Do we create to remember, or we create to trigger the memory of others, or perhaps we create to forget? – Marta Bosowska asks in her PhD dissertation. The construction of this sentence in which we see the same phrase used repetitively (the word memory used twice and word forget, which is an antonym of remembering) is in a way a sum of the issues the artist has been dealing with since 2009, practically from the beginning of her independent artistic career. It is evident that we create for different needs, sometimes without any real reason or aim, the author focuses her endeavours around the phenomena of memory. I see it as an original theme in her artworks.
Bosowska is intensively active in arts. She presents her works in exhibitions and individual performances, but also she is a curator, and she has been responsible for various art and education events. She practices various forms of artistic expression – installation, object, performance, video installation – for that reason we can see a great variety of events she was part of. Bosowska has taken part in solo and group exhibitions, individual performances and performance festivals, site-specific actions. She presented her works in significant places for Polish art life for example at Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej in Torun, Galeria Labirynt in Lublin, Galeria Manhattan in Lodz, Festival Interakcje in Piotrków Trybunalski, Festiwal Sztuki Efemerycznej in Sokołowsko, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej in Warsaw, Arsenał Gallery and ON Gallery in Poznań. She has also presented her works abroad in such countries as Germany, Austria, Great Britain, Finland, Slovenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Thailand, Israel. She does not take a lot with her while travelling: she takes herself – her primary performance medium – with constantly revised memory load. She also takes matter – residue, left-overs, waste. There is also space. The artist finds space, searches for it, tames it with her decision. She selects it carefully. That is what she claims, and it is evident to all of us. Sometimes it is a gallery, a field of art, a place marked with equivocal, but formed contact with a viewer. Sometimes it is public space, like a street in Stockholm. Sometimes it is a side-space, strange like a street corner in Lviv, or post-industrial Kiev’s buildings. Bosowska has an ability to annexe those different places with minimal and consistent means of expression. Similar series of events acquire completely different expressive powers depending on selected by her spatial context. She does it consciously, with precision. She is very efficient. He cuts out a circle of light in a dark gallery; she then puts a chair – this will be her axis of action, the axis of our shared territory, perhaps even an axis of the world. While ringing a small bell, she walks around it; she tames it, she appoints her function of time and categories of dynamics. Our meeting shall have a particular character, perhaps even celebration – she wears a simple, black tight dress, the light highlights a portrait, hands and feet. She sits on a chair; she puts on her laps an elegant envelope made of black canvas. She opens it many times, she monotonously unfolds it and folds it – this is her treasure, fetish, a mystery. She has already hidden in it, or she will hide in it some hair or ash from burnt matter. She will chew hair; she will blow the ash. Black dress will get dirty, the floor covered with ash will show her footprints. There will be other things left on it when she leaves the field of performance. Bosowska knows how to use time, space, and her physical body – even her slightly shy smile is a fragment of expression. I am for you, let us tame each other, I will let you get close to my mysteries.
In the above description, I wanted to draw a sketch of her performances presented in various galleries. The most elaborated version of this performance was presented in 2012 in Stockholm, whereas a version more synthetic, which I value the most, she showed in Bialystok in 2009 under a title of Untouchables. Darkening the gallery space, profiling the light, specificity of the setting: audience – the place of action, clothes similar to a costume are all expressions inspired by the theatre. In general, Bosowska’s performances are influenced by the theatre. The artist invests in the effectiveness of her image; she creates traditional poetic context. In a discussion about how far performance is from theatrical performances, Bosowska is very close to the theatre. Her project presented in Lublin in 2009 entitled Pozostali [The remaining ones] is probably the best example. Wide open doors were a strong, single source of contrasting light, the artist wearing white clothes scattered ash. Bosowska used those expressions consciously; it was her aim. She achieves visual expressiveness of her figure; she is responsible for every step of her action. What is evident is a sculptural influence, definitely what we see is a strong mark of a visual artist. The above remarks concern her earlier works. Present artworks tend to exhibit minimal expression.
Particularly impressive in her career is a performance entitled Naznaczeni [Marked ones], which took place in Manhattan Gallery in 2011. Bosowska uses spatial properties of place. A pretext for her actions is a construction beam in the middle of a gallery; it was situated in a parallel position to the floor, around three meters above it. The beam was roughly 60 cm wide. The artist walked on it blindfolded, and she risked falling. She used only the sense of touch, and by doing so, she provoked her ear labyrinth. This time the gallery was white, the light was natural, the artist was traditionally in a black dress, the blindfold was black. An example of a precise, minimalistic, performative site-specific work. A similar simple construction can be found in another work by Bosowska presented at Art Electronica in Linzu (2010). This time the gallery was large, the artist was holding small objects – little mirrors. To start with, she watched the audience in a mirror held above her head, or perhaps she allowed the audience to see themselves in the mirror. Bearing in mind the size of the objects, it was an action without any real function; it seemed nonsensical. Next, the mirrors were placed in eye-sockets, they covered her eyelids as if they were glasses. They focused the view of the world while taking away perception. The image toyed with a phrase ‘see your reflection in my eyes’. This common expression was turned around and changed into a provoking sign. Excellent, multi-layered use of objects in performances, was distinguished by the organisers of the festival, I mentioned above.
