"A Body Dressed in Art"

Karol Radziszewski talks to Karolina Kolenda and Wojciech Szymański

Originally published in the exhibition catalogue Karol Radziszewski. Backstage, The Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery, Krakow, 2011.


READY 2 DIE

Wojciech Szymański: I’d like to start by asking you about the film Ready 2 Die, which you gave quite a lot of exposure to in the Bunkier Sztuki exhibition. You claim that it’s performance art, but I can’t see either a performance or a record of it, what I can see is a video work.

Karol Radziszewski: The film was produced on the occasion of the 1st anniversary of ms2 and it was supposed to refer to the Collection of Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries, presented in the museum in Łódź. It was intended as performance art, which would at the same time be a deconstruction of performance art. The audience was going to see only what I wanted them to see. I was holding a camera which was recording the model. The image was being sent to the TV monitor, which was being filmed by another camera. And that other camera, in turn, was sending it to the projector. We were separated from the spectators, who were viewing the processed image. All these interventions, this playing around with the medium, were of course an allusion to Robakowski and the Workshop of the Film Form. And it was also a reference to classical performances. I wanted to dress a guy ‘in art’, a guy who was undressing himself in front of me. As an artist, I was acting as no more than a camera man. The task of the guy that I hired was to take his clothes off, to shave his hair off and to do as many press-ups as he was capable of. I was filming him and the audience could see a processed, black and white image on the screen. I later found out that many people were disappointed. They felt that, instead of doing a performance, I showed them a film.

Karolina Kolenda: But why did you really do it? Why wasn’t it an ordinary performance? Why all these Nam June Paik-type games?

KR: Above all, I had two things in mind. First of all, to ridicule the concept of performance art itself, which is based on the idea that anything that is done by a person appointed by the artist (or by the artist himself) has some meaning. Secondly, I wanted to dress a naked male body in art. I wanted to have a pretext for a man to get undressed in public. I also wanted to mangle the image as much as possible – so that it wouldn’t be too literary. This was done so as to create a distance from the act of stripping.

KK: So what we are dealing here with is double detachment: via art and via the camera.

KR: Yes, although I didn’t separate it into two elements. I was mainly concerned that the eye of the camera would become my own eye. I wanted authoritatively to impose on the audience what they were to see. Usually, each spectator can decide for himself what he wants to direct his attention to: the performer, the action or the reactions of the audience. In this case, the choice was made for him.

WS: It seems to me that by telling us about the history of this performance you are trying to distract our attention from something more important. I am not negating the fact that you did want to experiment with convention, but isn’t it the case that the very fact of calling this action a performance and placing it in an art institution became a sort of alibi? Perhaps what is behind this action is just voyeurism, a non-normative behavior which can be explained because it was done under the aegis of a museum?

KR: Your point is two questions at the same time. The pivot of the action is conscious voyeurism. In my previous films, this was very important. The object that I was peeping on didn’t know that I was watch- ing him. I was shooting everything in the privacy of a home. Sometimes, I would decide to make certain films publicly available. This time, the boundaries have shifted. It’s still voyeurism, but this time with the awareness of an audience out there. This is the next step. As far as the reference to performance was concerned, you are right that it was just a pretext. I was aiming at a play of ambiguity which I call ‘dressing in art’.

WS: But what is it that you are really dressing in art?

KR: Body. Naked male body. I am interested in a guy as a model. As is the case with an archetypal fe- male model who accompanies an artist, in my case there is a male model, which is to say, someone in a sense objectified by the artist for the sake of art. This relationship was supposed to be shown in this work. But as far as the performance itself went, that didn’t really matter. When the film became an autonomous record without a sound track, it became less important how it came about. It acquired another dimension, it started to function on a different level. I would say, on a poetic level. It was then possible to interpret it independently from the tension between the artist and the model.

WS: You’ve said that the relation between the artist and his model is an objectifying relation. In high modernism, the female model was also just an object for the artists (both in the studio and in the bedroom). I would like to ask about your relationships with your models. As you admit yourself, they are intimate and in a way ‘tender’. Does this mean that your models are more than just objects?

KK: You can tell by the film. The camera does not ogle in a sick way, it touches the body tenderly. These are not objectified female models, animal-like, as is the case with Degas, for example. They function more like wife-models.

