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//Overcooked Ideas// - Sebastian Liszka

Overcooked Ideas - Sebastian Liszka

Readers appreciate beautifully published books, which have illustrations, a well-thought out structure, skilfully selected authors and a pinch of self-irony. One such book is The Cookery Book of Political Imagination, produced by an editorial team led by Galit Eilat and Sebastian Cichocki. The publication has appeared in connection with Yael Bartana’s project And Europe will Will be Be Amazed, which was presented at the Venice Biennale in June – November 2011.

It is the intention of the editors, who are also the curators of the exhibition exhibition, that this should be the first of athe series of publications to accompany the Movement for Jewish Revival in Poland which the artist initiated. The cookery book opens with the editors’ appeal for recipes, reflections or ideas for the activities of the Movement, for pointing out relevant historical contexts and making a list of demands. As I see it, this randomness is due to the exceptional complexity of the challenge that building a political movement poses.

The publication uses Zionism as the its main theme. It is a 19th century messianic political idea with some artistic inspiration, which materialised in an actual return of Jews to Palestine, and subsequently in the creation and development of the state of Israel. One could hardly find a more tangible manifestation of Zionism, which is why the book, in exploring the development and activity potential for  activity of the Movement for Jewish Revival in Poland engages in a continuous game-playing with the ideology – also in jocular or ironic form, and even via its motto, the layout of the book and its format and the colour of the cover.

However, this polemic comes over as quite feeble; the authors’ rebellion in developing themes such as, for instance, alternative Zionism, the poetic idiom of the 1930s propaganda films or references to the manifesto of the Yugoslav Communist League serves only to provide offer no more than a context for the problem. The reader is at a loss to decide whether what the authors are doing is to provide a refined commentary on an artistic project or whether they are in earnest when they evoke the socialist, or social, character of building the Jewish settlements in Palestine and the ideas on how to unite the Jewish diasporaDiaspora after the announcement of the independence of Israel. Taking up the cue from the title of the book, one must ask what the purpose is of rehashing old recipes and using them for a brand-new shopping list. And who should the chef be? In whose kitchen and in what kind of pans should the new imagination be brewed? Should it find an expression in the Arab spring, also referred to in the book, which was another protest movement, caused by the food price rises? Are these metaphors appropriate for dealing with the problem which the Israeli left wing has with the materialisation of the idea and dreams awakened by the messianistic and mysticist political works of Herzl and his followers? Are they apt for referring to the symbolic blackmail which Polish intelligentsia uses to check-mate themselves when they cannot, or are unable to, separate the issue of remembrance and a feeling of sharing the guilt for the Holocaust and anti-Semitism from the acceptance of the Real politik of the Israeli government?

The book has not yet been written which would attempt to describe the causes and the nature of the enthusiasm which Bartana’s Nightmares provoke in the viewer, and, on the other hand, would also determine – on the basis of historical data –  the– the reception which the project has encountered in Poland. Approval for Bartana’s project is not widespread in Poland. More often, the reaction is frosty, a shrugging of shoulders or mockery. Let me quote just a few snippets of what has been written about this project: ‘This is a new soc-realism’, (Marta Tarabuła); ‘Damn it!’  (Piotr Paziński); ‘an extremely esoteric manifestation of Contemporary Art’, (Łukasz Warzecha).

Planting political imagination in the minds of the audience is not an innocuous activity. In the imagination stimulated in such a way, the political problem raised may easily come to the fore and redefine the chances of changing the status quo as well as of mapping out the possible scope for such changes. If utopian thinking is crucial in influencing political imagination, the resulting brew can be truly explosive. However, in the book such potential has been obfuscated by cuteness and over-aestheticisation. Echoes of the history of radical political formations such as the Red Army Faction or the Zionist movements in  Ukraine resonate  underbelow the surface.

And yet, the Movement for Jewish Revival in Poland has become a reality, with the artist as its leading light. Her followers gather around her, bringing materials and ideas and their own input into her idea. But this cookery book fails to mention this evolution.

I view this publication as a warning, that, before we set out to cook the political imagination, we should make sure that we don’t get cooked stewed in our own sauce.


Sebastian Liszka – (born 1981)
MOCAK Club curator, a member of Political Critique.


A Cook Book for Political Imagination

edited by S. Cichocki, G. Eilat

414 pp., hardcover

Zachęta National Gallery of Art

Sternberg Press

Warsaw 2011

ISBN 978 83 60713 54 9

ISBN 978 1 934105 53 5