While discussing the process of simplification in Bosowska’s constructions and expressive elements, there is a need to mention also two street performances. The first one took place in Stockholm (2012). This time it was a typical large city space. Corso was full of people. The artist was blowing ash in front of her. The action was marked by perseverance, but it was rather quiet. She was surrounded by people, but she seemed to be outside them, against their commotion. She did not stop anyone; she was focused on her activity. God’s madman, jurodivi, a person in possession of different knowledge. The second performance was in Kiev in 2014 in post-industrial space. Bosowska tried to wash the facade of an abandoned building with her saliva. I use the word tried because it was a non-productive activity. However effective could be the cleaning product, the scale of the abandoned object was overwhelming. The loop of selflessness. The madness of a mission or a touching unawareness. In the description of those two events, I aim at some over-interpretation. I describe fragments of more elaborate performances in some parts less consistent. Delineated by me sequences have a potential for distinguished forces and clarity of artistic decisions. In them, I hope, we touch the essence of performance.
I selected from wealthy achievements of Bosowska those works, which build an exciting developmental series. But also because they were a significant experience of medium and concerns undertaken in her PhD dissertation. The artist puts forward questions about the function of memory in the art process. She is looking at process-based actions, which by nature are developed in time, they feed on our residue and memory left-overs, they also build further circles, as the author claims performance never ends, it is only a fragment of a process. To describe this phenomenon, she uses a term mnemonic techniques. The title of her PhD dissertation states: ‘Mnemonic Techniques. Residue as an independent entity, icon and memory medium in performance.’ Her PhD work consisted of three elements: performance, installation and object. The performance presented at AT Gallery dealt with a particular smell in the place, and Bosowska often focuses on basic human senses. The artist has regularly limited her sight by a blindfold. She would chew hair when she had no wish to operate the sense of taste. She would play with the sense of balance, or she would produce saliva to clean dirty windows. All of those actions utilise widely understood physiology. So far she has activated or narrowed those receptors in herself. Us, the viewers were only witnesses of that particular state, which she imposed on herself. She was sculpturing in our sense of smell while using a silent bell. Her subtle movements turned us into full participants in the process.
The next element – installation – was created from materials documenting actions, objects, inspirations appearing in the course of developing her PhD work. Bosowska has got a gift of recalling memories through a precise selection of objects and things. This time she took us into a mysterious world of swings and merry-go-rounds, in other words, she took us into the world of re-discovered ’treasures’ – an old army helmet, a bell. We were impressed with a swing found by the author. The object looked tired, and it was a found object. It was painfully ‘mature’; it lost the firmness of its construction. The paint on it was flaking. There was a swing-chair missing. In its place, Bosowska hung a bell. This act was a perfect swap of functions, meanings and senses. Similar emotions are evoked by the third element of the exhibition: an object – a merry-go-round. One of the inspirations is a found and documented spatial and semantic paradox – a merry-go-round placed on top of a shed. What a lucky incident for the artist. She found in reality surrealism. Bosowska followed this path, and she created further versions of the above paradox. Hand-drawn, vivid image was superimposed with a vector drawing, the difference between the chairs is defined as emptiness. It was a controversial gesture bearing in mind social function of playgrounds. We may admire how boldly, the artist brought the flashes of past time, the icons of childhood, used and forgotten things. Our memory was placed between two poles – an area of traumatic experiences and sentimental traces. Those last ones happen to be for art deadly; they so quickly pose for poetic diapason. Bosowska creates her language, her catalogue of memory traces and an original poetic structure. She is capable of finding a child in herself. She knows how to articulate its optics of paradox, and she manages to find in us, the viewers, similar layers.
Her creative force meets in an absorbing way the theoretical reflection contained in her PhD. The title of her dissertation suggests the character of her reflection. The author systemises concepts she introduces sets of her terminology. They help her determine an intellectual description of her artistic activity. Bosowska opens up her dissertation with notes about memory and its processes. She underlines the importance of the continuity of cultural heritage and the continuity of human identification. She pays particular attention to mnemonic techniques from the title. This term had been used previously to describe a series of her performances. She relates the memory techniques to the process of constructing and developing a performance. She starts this process with ‘residue’ – this term is forged by Bosowska – and the process is rounded up with ‘residue’ as well. The residue refers in artist’s view to icons, reflections, traces after some being. They are all starting points for her performances. Each action leaves further traces, and so the process undergoes a transformation. ‘One day we are a topic, with all vanity, anxiety, and then another day we become nothing more but an object, a sign, a residue’ – we read in her text. I used the quotation, in which the author asks about the function of memory in the creative process. She poses three questions, and she gives three positive answers to them. We create to remember; we create to trigger the memory of others, memory is dominated with forgetting. Memory, therefore, is forgetting. As usual, she finds an interesting paradox here – there are techniques which help us remember, there are no techniques that help us forget. She is left with mnemonic techniques.