WS: Besides, in the films you don’t go for hard-core porn, but your glance delicately caresses the bodies, without dwelling on the erogenous zones.

KR: This is because I choose my models in a very deliberate way. Usually, they are young, heterosexual males, who I am in some way intrigued by and whom I fancy. Usually, they are drawn into some concrete plot and spiced up with some media tricks, very often they strip. The choice is not casual, they often reappear in my subsequent activities. At the Bunkier Sztuki exhibition, you can see projects, in which particular boys appear a number of times in very different roles. At some stage, I discovered that I’d been working with them in a director-actor relation. I know how they have performed in other roles, I know what roles to allocate them and what they are good at.

KK: Does it all start with the idea of a project, and you then decide which one of your favourite models will be best suited to it, or maybe (as is the case with some great directors) you first think of a particular actor, and then you write a script for him?

KR: It all depends on the project itself. Study, in which Janek appears, I made because I wanted to be able to work with him. So I asked him whether he would be able to strip in front of the camera. Only when he said yes, did I start to finalise the details. In fact, as soon as we started shooting I knew that the project would never be realised. But Janek didn’t know that. He agreed for the sake of art. This was supposed to be a series of video works, where the model is immobilised in one position. What we started shooting was supposed to be just a dry run for the video proper. But we spent such a long time trying out various poses (over two hours) that it resulted in an autonomic recording. For me what mattered most was that Janek had to look directly at the camera. He was not allowed to look at me, and as for me, I was looking at him through the camera lens. In its final version, the film is then a byproduct, as most importantly it is a recording of our relationship. But in the case of Ready 2 Die, I knew straight away what I wanted to do and what structure to adopt. All I had to do was to find someone suitable. To start with, the Museum was supposed to advertise for professional strippers, set up a sort of mini-casting and choose for me the stripper who could appear in the project.

KK: But you didn’t agree to that?

KR: I did agree, but nothing came of it and, in the end, I came to the conclusion that I would find the
model myself. Someone who I would find the most suitable.


THE POWER OF IMAGES

WS: Since we have stopped in order to examine the artist-model relationship, it makes sense to remember that it is traditional to mention in artists’ biographies that they slept with the models. So, always, apart from a professional angle, there appeared an erotic or sexual relationship. How is it in your case?

KR: I keep repeating that, when I see an attractive bloke, I am more into taking his photographs than going to bed with him. Same goes for video or photographic projects. If I fancy someone, I have the option of pausing at the frame which I feel is right. I aim to make a document of such a relationship.

WS: Is this some extremely primaeval faith in the power of art or simply in the power of images? Do you want to preserve, to immortalise a relationship?

KR: It’s not always about art. If someone has a lover, of either sex, he also will take a photograph as a souvenir. With me, it’s a bit different, because I involve these guys in art. Art is all the time intermeshed with my life, and they are intermeshed with it on various levels. But I have no connection to their private life. Our sessions and making the project are usually the only time that I meet them.

KK: But, for you, isn’t art the space where, to quote Kozyra, dreams come true? You have said that the majority, if not all of your models, are heterosexual. It seems to me that, through art, you can enter their life. You create a relationship which, in real life, you could never have.

KR: My work is an attempt to record directly various obsessions and fascinations. Talking about sex and sexuality, which are the most emotional and – also for the viewer – the most involving, I try to present them in different way, and also, at the same time, to have formal fun, every time in a different way. It is also a fact that all the more so, I am turned on by the tension, by breaking the barriers, overcoming shame.


SHAME

WS: Following your works chronologically, one can say that breaking down embarrassment appears in them gradually. In the early films, you are not visible. If you are in them at all, it is somewhere in both symbolic and literary shade. This is, eg, the case with Man – an Object of Desire: you place the camera on a shaded balcony and leave. You are playing the part of a Peeping Tom, who is ashamed of what he is doing or realises that what he is doing is forbidden. Later, eg in Ready 2 Die, an audience appears, which is aware of what you are doing with the model. In this way, you expose yourself to the public gaze. At the end, in the project Fag Fighters, you directly confess what you will be doing and what turns you on – with a posse of queers, you set off to town, to rape heteros. Of course, the rapes are a mystification (pink balaclavas introduce a light touch and humour), but this does not alter the fact that getting rid of the shame that you are talking about can be read as linear. It comes back with gusto in subsequent projects.

