By Vanessa Gravenor
It’s about a society in free fall…
The quote from the first passage in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is often cited and referenced. A Tale of Two Cities tells the story of the French revolution from the point of view from the oppressed and the peasants—describing the storming of the Bastille, and the terror-stricken time, marked by beheadings of the upper class; a type of proletarian revolution. Now, perhaps considered as the ‘end of times,’ Bastille day has taken on different overtures—the recent attacks in Nice, which did not involve the execution of the bourgeoisie, but rather women and children—through the very proletarian class the French revolution attempted to critique.
The art of commemoration is a difficult task for the contemporary—commemoration now comes under siege, one is persecuted, or is sometimes co-opted by the very oppressors that damaged its victims. One such day is the Warsaw Uprising, now used as a day for the right to march fascistically through the streets and proclaim nationalism. The Warsaw Uprising occurred during WWII and was a people’s rebellion against the German Nazi occupation and the extermination of the European Jewry. It is considered an unsuccessful revolution, for as an uprising it failed. Thousands of young men and woman were massacred, as the Russians, who could have come to aid the Poles, stood on the side lines. The Warsaw Uprising can only be apprehended through its very failure; its interminable sadness it continues to cast upon the city.
This failure became the matter of the Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Collective in residence in A-I-R Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw’s redirecting east. The Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Collective (ASIC)’s goal was to create an intervention into this commemorative ceremony by drawing attention to its very fraudulent activity. The Collective is made up of writer/curator Dorian Batycka and artist Ehsan Fardjadniya, who have been working together since 2011. Some of their interventions include hacktivism and performative protests. One of their most notable interventions occurred at the 2011 edition of the Venice Biennale, where they surreptitiously intervened at the Giardini in the United States Pavilion, spraying ‘Free Bradley Manning’—the Army private sentenced to 35 years for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks—on the glass of the building.
Heavily influenced by Tino Sehgal, even sometimes working with his cohort, the collective’s goal is to infiltrate the museum from a bottom up perspective. This is, of course, compacted into a series of performances in the Museum of Warsaw Uprising, where artists Dorian Batycka, Ehsan Fardjadniya, Damien Cholewinska, Edka Jarzab, and Aleka Polis, dressed in black, exchanged leaflets, and performed different gestures such as crawling on the floor and sobbing in front of a gun display the museum has on its third floor. Viewers were instructed to interact with the guns and simulate shooting. Of course, unlike Sehgal, who plays with the object/performer relationship within the museum structure, the intervention at the Museum of Uprising only riffed on potential affects. For instance, the performers did not try to embody the guise of the gun, or interact with the viewer in an alternative way. To do this, they would have had to work alongside with the museum, to devise a type of performance such as Sehgal’s An-Lee, an anime character that greeted museum viewers and engaged them in semiotic discussions.
Further interventions included carrying a casket outside of Frontex’s headquarters in Warsaw, and singing a Jewish mourning song. Frontex’s is the EU’s border control that goes as far as “rescuing” refugees crossing the sea, but then always taking the refugees back to their war torn countries. Frontex acts as a type of Donald Trump border policing, but in liquid form. Upon mourning in front of the Frontex building, the group was immediately detained, and one of its members was taken into custody based upon the suspicion that he was of Arab origin. In one of the pamphlets, this collective member—Ehsan Fardjadniya—recalls the fear he felt in custody, with police, who had no uniforms or badges. Though Fardjadniya was released after other members showed his Dutch passport to the police, and Polish theoretician and politician Ewa Majewska assisted in negotiating his release, the hysteria the police presented after a peaceful mourning march seem symptomatic of these end of times, where peace marches, such as in Turkey, are taken as radical subversive actions under siege.
This very phenomenon is reminiscent of a statement made by a colleague of mine, from a feminist collective in Berlin who explained how in Berlin she was a simple mother with normal liberal social views upon woman, but once she crosses the border to Poland, her motherland, she became a radical feminist that could be detained or punished because of her convictions. The performativity of simply walking shifts these contexts, and humans take on different meanings depending on their caller’s tone.
The documentation of these interventions are separated into times and hours, which also reminded me of La Haine (Hatred), a French film from 1995 about mobsters in the Banlieus of Paris that one day respond to the murder of one of their comrades by inciting chaos. The film is about the struggle between the police and the mobsters, the trafficking of drugs, but also the solidarity between minority groups that transcends race, religion, and ethnicities. The film follows three protagonists, who each question how to leave behind the endemic violence and murders that plague every single aspect of their daily life inside the projects. The film’s main motif is the clock—time itself—which is always apparent sonically in the background, inciting them to some type of vengeance, very similar to the vengeance described by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities. Yet, the protagonists grapple with these vengeful impulses, which quite frankly are quite understandable from the subjective story line of the film. The film ends with a standoff between a cop and one of the film’s protagonists after the cop has just shot one of the others in cold blood. The cop has his gun pulled at the remaining protagonist. The protagonist has his gun pulled against the cop.
Cut to black,
And the words: “It’s about a society in free fall…”
jusqu’ici tout va bien (so far as it’s good)
jusqu’ici tout va bien (so far as it’s good)
jusqu’ici tout va bien (so far as I’ts good)
I think that is where I want to end, on the fade to black with the words:
Mais l’important c’est pas la chut/c’est le message
The fall is not the important part/it’s the message
Vanessa Gravenor is an artist and critic living in Berlin.
The curators of this intervention were Marianna Dobkowska, Anna Ptak, and Agnieszka Sosnowska. The writer would like to thank the CCA and Dorian Batycka and Ehsan Fardjadniya for inviting her into their work and for the many conversations about art and politics.