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//Things which set you free// Robert Kuśmirowski talks to Martyna Sobczyk

Things which set you free Robert Kuśmirowski talks to Martyna Sobczyk

Robert Kuśmirowski: ‘The wrong track’ – I even like that. I should probably start hating labels such as 'the genius of fake' or 'an ingenious imitator'. People repeat them and then, 10 years later, it all comes back to me. If a journalist has not fulfilled their duties, has not met me and asked relevant questions, I think he or she could and had every right to deceive people. Unfortunately, this is already in the media. But as for myself, I deceive as well. Thanks to this vicious circle you can gain some additional information about procedures employed by artists, about good and bad practices. Intentionally but also by improvising because this type of art should not just be scripted and performed. It has to be constructed all along, it must envisage a possibility of drawing to a close at an appropriate moment so as not to be too indulgent, too prolix. But what is your question? Because I keep going unprompted.

Martyna Sobczyk: To start off, I would like to paraphrase a question which appears in your Foundations of electroaesthetics [Podstawach elektroestetyki]. As a practitioner engaged in shaping the new reality (in its visual dimension), why are you interested in history?

RK: It is probably in my genes. I usually do not think why, in all the projects that I want to introduce into the contemporary world, I do not just travel “forward”, so to say. Before engaging in any of them, I prepare thoroughly. I dig in the archives, I meet the people who may still remember something, perhaps even still possess some things. Knowing what was before has always been very important to me. History provides me with graphic designs, achievements, patents which have been consigned to oblivion. Finding them is so moving and so important to me that this surge of emotions allows me to digest a project or idea very well. By ‘digest’ I mean arrange it to the point of turning it into a library. It is convenient to have such a library at hand so that, if need be, you can always pull out a particular volume. After such a journey into the past, I begin to hate the present, which is cheap, fast and quite pointless. This is why projects such as Foundations of electroaesthetics and 70 per cent of my work in general have some links with the past, including my pretending to be a scientist or someone else. For example, should a diver in an old diving suit turn up on this beach right now in order to fish out a body from the sea, rather than being preoccupied with the situation, people would admire his costume: elegant and well-designed. Contemporary piece of rubber would impress only small children.

MS: All right, so you hate the present and as a result even things which are supposed to come from the future, such as the anatomical library from 2017, are made to look old?

RK: Yes, that is right. I have an impression that there is an ever stronger opposition between contemporary, factory-made objects and old things. Let’s imagine an electric generator which is not that old, say form the beginning of the 20th century. Worn out, it stands in a fishermen’s shed where boats are moored. It has been there for so long that salt and humidity have made it prettier than when it was first constructed. Were I offered this rusty old generator or another one, in pristine condition, I would immediately go for the former. Observing decay is far more interesting for me. I love the present, I am glad to be living now because I can travel. Life in the 19th century would not be such fun since the artefacts from the 17th and 18th century are quite stiff and boring. Today we have the opportunity to come into physical contact and buy objects from the 19th and, predominantly, from the 20th century, when intellectual and industrial revolutions gained momentum. Then it was possible to create single prototypes not only on paper. These prototypes are what interests me most, especially those that never went into production. It is as if a man was born and no one notices him, no one needs him or takes any interest in him. The same happens to things.

MS: Okay, so let’s go back to the very beginning. What inspires you more: human history or an object whose past you can only guess?