KR: Talking about getting rid of shame, I didn’t mean my own shame, but that of my models. For an average heterosexual male, stripping naked in front of another guy (particularly one for whom you are an object of desire) is not an easy task. The hetero model-homo artist relation can also be problematic. Also, the model is aware that the image of his naked body may be made public. Hence, we are talking here most of all about the shame of the model and his decisions (whether he will decide to pose at all and how far he will go with the project).

KK: But in such a context, your own shame also matters! If the guy were homosexual, there could be a risk that he would strip and react to you differently than a hetero guy. With a hetero guy, you play safe. It goes without saying that he is not undressing for you, but for the camera. He is more in a TV studio, than in your bedroom. This is more like the kind of embarrassment that he might feel before appearing on stage, than the sort of embarrassment that he might feel in front of a guy who is ogling him with desire.

KR: In a sense, you are right. There is another very important reason why I select some guys rather than others. I am looking for a certain archetype. My models are always well-built, in a way characteristic of a ‘real man’. This is a body of a heterosexual man, complete with all his typical behaviour patterns (how he talks, how he moves, how he gets embarrassed). The code is very heterosexual. Of course, homosexual men often behave in an identical way. But I choose hetero models because the tension which could appear between me and a homosexual model (in the situation where we both fancied each other) would probably interfere with my work. Besides, paradoxically, homosexual men are less keen to strip. They have a greater awareness of their body, they know full well that they are stripping for me, and not for the camera. Fag Fighters was hard to shoot. In latest episodes, only heterosexual guys appear. Homosexuals were not able either to fight or to simulate aggression. Right from the start, we had problems. Either his hairstyle would get damaged, or someone could not push someone else, and other such poofterish stances. An overall inability to put yourself in the shoes of a gangster. When we replaced them with hetero guys, suddenly, all came naturally. In other films, those guys play soldiers, so, again, we can observe the archetype of a real full-blooded man. I am interested in such a stereotype.

WS: But does someone like that really exist? It seems to me that you have dreamt up some phantom, a real man who is megamacho, aggressive and domineering and this makes him impress you. You will never be like that. Slap my gob, farmhand!

KR: Of course, this is a fantasy. I was talking recently to a friend from Sweden who told me that, in his country, after finalising all the equal opps activities and processes, gays have become the last bastion of defence for the megamacho male. Men no longer want to be like that, because women no longer need savage males. Only queers still celebrate such a cliche superman, which is demonstrated by fetishisation and emulating the most macho types. The entire gay culture is really a fetish culture based on macho, the most stereotyped heterosexual guy. And in this sense, I am a part of it.

WS: Fascinating fascism! You are a part of the gay culture? Since when?

KR: For sure, I am a part of it, because you cannot escape it. Perhaps it is a phase in identity building. Living in Poland, once you come out as non-hetero, it is difficult for you to then say that you are in-between, queer, that you are just yourself. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything at all. You start to lie to yourself, and society forces you to pigeon-hole yourself: either you are gay or straight. If you decide that you are non-straight, you then work harder and harder on building up your identity and you emphasise this. Suddenly, all comes into sharp focus and, in the eyes of others, you become gay.


BACKSTAGE

KK: Can we also treat the exhibition in Bunkier Sztuki as a stage in your identity building?

KR: Everything I do reflects my identity. However, through this exhibition, for the first time, I want to look at everything in a detached way. I am looking at my projects, trying to find what they have in common. For example, I look at the boys, whom I compare to actors, and who appear in many of my projects. I am more into playing with it all than talking about identity.

KK: So, who have you made this exhibition for: yourself, or your models?

KR: Primarily, I am doing this for the audience. Every exhibition or public show is for those who haven’t seen it yet and want to see it. I have been picking up threads which have culminated in my works of the last couple of years, which have been the most meaningful for me, and I put them together. Some concepts become magnified, others relate one to another. This is a game for the public, for whom I make it possible to look for these threads on different levels.

WS: Aren’t you scared of the audience? Aren’t you scared that the public won’t be able to decipher your coded games, but, instead, will just see the two storeys of the Bunkier Sztuki full of dicks and arses?

