The collective painting was open to any and all who wanted to join in; and yet, on this sunny Tuesday afternoon only a small number of visitors found their way to the Kunsthalle Zürich. Most of the painting was thus done by the core group of humanities scholars Wiktoria Furrer, Carla Gabrí, Ekaterina Kurilova-Markarjan, Nastasia Louveau, María Ordoñez, Dimitrina Sevova, Anja Nora Schulthess, Nika Timashkova and Valentina Zingg together with Polish visual artist Artur Żmijewski. Most of the scholars were no strangers to painting, and some expressly see themselves as both academics and artists.
Applied social art
But what, you might ask, does painting have to do with thinking? To Artur Żmijewski the answer is very clear. For him, art is political thinking, participating in public life and reacting to the problems of society, but also embracing conflict and dispute. Art has to make an impact and be a tool that allows us to take political action in the world, as described in his new anthology Kunst als Alibi (Diaphanes, 2017).
The collective painting in the Kunsthalle Zürich was thus to be understood as an expression of the “dynamics of a collective mind at work”. And since the collective mind knows no boundaries, it goes without saying that the activity was open to anyone and everyone. “You’re painting as an individual, but together with others you’re creating a group effect,” said Żmijewski.
Conclusion to “How to Teach Art”
The “Collective Painting in situ” was the end point of the three-month workshop “How to Teach Art”, which Artur Żmijewski had held together with junior researchers (three of whom were part of the Collegium Helveticum’s doctoral program Epistemologies of Aesthetic Practices).
“A really great and one-of-a-kind experience,” as UZH doctoral candidate, artist and instructor Nastasia Louveau described the workshop. In particular, she enjoyed the intensive collaboration with an artist such as Artur Żmijewski over an extended period of time. “But exchanging views and learning about his approach weren’t the only things that I found enriching. The in-depth dialogue with other participants and the dynamics arising from this friction were very rewarding. For one thing, I believe this is precisely what Artur Żmijewski creates in his artistic endeavors: New ideas and the space to explore them. For another, it’s also about the learning process – besides skill and being a role model, among others – the interpersonal and social relationships that result from a setting of teaching and learning.”
Unsettling and political
Time and again, the body of work of Artur Żmijewski, who lives and works in Warsaw, explores the politically incorrect, unsettling and offensive. His early videos kicked off a discussion about artistic freedom and political correctness – for example by depicting naked people of all ages playing a game of tag in a concentration camp. Social and individual traumas are recurring themes in his photos and videos, which at first glance appear to be documentary, but in reality are staged. The bodies he shows are disabled, crippled, frail, sick and old. They are the bodies of “the others”, who are largely ignored in contemporary visual art.
His approach has won over the world of art: He represented Poland at the Venice Biennale in 2006, curated the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2012, and took part in the documenta exhibition in Kassel in 2017.