RK: A combination of both. This is what is most powerful. And if history is the only thing that is left, we have to be content with it and feed on it. When, in a poor household, someone offers you just potatoes, it does not mean they begrudge you meat only that they do not have any. And so you eat the potatoes. The same happens with things. The story alone, just texts, may suffice for an exhibition but if we manage to gather everything together, stories and things, the whole becomes extremely powerful, almost like in fairy tales. To some extent, while preparing my exhibitions, initially I am just an outsider, I assume the role of a viewer. I try to design everything so that it moves me, so that I feel something and this something announces something more. Interestingly, when you give a form to your ideas it turns out to be even more powerful than what you have imagined. It is really important for me to turn all my ideas into installations, objects or assemblies of things. If I only told the tale, it would require a lot of effort to keep the public interested. People are so immune to excitement now that they need some really strong stimuli. Only a combination of history, objects and interesting artefacts collected during the process can attract their attention. Some visual impulse is necessary. I am happy when I manage to find even one such thing and use it as a ready-made. If there is nothing, I fabricate it myself so that it looks like the sole‘remnant’. Only then am I able to sign the work and give it to the public in the hope that they will understand.

MS: You sometimes make references to particular people (e.g. Ted Kaczyński), events, places. In Humanbomber you used the fact that the buildings of the contemporary Galeria Labirynt were once supposed to host an arms factory. The project also included an autobiographical reference since at the end of the 1980s you had your internship there. I would like to know to what extent, if at all, you are driven by the need to commemorate places, people, events.

RK: As a child, an ignorant boy, I was at my most powerful and I saw the world very clearly. I could spend all day doing just one thing and it gave me a lot of energy. Today I have to try to recreate this energy. And if I just keep repeating the situations that I have experienced and including them in my exhibitions, I believe I will detach myself from all this and lose interest in it. Let’s be frank, this kind of biographical sequence can sometimes be like an umbilical cord. We just cannot cut ourselves off from it because it keeps cropping up. I will not be coming back to this particular issue, I am calm and, how shall I put it, satisfied. Do I like repeating and copying?, you may ask. I hate it. It’s been like this since childhood. When my parents tore my pictures, I would go mad and draw them again but this was hard labour for me. I learnt, however, that if I really apply to it and suffer a bit, results are better. Say that the National Art Gallery [Państwowa Galeria Sztuki] in Sopot is holding an exhibition, which I have been preparing since October and a week before the opening the floor collapses. I will do it all over again, I will arrange and save everything but perhaps a damaged painting under the rubble will look better…

MS: But isn’t it also an incentive to create a ‘new future’?

RK: It is going to be new anyway. As I have said, the second picture I drew as a boy was better but different. I could not be the same representation twice.

MS: In some way you make references to the natural heritage – topographical, cultural, sociological. You refer to the familiar. On the other hand, you often have the opportunity to confront your work with international audiences. Is it necessary to know certain historical facts and cultural context to ‘read’ your works?

RK: What I count on is a certain dormant memory, passed down from our ancestors, the so called intellectual heritage. Someone who has not read a single book has intuitive knowledge. It is an array of facts that come to mind if we ask the question properly, give some visual or phonetic cues. I believe that what immersing in history really means is choosing honest things, things that interest me. Under the assumption, of course, that my needs are not strange, extreme or completely idiosyncratic. Because I do not really try to please the public. Very, very often, obsessively so, my aesthetic requirements dictate what I should do. And it turns to work.

MS: Personally, I am of the opinion that ‘to know means to see’. Knowledge can help us see but, unfortunately, is also makes us blind, especially to the non-intellectual content.

RK: The knowledge we have can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The curse of some people is that nothing moves them more than books. By this I do not mean that artists should not read. But I keep thinking about people with some mild cognitive impairments. Quite often they have no knowledge whatsoever but their means of expression are very rich. Their messages are surprisingly sophisticated. Some of the works, which I collected here, for the Palindrome, could fetch a million pounds at an auction.

MS: To some extent you have already answered this question but I need you to be more specific. Due to various limitations not everyone has equal access to culture. Whole groups are to some degree excluded. You conduct various workshops, for example with prisoners or the visually impaired. I would like to know what you gain from these confrontations.