KR: The question is; should I make any excuses? So often attempts have been made to pigeon-hole me and my art into the gay art category, fight for gay rights, militant art, left wing art, engaged art, anti-Church art, pro-society art, this art and that art, and, even though it used to irritate me, now it leaves me cold. I don’t want to consider how an average viewer will take this exhibition. I try to build the majority of my shows on a number of levels. For those viewers who respond to art in a purely formal and impressionistic way, I try to make sure that the exhibition is interesting visually. The second level is for those viewers who will read the texts in the catalogue and will want to go into this project more deeply. The third level I dedicate to those who are interested in art and in the history of art and will want to glean even more from this show. For me, this exhibition concerns the medium of photography itself as well as the video. It contains a lot of fun and games with the history of art, which may not be legible for an average viewer without a specialist background. Still, I’ve been trying to build the exhibition in such a way that it should be obvious, that some models reappear, functioning in non-obvious configurations. I also think that the audience will naturally try to find out why, for example, the fashion photos look like old-fashioned, black-and-white photographs and what the point of that is? They will sense that some- thing doesn’t add up and they will want to go deeper, to the level which is the most important for me, the conceptual level.

WS: I am a little taken aback. In Genet’s Un chant d’amour, at the end there appears a French abbreviation, which, in full, could be rendered more or else like this, ‘To my friends in need.’ By this token, it transpires that this whole peeping business was just for this reason. I am not taking about some equality movement, but about the sublimation of the male body and of the theming of male nudity. What comes to the fore is the need to expose the male body, prevalent today, as seen on advertising posters and hoardings, for one. You can go into a shopping mall and see a Levi’s advert showing the metrosexual David Beckham wearing Armani underpants. This advert is a pretext in the same sense in which art is a pretext for you. With the difference, that advertising is created in order to sell a product. Sometimes, playing games also arises in the context of advertising (in Armani ads, one can see allusions to Herbert List’s photographs), however, it is the desire to sell a product that is the leading factor. What I mean here is showing a naked the male body for its own sake, and not as instrumental in achieving other aims.

KR: For me, this is an important side effect of this exhibition, and what you are saying is a very interesting interpretation, which is totally valid. This is one of the elements, but for me, not the key element.

KK: What is the crux, then?

KR: At some point, I made the decision to speak on my behalf and on my behalf only. And it’s not the point that I don’t want to identify with the fight for rights because I don’t want to fight for them. What I mean is only that I do not want to speak on behalf of any group. I am me. This is my eye, my models, my exhibition. I am sharing this, you can take what you want of this, but this is above all my own voice. This is why I haven’t set myself a goal to achieve but, rather, I am sharing my feelings and observations. What Wojtek was talking about is an interpretation. For me, the exhibition is a presentation, it doesn’t have any concrete goal.

KK: So, let those who are in need take care of themselves? Isn’t this a bit selfish?

KR: Art and artists is nothing but selfishness.

WS: I don’t agree. After all, the majority of artists admit to having an ideology or a point of view. Usually, apart from their wanting to exhibit what they have been busy doing in their workshop for the last few months or years, their projects have some deeper meaning. It seems to me that the exhibition at Bunkier Sztuki may be poorly received precisely because of the – seemingly neutral as regards its ideological angle – theme of the studio. It is anachronistic. You are not, as other postconceptual artists, an artist who enters the public space, or, at least, you don’t do it very often. You operate in a more intimate way, in private space.

KR: My ideology is seen in what I do as a person and not as an artist. This is as a result of my consistent stance, and not because of a particular exhibition. This can be treated as a weakness, but, for me, this is a positive aspect of the project. I don’t use it to settle any scores, even though I do touch upon certain threads. I leave interpretation to others. Those who bring in guided tours, let them talk about it. I give them material, but I would lie if I said that it was my mission.

KK: The fact that you shut yourself away in your studio and fiddle about in there is a little anachronistic and it doesn’t go with this day and age. I remember how many people complained about Marcin Maciejowski’s exhibition in the National Museum in Kraków, saying that its weak point was the transplanting of the artist’s studio to the museum hall. This couldn’t catch on. The world of art doesn’t want to know that the artist works away in his studio, listening to the radio. He is supposed to live and to work for people.

KR: I saw this exhibition and it seems to me that, if it didn’t work, it’s because it was taken out of context. People love backstage, contemporary culture is based on what happens behind the scenes. On the other hand, the backstage of art creation is not an interesting topic now. Many people think that my life is one long orgy and lechery, a meagre representation of which is my scandalising work.

