23 May 2015

In the May issue of DOUBLE FEATURE, Polish artist Agnieszka Polska presents her piece “Future Days”. Following a discussion with the artist, she will screen her favorite film, Fassbinder’s “Niklashauser Fart”.

What comes after death, after the decay of our mortal bodies? Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" with its different realms of the afterlife and the specific circles of Hell, each destined for a particular type of sinner, offers a quite extensive suggestion as to how things may be after the inevitable end. It would be just as conceivable that there are different types of Heaven, for different social classes or groups.

In "Future Days" (2013) we are given an idea of what such a realm of Heaven reserved exclusively for artists might look like. The opening shot in the 30-minute film tells us which artists we can expect to meet: Charlotte Posenenske, Jerzy Ludwiński, Włodzimierz Borowski, Paul Thek, Lee Lozano, Andrzej Szewczyk and Bas Jan Ader. This 'artists' Heaven' soon transpires to be a kind of interim zone that amounts more to eternal damnation for those stranded there than it does to permanent happiness. At the beginning of the film, Polish artist Włodzimierz Borowski and German painter and sculptor Charlotte Posenenske stroll along a beach and mutually enjoy swapping rhetorical commonplaces. Shortly thereafter they evidently come across Bas Jan Ader, washed up on the stony beach -- of his last art action, a performative crossing of the Atlantic, all that was later found was his empty boat. Reunited with the other artists, they wander seemingly aimlessly through countryside that has a melancholy feel to it; they chat, propose theories for forms of art, express surprise with this inhospitable place from which they cannot escape, and longingly await the arrival of other artist friends who may be able to reveal more to them about the world they have left forever.

Born in 1985 in Lublin, Poland, in her art (mainly films, animations and photographs) Agnieszka Polska repeatedly addresses and tackles the theme of personal and collective memory. For example, in "Three Videos with Narration -- My favourite things" (2010) she sifted through and re-used excessively overused artworks, or, in "Sensitization to colour" (2009) reconstructed the space and objects of a never-recorded performance by Polish artist Włodzimierz Borowski, whereby the reconstruction is then captured on film. In "Future Days" Polska again references past or existing artworks: For example, Robert Smithson's "Partially Buried Woodshed", which the figure of Jerzy Ludwiński then discusses in greater detail, in terms of its content, too; or Avital Geva's expansive installation "The Books in Landscape Experiment", which is used in Polska's film in a recreated version. This methodology touches on the question as to what extent personal intellectual processing of actual experiences or events that have nothing to do with us can perhaps be considered a completely new, autonomous experience. No unequivocal answer is forthcoming from the artist figures that Polska places in the afterlife, bereft of any new experiences and who can only rely nostalgically on their own memories.

As the second part of the DOUBLE FEATURE, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1970 movie "Niklashauser Fart" will be shown. Fassbinder's first TV movie, produced for the channel WDR, focuses on the historical figure of herder Hans Böhm, who held grueling sermons championing social equality for all and absolution of sins, and in the shortest space of time had over 70,000 supporters. A little later, the bishop of Würzburg had him burnt at the stake.

Fassbinder was certainly not interested in any classical staging of the historical subject matter, and "Niklashauser Fart" is, stylistically speaking, a wild collage. He himself plays a black monk in a leather jacket, surrounded by figures in seemingly historical rural garb, there are snippets from a film of a concert by Kraut-Rock band Amon Düül, and Hans Böhm gets burned on a scrapyard for old cars. Indeed, the film treats the subject in an essayistic vein or, as Fassbinder himself poignantly put it, shows "how and why revolution fails".

The fact that such questions can only be addressed by art, but in no manner can art solve the underlying issues, was something a disappointed Charlotte Posenenske at some point had to concede, whereupon she abandoned art and studied sociology. By contrast, so disappointed was Lee Lozano with the art scene that she resolved to break off any contact with artists and art theorists. In "Future Days" she therefore does not utter a word. Perhaps this is itself a very unique form of revolution.