RK: A nice question. What do I gain? Of course, I benefit a lot. From my visits to prisons, therapy centres and psychiatric hospitals I have already learnt that half of it is team work – just like with art students, who can end up in jail, develop mental conditions or work at the till in a supermarket. Of course, some of them would become artists but as we know from the recent statistics, this is true only for 2 per cent of them. So just a handful of would-be artists will have an opportunity to present their work. This is why, when talking to them, I first try to find out what made them choose an art school, why this type of creativity is important to them. The worst possible answer to the question ‘why did you choose to study at this school?’ is ‘because it was the closest one’. The tasks I assign to them also include issues that are currently bothering me. Should I decide to reflect on them and arrange them visually on my own, my vision would be considerably narrowed. Receiving twenty-odd responses is a gain for me as well. Similarly, when I become temporarily blind. It is a certain kind fraud, like when the high and mighty go to the opera: they hate it but they have to do it. We can try being blind for a while but if this was to go on for a year, we would develop different mechanisms of perceiving the world and we would try to do something which we have not managed to do so far. There is no other way of achieving this than through dedication and sacrifices. I think this is the moment when I can take a risk. Being together with prisoners, I try to do something illegal, just as they did. Some of them prepared all the things that are taken away from them during the prison search – tattoo machines, improvised immersion heaters that can boil water in five seconds, some tools they use for self-harming, hooks, etc. After a malicious jailer has searched them again, they have to make yet another heater to heat up water. I will not be able to stand it if my tattoo machine, which I put some much effort into, was taken away. So this is a school of emotional survival. Now I am under no restrictions but I know this could change and in a way I am emotionally prepared, familiar with the situation. Which comes into my work. I have probably become more patient than before, which also helps.

MS: As a matter of fact, we met during at a flea market. At the time I was not surprised, it seemed to be a natural habitat for you – I was reminded of the The Collectors Massif [Masyw kolekcjonerski] at the Bunkier Sztuki. I have read that you collected four full warehouses of things. And then you did something very out of character for a collector – you decided to get rid of some of the objects in favour of the Graduation Tower [Tężnia]. Did you feel that the objects you had amassed began to restrict you?

RK: For 12 years I was collecting things which I then used in various combinations. As a result, I had lots of materials, I was able to propose works for an exhibition very quickly and over a cigarette or two I could come up with up to eight different permutations. It was very convenient for those who invited me but, form the point of view of quality, a real bane for me. I was constantly at the winning position whereas what is always most interesting is the problem: the lack of things. Moreover, I really wanted to make the Graduation Tower as a project in which I would use my four warehouses. Recently, I have got rid of one warehouse and when the Graduation Tower was taken away, I moved everything to the three remaining ones. Now they are empty as well. Or rather there is still something left but if they burnt down, I would not shed a tear over it. Earlier, when I entered my warehouses, I felt extremely anxious that I was probably not going to find what I needed because it was lying somewhere under all other stuff or perhaps I was completely mistaken and it was not even there.

MS: Have you ever taken stock of your collection?

RK: No, never. This has been the first time because on June 10th[1] the Graduation Tower opens in Tbilisi and in order to transport it through Russian territory, we needed to prepare a detailed shipping list with all the objects. It was made by one of the people in charge of assembling the Graduation Tower. We want to publish the catalogue in the form of a technical inventory – more facts than pictures. This is why I am happy the stocktaking has finally been done. I wanted to make the Graduation Tower to combine these four forces, four warehouses, into one object. An object which would influence us visually but also physically because it has larger than human scale. When the first two constructions were assembled (in Kielce and Lublin), I felt I would be able to make good use all the things I wanted to get rid of. A solution has simply presented itself. I am not a collector by nature and therefore I wanted to meet one, Marek Sosenko. I lived in his house for a while and then I gave away half of what I exhibited in the Bunkier Sztuki to people in Kraków. I am glad that already then I managed to get rid of most of my collection. There were still some treasures left, which I used and they kept coming back. This is why I decided to adopt the moving formula and I am hoping that at some point the Graduation Tower will get moored somewhere on the beach, that it will get anchored in some place. It might be worth trying to weaken it by controlled arson or leave it to be devoured by nature: creepers, nests, animals. It would be nice to come back from time to time and watch its decay. As I have mentioned at the beginning, I love observing. It is as if an artist painted the same thing again but – being older and more experienced – quite differently. The same happens with objects, with materials, which gain in character which I find more attractive. Those that are golden and already tattered do not speak to me at all. It is great that there are new things in shops but everything I have at home has been found by chance or scavenged and there are always particular people behind these things.

