesta 4, documenta 12 and documenta 14 exhibitions. His works are held in some of the world’s most significant contemporary art collections: at Tate Modern (London); MoMA (New York); Musée d’Art Moderne (Paris), etc. Artur Żmijewski was a curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale of Contemporary Art. The artist resides and works in Warsaw (Poland).

Blindspots
Artur Żmijewski
Duration: 2017 06 03  – 2017 09 24
Curator: Māris Vītols
Riga Pauls Stradiņš Museum for History of Medicine

Photography: Ilze Kuisele, Association Latvia Cultural Projects, Riga, 2017.

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[1] Żmijewski A. Applied Social Art. // Krytyka Polityczna, Warsaw, No 11-12, 2007.

[2] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/blind-spot

[3] Sartre J.P. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Barnes H.E. New York: Washington Square Press , 1992, P. 222.

Artists:
Echo Gone Wrong
Author
June 25, 2017
Published in Photo / Video from Latvia
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