WS: Whereas, in fact, the artist’s work is just plain boring.

KK: Is there any perverse pleasure to be showing this in the gallery?

KR: That’s how it was with my first exhibition, Fags. Great suspense, emotions, satisfaction.

KK: But it took place in a private flat.

KR: I know what you mean. You want to say that now – with all this nudity and sexuality – I’m in a public venue. But this is not my first exhibition in such a place. I am also showing works of mine which have been shown publicly before. I showed Sebastian in the National Museum in Warsaw, Painters – in the municipal Arsenal Gallery in Białystok, the action Ready 2 Die was presented in the Art Museum in Łódź. In that sense, I have already done the initiation into a public venue situation. For people who will see this for the first time, the context of the public venue will probably matter. Not for me, though – been there, done that. They often say to me, ‘You are so brave, you’ve shown a naked guy in a gallery!’ It leaves me cold. More than that, it doesn’t even interest me, or rather, I find it amusing, To my mind, this no longer means anything. In spite of that, it seems to me that recently, in Poland, everything which is different, that which has so far been marginalised, is beginning to fare better. Art no longer has to be the bulwark of a struggle.


EXHIBITIONISM

WS: The film Study, which you are showing in Bunkier Sztuki, is for me a combination of voyeurism with exhibitionism. On the one hand, you are peeping, on the other – you are peeped at. Perhaps even, the whole Bunkier exhibition is exhibitionist. In these projects, you show yourself warts and all and expose all your backstage. The very title Backstage is indicative of such a stance. So, perhaps not only voyeurism, but also exhibitionism is an important element of your art?

KR: No, I don’t think so. For me, hiding behind a camera is the same as hiding behind a curtain.

KK: You keep hiding behind a camera, behind a curtain. But the topic remains: ‘hiding’.

KR: I am looking.

KK: Looking, but from behind something, so looking, while being hidden. The topic of exhibitionism is important, this constant talking about oneself and one’s method. Why should we talk about it? Not because it can be, for example, important for other artists. You talk about your method because this is for you a problem of some sort – whether a research problem or a personal problem, but a problem all the same.

KR: It seems to me that every artist has some fixations, about which he keeps going on, each time in a slightly different way.

KK: I think that this is precisely what is in a sense exhibitionist, this need to keep talking about ones’ fixation.

KR: Up to a point, yes. At some stage, I stopped doing self-portraits, and at the same time my work is a self-portrait. This is of course a total cliché, this is what every artist says, even when what he paints is flowers.

KK: I can see a certain contradiction in this exhibition. On the one hand, you call ‘art’ that which is in your studio; on the other hand, the title of the exhibition – Backstage – suggests that that which takes place in the studio is merely a backdrop for art proper. Where, in reality, is the stage?

KR: No, the studio is always a backstage, because hardly anybody is allowed in there.

KK: But you quote Nauman, who says that everything which the artist does in his studio is art.

KR: Yes, according to him, every activity of the artist in his studio is art. This is conceptualisation of the figure of the artist and of artistic activity.

KK: But you are not saying: everything I do is art. You are saying: art which I make is the stage, and the preparation for this art creation is backstage.

KR: Yes.

KK: So, in a sense, you are deconstructing the quotation from Nauman.

KR: I am using this quotation fully consciously and ironically. I am using it as an empty figure of speech from the history of art. The quotation is a commentary on my photographs.

KK: The theme of the artist in his studio can also carry a certain emancipatory potential, which goes back to the 16th century. In showing his studio, the artist would reveal himself as a singular man, a genius and a scientist rolled into one. This can also be seen in romanticism. Are you consciously replicating such a gesture?

KR: True enough, working on your laptop in your flat isn’t at all romantic.

WS: But it is also a return to the place where, if truth be told, you have never been. When we think about a studio, we usually visualise the artists and naked women, his models. This is why your replication of this gesture is extremely significant and in a sense liberating.


SEBASTIAN

WS: And what matters for you in Sebastian’s story? At the Bunkier exhibition, you have decided to show the photographs of the backstage of the set.