MS: What was the largest number of exhibitions you made in a year?

RK: 31 or 33.

MS: When you already had the warehouses at your disposal?

RK: Yes.

MS: So now you are going to slow down?

RK: Yes, I am learning to be more assertive because generally I always try to be fair with people. I believe that everyone has the right to approach me and suggest cooperation. Also the topic they propose may turn out to be extraordinary and inspiring to me. This is why I did not mind being engaged in so many projects. Today I know that the all the exhibitions that were just an experiment, a short rehearsal, a failure (because sometimes I had to take a risk and show something also at smaller exhibitions) have been a great privilege, an opportunity to let your imagination loose outside your workshop, where it would not work. Theory is good but in practice things turn out differently. Without those smaller exhibitions I would be less smart working on larger ones. Given that already 15 years has elapsed, I do not have to prove anything or try myself – it is enough to make something big, like the Palindrome, every 2 to 3 years.

MS: Arranged, designed spaces usually differ from real ones due to reduction and omission of the non-essential elements. The ones you create are extremely evocative but they are always characterized by certain excess. How does it influence the interpretation? Confronted with a mass of objects, are we supposed to look for a common denominator or focus on differences?

RK: There have been critical voices to that effect: that we do not know what it is all about, what has been created by me and which parts are borrowed. In reality when I cannot find something, I use my imagination and make it. ‘Excess’ is not a good word – I would opt for completeness. When I tinker with some stuff in ironworks, even there I reproach myself for lacking certain things. This is why this ‘excess’ gives a complete picture. It calms me down, it is the reason why I use purely pictorial sequences, without any hidden plots or convoluted concepts. I need them to see it all again…

MS: So you have to impose limits on yourself?

RK: Yes, that as well.

MS: Let’s take an example of renaissance artists, who used the heritage of antiquity. It was not limited to borrowing from the visual repertoire – they also referred to certain thoughts and ideas. What do you, as a practitioner, think of repetitions? When does something from the past become meaningful again? When does it make sense to repeat?

RK: When I have to fight it, when it becomes a problem, a challenge. Doing something once again, I always check what has changed, whether it still makes sense. My first exhibition, in 2002, was entitled Drawcuments [Rysumenty]. Imagine that you are walking along a corridor at a university and you pass a series of pictures: a piece of paper, a certificate, an ID card, a ticket, a ration stamp, a notarial act, a death certificate, etc. You would think that this is simply a collection of papers from someone’s drawer. You would never suspect that of it has been meticulously drawn on carefully selected pieces of paper. I made it during my studies. Then, as a PhD candidate, I decided to use these drawings again. This was rather problematic for me since I had to repeat myself. It also required a lot of mental effort and recalling: after 10 years I simply forgot how many drawings there were. Fortunately, I had some photos of the corridor taken with the cheapest digital camera. Later on, when I was engaged in the process, all of it started coming back to me. The library suddenly opened its doors. Similar thing happens to me when I rewatch a movie which did not impress me the first time. I know what is going to happen only a minute before it does. I need the preceding sequence of scenes to be able to recall it. The same goes for these drawings. I made a huge mental effort, I tested my memory and what I made was entirely new. I should not have been able to defend my PhD thesis at all because there is a requirement to present a new work. But in fact this was intended as a discourse: what is contemporary art? Why can I call an old work new in the first place? In my view a repetition represents a kind of internal struggle everyone should experience at least a few times in their life. The point of acting, of playing the same role a thousand times, escapes me completely. As I have said: I try to fight repetitions but some people rejoice in them, reproducing the same phonetic tricks becomes automatic. For me, what is amazing it the fact that tomorrow this interview would be completely different. I am simply constantly creating and telling something different but all of it is based on what I want to convey.

