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04 September 2008 —
30 November 2008

Artur Zmijewski

Artur Zmijewski, Them, 2007 (still). Single channel video, colour, sound. Polish with English subtitles. 26 mins 30 secs. Courtesy the artist & Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.


“Artur Zmijewski’s unabashedly political artworks are among the most cogent and courageous meditations on the psychical complexities of fascism and state violence currently being produced. Combining performance and video, the Warsaw-based artist utilises bodily dysfunction and abjection as allegories for despotism. His protagonists are the sick, the mentally ill, the handicapped and the imprisoned.”
– Derek Conrad Murray

Polish artist Artur Zmijewski is renowned for his confronting documentary videos which probe the boundaries of human behavior. Zmijewski deals with themes of power and powerlessness in relation to the body. His works make us consider the shifting roles of power and subordination and questions what we mean by the term ‘normality’.

This extensive exhibition of Zmijewski’s work will feature his most celebrated work, the film Repetition (2005) where he recreated the legendary Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 for the 51st Biennale in Venice, alongside his recent work Them which was a standout of last year’s Documenta in Germany. In Repetition Zmijewski repeats the famous 1971 American psychology experiment where student-participants were split into two groups, and paid to play prisoners and guards. In the original experiment, the jailers rapidly became sadistic and the experiment had to be curtailed. However, the ultimate result of Zmijewski’s experiment was somewhat different-while the jailers initially descended into barbarism, they had a change of heart, experiencing solidarity with their captives, and together they all walked out on the experiment.

Them reads like a parody of an art school ‘crit session’. It documents a series of art workshops Zmijewski held with members of four Polish extremist groups, using banners and symbols to demonstrate their political beliefs. Conflict erupted as Catholics and neo-nationalists united against the left-wingers and Jewish youths. Despite their radical differences, those on the far right and those on the far left behaved similarly, speaking on behalf of the social whole while ignoring the other.

Zmijewski’s videos are at once uncannily like and unlike reality television. They catch people at their most naked and vulnerable. Sometimes hysterical, often painful to watch, they are a profound exploration of our situation and the double binds it entails.

A joint project with the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.

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