KR: What mattered for me was that St Sebastian has become a gay icon and that this has repercussions for the aesthetics of so-called gay art. There probably isn’t a gay artist around who wouldn’t have done something along this theme. At the same time, all these representations are alike, all they show is his ecstasy. I wanted to rebel and to show a film which would show the history of St Sebastian in a more realistic way, but in a modern costume: very sparse, without the thread of ecstasy, without any camp, no open homoerotic stuff. I don’t celebrate these motives, which are usually important in gay iconography, but I am trying to get round them so as to concentrate on the ‘real story’, on the narration. I shift the focal points: I linger longer on the soldiers. Usually, in the history of painting, only St Sebastian is shown, possibly with a little bit of makeweight, a few soldiers in the bottom corner of the canvas, that sort of thing. But we don’t remember them, because they don’t matter. Perhaps it is different with Jarman, for whom relations matter. In his work, homoerotism is suspended, dense. I wanted to do something more dynamic. And my soldiers are straight, they are not in love with Sebastian. This is the background story, less important.

WS: You want to say that you are more interested in the soldiers than in Sebastian?

KR: Yes, definitely.

WS: So they are the object of desire in your film?

KR: Yes, a little bit. They, with all their arms and uniforms, the elements of domination, both symbolic and literary at the same time. Sebastian is passive. Not without reason, I chose Janek as the protagonist. In Study, he was also presented in a very passive situation. He is never out of this role.

KK: You have said on another occasion that, in your projects, models keep changing their roles. But Janek is always in the same role?

KR: Yes, he works well in this role, he is very convincing. They all appear in the MARIOS DIK photos, that is to say, fashion shots. They perform all kinds of absurd activities there, which are reminiscent of performance or body art. But this is merely a pretext to photograph a naked boy. A naked guy with a jeans logo is enough to advertise trousers. Looking at the documentation of performance art, we are looking at the elements connected with the event, but a person, who is not interested in art, will be looking at the naked bodies. This is my starting point for thinking about what a fashion shot can look like. The aesthetics of performance or body art shows the body, but the whole wrapper around it says that there is more to it than that. For me, Sebastian is a work about eroticising violence. Even in the difficult times of the counterrevolution, Sebastian served as a brilliant example for showing the young, male body penetrated by arrows. I showed that which can be considered more erotic and interesting nowadays, which is to say the fetish of uniform and violence.

WS: This could be also interpreted differently. Feminists researched all the representations of female nudes and have demonstrated what is behind them. Gays almost never ask any questions about their canon. Your film shows that just the same kind of symbolic violence, the same eyecentricism hides behind the representations of St Sebastian.

KK: Feminist analysis has also shown that what really matters in the female nude is what had happened just before the woman got undressed. Naturally, this is to do with sex. In the classical representations of St Sebastian, we can employ a similar strategy, simply by turning the clock back. We will then find out that the point is a sadomasochistic ritual.

WS: This can be seen very well in your film: the passivity of Sebastian, who is an unwitting victim, (just as women used to be in nude portraits, until the time of Manet’s Olympia). His body is the victim and we queers, while drawing aesthetic pleasure from such a canon of representation, do not stop to consider that this is violence. But your film shows this persuasively. It shows clearly the price to be paid for the final effect. This portrait of the fixation of a sexual minority can also be deconstructed in terms of sexual politics.

KR: In my film, there are no phallic arrows endlessly piercing Sebastian’s body. There is only one shot from a pistol, which causes just a wound. The film is usually interpreted as symbolising Polish homophobia. For me, this is a misunderstanding. However, it allows us to see that Sebastian is either a fetish of nakedness, or a gay victim. My film was meant to show that there are different possibilities for interpreting who is the victim. It is interesting that what was supposed to get away from the canon, is building another canon – that of contemporary gay politics. In the common perception, something which comes from Central or Eastern Europe and is gay cannot eg discuss conceptualism or investigate the male body in the public sphere, but it is bound to be emancipatory, fighting for gay rights or anti-homophobic. However what was the most significant for me was that after seeing the film I came to the conclusion that what happened on the set was just as important for me. This is why at the exhibition, I am not showing the film Sebastian, but just the backstage shots. The frames in which I appear personally, when I am getting the actors ready and you can see my relationship with them: I am smearing blood on their faces, adjusting their makeup. My contact with the models while filming is shown, and the majority of them took part in my previous projects. I allocate roles to each of them and, even though they are not real actors, for a moment they become actors.


PICASSO

WS: How would you describe in one word the relationship between you and your models?