MS: All right. So perhaps know I am going to ask you about your lighter.

RK: The communist period, of course.

MS: This is the period you refer to quite a lot in your work. On the one hand, it is associated with dullness, greyness, tackiness, propaganda, falsification of history… On the other hand, most people feel a certain nostalgia for it because this was when they were young.

RK: Yes, you are completely right.

MS: In 2006, for example, your exhibition in Gorzów Wielkopolski had two vernissages. One of them was contemporary, the other in the communist style, more people-friendly and with a warmer atmosphere. I am not going to ask you whether you miss the communist times. What I would like to know, however, is whether, in your view, that period was more genuine and hospitable to people.

RK: Yes, it was. The atmosphere of the places I visited then, the optimism that was ubiquitous in the media and all the institutions including schools made the world beautiful. Children were looked after, encouraged to do sports and not just wander around aimlessly. There were model-making clubs and hobby groups. And then something went extinct: there came the cold and calculated capitalism. People, who had never possessed anything, suddenly started to crave possessions. In the communist period there was a common financial denominator: a factory owner did not earn much more than a factory worker. When the gap started to widen, disgust appeared. I had the advantage of being too young to go to the barricades when [in 1981] the martial law was declared. I was just a kid and these things did not interest me. I took life very seriously and derived a lot of pleasure from it. My parents would leave me all day long without any supervision. When we lived in Sandomierz, each week we would venture in a different direction, inspired by the children’s TV series Siedem stron świata [Seven Corners of the World]. We would eat all the green cherries and apples so that other groups did not beat us to it. So strong was this atmosphere that today I cannot go back to it, knowing full well what a huge price we had to pay for it.

MS: So what matters is not what really happened but what how we remember it. Let us talk about your Porter’s Lodge [Portiernia] shown in MOCAK. We have a half-empty cup of coffee, an unfinished crossword, plenty of cigarette buds, a radio playing in the background…

RK: This is everything I really managed to remember and source with a sort of maniacal meticulousness. The Porter’s Lodge was built for a few years and once completed, I decided to show it for the first time in the former office of Gazeta Wyborcza [a Polish daily] in Lublin, under the stairs where a guard used to have his room. It was a return to the former system. People would form a queue there because a ‘back soon’ notice meant that I order to go upstairs you had to ask the porter and sign in.

MS: Now the notice is gone.

RK: Is it? Did someone take it away?

MS: No, you did not put it up.

RK: Oh, yes, I remember it did not work there. The effect I wanted to achieve was more that of anxiety than of uncertainty – going back to the system where the porter was almost like the boss. I myself experienced plenty of such situations because my father worked for the army and my mother in telecommunications. In fact my father was also in signals unit, he maintained transmitters and receivers. This is why I visited countless warehouses. But before you entered one, you had to pass the porter’s lodge. My mother was employed in a telephone exchange and, having no one to leave me with, she took me to work. I would sit in front of all these identical switchboards and cables, utterly amazed. Everything was made of wood and there was a certain refinement to it. Today’s digital equipment does not speak to me at all.

MS: The Porter’s Lodge bears traces of somebody’s presence. You put some things in there which supposedly belong to the porter. Since we shall never meet him, could you characterize him briefly?

RK: A typical womanizer, a macho who drinks, smokes with gusto is reconciled with his porter’s status and often takes advantage of it. In his early fifties but looking more like sixty, he has a family, he is not divorced or widowed, just an ordinary bloke. His name is Henio, Zenio or something like that. He does not expect much from life and the so called small pleasures allow him to see some sense in all of it. This is my brief characteristic of the porter.

MS: I think I am glad I have not met him.

RK: The difficulty of the unfinished crossword matters as well.

MS: Since we are talking about works from the MOCAK’s Collection, my next question would be about photography.

RK: What about it?

MS: For example that it seems to be the technique that is closest to your aspirations, that you could deal exclusively with the immortalizing medium. You take a photo and something immediately becomes a part of the past.

RK: Photography is a tool like any other. I need photos for my projects, there are like a screwdriver which I use over and over again. Recently I fell victim to the collodion wet plate process  in Kozłówka, in special sceneries, on a big plane. I laughed that this was going to be extremely kitschy but in five seconds you are gone, you die, you are consigned to history, you are no more. Photography is a very powerful tool, an agent. I even had an idea to set up a studio where old photos which have been tackily retouched, turned from old into almost new, would undergo another destruction. I find photos that are worn out much more convincing than those that have been retouched. However, I cannot become infatuated with photography when there is still some concrete to pour. This is why I am not a painter – because it is a highly addictive medium. I suppose that if I had paint tubes ready, all the paints and brushes prepared, I would start meditating and now is not the time for this yet. This is why, just like you, I prefer to go somewhere, take advantage of the fact that I am not lame, that my health is in order and engage in something actively. I am not going to build sheds all my life, sometimes it is good to build a house. And now, it this golden age, when I am in my prime, I might succeed. Later on, as I have noticed watching older people, you can be happy when something grows in your garden.

MS: You decided to walk from Łódź to Paris. Before setting off, you made over 100 bricks with your footprints. The idea behind the journey was the transformation that takes place on the way. So the bricks, as objects that show only the beginning, are supposed to work on their own, without the subsequent history. What are they all about?

RK: The bricks were a by-product. I was asked to make them by the Raster Gallery, which prepared the exhibition De ma fenêtre. Des artistes et leurs territoires / From My Window. Artists and Their Territories. They did it because the affordable art fair was to begin after I had already gone. I am not emotionally attached to these objects, I do not keep them at home. They would be much more valuable if I had made them after my return, if it was an imprint of my fatigued foot. The process would get frozen, the bricks would have been touched if not by God’s finger then at least by my foot. Therefore these gadgets do not exist for me at all. They are an art fair product, just like the communist-style mugs for Wyspa. I believe that if there is a group of collectors who are ignorant but love possessing and amassing thigs, we should let them do it. We should leave all commentaries to then. Perhaps I will find out myself why this is a by-product.

MS: A purely hypothetical situation: everything we have now gets annihilated save for the objects you made for your projects. And a person from the future is trying to learn something about the year 2015 solely by looking at them.

RK: Unfortunately, this would  be  an irreparable option. I myself, however, see that process as a friendly one because the viewer is left with some shreds of the story about technological greatness and can then construct the story on his or her own. History in general is one big fat lie, the dogma of the ambitious who try to claim victory for themselves, their group, their fraction. It is enough to read about the quarrels between participants of the Warsaw Uprising. Different fractions argue over who gave the order and all this is done so that grandchildren have good memories of their grandfathers. History is embellished all the time and when I start dealing with it, I distort I even more, which results in some sort of total confusion. To be honest, I do not know how much truth there is in all these descriptions. It might turn out, to our surprise, that less than 50 per cent. Together with Masza we did an experiment of introducing into circulation a book on photography without a date of publication. I put single copies in various places, such as second hand bookshops. I did the same with photographs. We did not have to wait for long, about six years, and I found the photos which I had introduced in Kraków, in Koło [Greater Poland]. I asked the vendor innocently whether he knew anything about them and he started telling some poppycock stories. It was quite nice. Such a historical hogwash is not without its charm.

MS: So you think that people behave as if history and the past belonged to them? Even though they cannot change it in any way.