KR: On my part, it is a sort of harmless flirtation, getting closer and further apart and attempts to name a non-commital relationship. And, because we are not talking about gays, there is no erotic relation on their part.

KK: You said once that, for them, participation in art is also important.

KR: Yes, for some of them, the possibility of seeing himself naked on the screen is interesting, for others, the experience matters – of performing, which gives them the feeling of having been a performer, if for a moment. Taking part in art is a form of becoming immortal. That is why a mural at the exhibition reads, ‘If you are a good-looking young guy and you want to become a work of art, send your nude pics to contact@karolradziszewski.com’. It is interesting why someone wants to take part in an artistic project, why he turns up for the casting session.
There are artists such as Nan Goldin, who are incapable of photographing people with whom they are not in some intimate relationship. As for me, I cannot take pictures of people with whom I am bound by a strong relation, I cannot any longer think about his profile, about the light and so on. I have to have a sense of distance, which in a sense means objectification. The aura also matters. This aura is achieved precisely by photographing heterosexual males. They are distanced by their unavailability. The better I get to know my models, the less I can work with them. When we become mates, I need someone new.

KK: This is like a modernist playing with form: first squares, then circles.

KR: Blue period, pink period...

KK: Like Picasso – a new period, a new lover. Or rather – a new lover, a new period.

KR: When the lover was more curvaceous, this resulted in a return to classicism, when more angular, he programmed himself for cubism, and so on. Even though these were formal changes of direction, we read them through the prism of his biography, ie the life of a great fucker, who was not embarrassed to put women on a pedestal; another lover, another model, another period in his art and another gift to humanity.

WS: I went to see Picasso’s exhibition in Vienna’s Albertina recently. The exhibition was called Peace and Freedom and was an attempt to read Picasso politically. Which is to say, the consecutive periods in his creativity were shown in the context of the political changes taking place at the time. It seemed completely off beam to me. I mean, there was some sort of curating idea, perhaps even interesting for the audience, but one that totally took away the greatness of Picasso’s art. If I were to read Picasso’s art, I would only do it in a formal manner and in the context of erotics. ‘Picasso, archetypal image of indestructible life. He and his models.’ But this is totally non-PC in this day and age.

KR: Yes, and yet the artist in his studio with his model – this is probably one in ten of Picasso’s paintings and half of his graphics. With Janek modelling, I did a number of projects, where his certain passivity was showing. But when I met another Janek, more spiky, more dynamic, his character affected a change of form. I started shooting faster, taking snapshots, more aggressive takes.

WS: There is a basic difference between you and Picasso. You separate art from life.

KR: For me, it is interesting to make some fantasies come true in art, but others – in reality.

KK: Picasso appeared, but there was no Warhol yet, which seems to me the natural track to follow, if we are problematising the studio. Your exhibition in Bunkier is also about that.

KR: Well, yes, eg the film Sleep – this is pure voyeurism. This is peeping, for which the camera is a pretext. Lascivious peeping channelled through art. But I want to get away from Warhol, this seems to be too obvious a track to follow. When I was graduating, I was all at one with Warhol. I kept a blog with Polaroid slides, I painted from slides, I kept experimenting with the strategy of reproduction. In the photographs which I show at the exhibition in Bunkier, ‘the lighting is bad, the camera is bad, but the people are beautiful.’ Anyway, probably any quote from Warhol would be right for our conversation.

WS: The casting which you organised to do with the exhibition and called your latest project – is this also from Warhol?

KR: In a sense, it is certainly linked to his investigations of the live organism, filmed confessions in front of the camera. My film has the same title as the exhibition, ie Backstage and it comments on all that we have talked about earlier – shame, exhibitionism, voyeurism and the often astounding readiness to sacrifice oneself for art.

WS: How did it go? Did Kraków boys take you by surprise in any way?

KR: We put out information through the media saying that I am looking for ‘young men open to collaboration with an artist’. In total, we recorded more than ten hours of material, containing mostly conversations with boys whom I was asking (while recording) gradually to peel off their clothes. I had assumed, quite incorrectly – as transpired later, that in our local, Polish context, the taboo concerning body is so massive that the majority will have mega problems with stripping in public. From the conversations, it transpired that many men had come to test their boundaries. Some were reluctant, but many, for the sake of art, literally stood on their heads.