RK: But this is just convenient bluffing without any legal sanctions. By introducing viruses we can change the course of history completely. Imagine that we are to turn the bottle cap which is lying on the beach into an artwork for display in a gallery. We know how to make conceptual art, how to present it, frame it and finally put in front of people’s eyes and minds. This is why, in my view, it is a great opportunity for someone who wants to stir things up, bluff and lie. After all, I could publish a book full of invented stories every day. I could turn myself into some sort of a hero or pretend that there is no hope for me as I am soon going to die. Of course, if my diary is well-written, it will become hugely popular. The world is designed in such a way that lies and fibs are what holds it together. It is good when, in case of art, these lies are like a smile in which something positive is conveyed as well. People may think that I mock communism in Poland but I put a lot of honesty into these projects, there is always plenty of careful analysis and memory resources involved. Thanks to the Internet forumwhere people upload photos from their archives I learn what other but very similar bars and canteens were being established at the time. For me this information is important because a photo does not lie, does it? It lies only to some extent because it represents a temporary freeze of a situation and we make an exposition on the basis of what we already know. But there is less cheating in photographs than in autobiographical books written rich people who had money for publication.

MS: You probably work so much that there is no time for keeping a diary but would you not like to leave some sort of archive to posterity? A systematized collection of information and ideas? Or do you leave it to art historians? By writing a diary you could exercise control over the whole process and the content.

RK: Sure. When the moment comes that I have time for this, who knows, maybe I will get round to it. But it would be a desperate attempt of trying to assemble a rich life – rich meaning eventful and so far unrecorded. Employing a secretary who would write down what I dictate has no point either. Moreover, this would be yet another attempt at filtering, being economical with words. Such a diary would not represent the truth of what has really happened. I keep saying that one should write such a book even though there will not be time to read it as one is always busy with recording yet another day. This is a huge loop which does not allow me to play with such things yet. I leave it aside and, as I have mentioned, journalists are the ones who attach invented ideologies, narratives and messages to my works. What can I do about it? If I start fighting it, I will not have time to do what I do.

MS: MOCAK is currently holding an exhibition entitled Poland – Israel – Germany: The Experience of Auschwitz. In the course of your career you have had projects which referred to the Holocaust for example the Wagon (2006). MOCAK is presenting works mostly by the so called third generation survivors, people who have not experienced the Shoah and have learnt about it either form witness accounts or from books. From the position of historical distance, they are trying to comment on this unprecedented event. What kind of voice does your work represent?

RK: It conveys a great respect for the topic. In fact, if you watch the archives and if you have experienced pain, medical procedures without anesthetic, if you know that other people can truly be hell, then you simply cannot stay indifferent. I collect such emotions because they are important, strong, relevant. I do not throw them in everywhere. There are moments when it is worth reminding people about difficult emotions. This was more or less the case with the Wagon. At the Berlin Biennale I was assigned a space in which I meant to show a typical coal wagon which unfortunately got damaged. This is when I realized that I would be exhibiting it in a school for Jewish girls. I love such places: you climb to the first floor and have no idea how the wagon had got there. We decided to turn it into a cattle wagon used for transporting people during the war. It was a powerful combination: delicate girls and brutal history. In this maniacal, careful, not ostentatious proposition the most powerful was underneath. It was a carrier of all the evil and could have been good, if the war had not happened.

MS: This is already a very symbolic language. Eleonora Jedlińska wrote that after the Holocaust railway tracks would never be just railway tracks and hair just hair… Looking at your works, I would assume that time is not linear but spiral and that we are condemned to certain repetitiveness, eternal returns. My closing question is: does the past have a future?

RK: We could discuss it until small hours. Were it not for repetitions, we would never comprehend the scheme of life, learn languages, know emotions or warmth given to us by our family and friends. It turns out that the ability to observe, repeat and apply in one’s own life is the key to survival. Otherwise we do not use our potential to the full, our battery is never fully charged. When it is full, we can enjoy our achievements longer. Then we start worrying what to take care of and what kind of legacy we will leave to those that come after us.

Translation: Dorota Malina

[1] The interview took place on June 4th 2015.