Artists: Cezary Poniatowski & Radek Szlaga
Exhibition title: Native Speakers
Venue: SKALA, Poznań, Poland
Date: October 7 – November 25, 2021
Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artists and SKALA, Poznań, Poland
Cezary Poniatowski and Radek Szlaga use entirely different artistic languages, their works are based on disparate syntaxes, their grammar is ruled by unrelated laws. Hence the title of the exhibition, referring to two distinct artistic vernaculars, but also to the ambiguity of the word “speaker”, meaning in English not only a person who uses its native language but also a source of sounds.
Poniatowski’s monochrome, sometimes oppressive aesthetics echoes the works of the Polish sculptor Henryk Morel (1937-1968). It is filled with post-apocalyptic tension, radiating from the once useful objects covered in artificial leather, separated from and shorn of their original functions, gathered again in mysterious dispositions.
Radek Szlaga, by contrast, explores the joy of playing with a perfectly mastered medium of painting, breaking its codes, turning it sometimes towards abstraction, sometimes in the direction of mischievous realism. He teases the illustrative, sweeping tendencies reminiscent of post-Tuymans artists, generously scattering motifs, setting traps for viewers, and weaving personal stories.
At the “Native Speakers” exhibition, held at the SKALA gallery, the main theme is sound, its importance in culture, but also the vision of its jamming, cutting off and annihilation. On the one hand, music is an element of an emerging identity – in the 1980s or 1990s, recording rock songs on blank cassettes took the form of an almost mystical ritual and a clear declaration of one’s worldview. Radek Szlaga, brought up on the ideals of the Cold War dream about America, reaches for the soundtracks of his childhood. There is no idealization here, but rather a settlement, intertwined with light nostalgia and humour. Hence “Painting” inscribed in the shape of the famous Metallica logo.
Cezary Poniatowski constructs his works from elements reminiscent of rooms that isolate from sound, often their building material are loudspeakers – deaf, hollow, deprived of their principle function. It is a universe of disinherited objects, sometimes sewn together with a thick seam of cable ties, glaring at the viewer through the empty eye sockets of binoculars. These artworks evoke anxiety, evidence of lack, a persistent lacuna.
Both these artistic archipelagos are linked by references to music – traces of its presence, but also of its ever-present absence. And although to look for the sound actually emanating from any of the works would be in vain, the visual rhythm seems to be quite enough. Another element that connects the artists is their immersion in the world of American culture. Radek Szlaga is inclined to the United States at the time of the end of the Cold War, a land full of resolute hope, imprinted in the entire arsenal of popular entertainment. Cezary Poniatowski likewise draws from American iconography, but one focused on social anxieties, exploring the post-apocalyptic themes notoriously repeated in cinema. It all adds up to an intriguing duet that expresses various phantasms, a kind of nostalgia and a passion.
-Text by Alicja Rekść
Cezary Poniatowski (b. 1987) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw where he received his MFA. He mainly works in the fields of installation, sculpture, site-specific interventions.
His recent solo shows include: Heavy Silence, Fonderia Battaglia, Milan, Italy (2021); Relief, Basilica di San Celso, Milan, Italy (2021); Vaults and Swellings, Contemporary Art Centre FUTURA, Prague, Czech Republic (2021); Welcome to Itchy Truths, Gallery Stereo, Warsaw, Poland (2020); Hearth, Jan Kaps, Cologne, Germany (2020); Hereafter (with Sami Schlichting), Mélange, Cologne, Germany (2019); Sick-box, Gallery Stereo, Warsaw, Poland (2018); Compost, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2017).
His recent group shows include: Material Fatigue, Museum of Textiles, Łódź, Poland (2022); Native Speakers, galeria SKALA, Poznań, Poland (2022); Man’s Traces in Nature, Wschód, Warsaw, Poland (2022); Phantasmata, Public Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2022); a Glimpse of the Setting Remains, Clima, Milan, Italy (2022); Metabolic Rift, Kraftwerk Berlin, Berlin, Germany (2021); All Worlds Are Flat, Blindside, Melbourne, Australia (2021); The Spirit of Nature and Other Fairy Tales. 20 years of The ING Polish Art Foundation, Silesian Museum, Katowice, Poland (2019); Nosztrómo, Ashes/Ashes, New York, United States (2019); Waiting for Another Coming, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2018); Doors of Paradise, Union Pacific, London, United Kingdom (2018); Friend of a Friend in Berlin, ChertLüdde, Berlin, Germany (2018). Lives and works in Warsaw.
Radek Szlaga (born 1979) – graduate of the University of Arts in Poznań. The artist’s primary field of work is painting, drawing, sculpture and installation. In his practice, Szlaga undertakes exploratory and experimental activities encompassing the visual culture of Eastern Europe and America, combining these themes with his own experience as a migrant. The key to understanding Szlaga’s work is the exploration of identity and the boundary between reality and simulation. His practice is based on both historical research and the introspective mining of his own memories and dreams. Szlaga describes his painterly approach as a ‘way of thinking’ that implies the constant revision and ‘peeling back’ of successive layers of tradition and history through the selective recycling of found and archival images. This often involves a literal ‘copy/paste’ and transferring fragments from one canvas to another.
Selected solo exhibitions: Kill Your Idols, San Celso, Milan, Italy (2022); Diaspo⟨r⟩a, Postmasters Gallery, Rome, Italy (2021); Mercator, LETO, Warsaw (2021); Places I Had No Intentions, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2019); Places I Had No Intentions of Seeing, Museum Jerke, Recklinghausen, Germany (2018); Various Bozies, Mathare Art Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya (2017); Puritan, Pioneer Works, New York, USA (2015).
Selected group exhibitions: The Worlds Within, Spazio Field , Palazzo Brancaccio, Rome, Italy, (2021); Wild at Heart, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland (2018); The Travellers, KUMU, Tallinn, Estonia (2017); Post-Peace, Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart, Germany (2017); this one is smaller than this one, Postmasters Gallery, New York, USA (2016); State of Life. Polish Contemporary Art Within a Global Circumstance, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China (2015); Tribute to Errors and Leftovers, Performa 13, New York, USA (2013). Lives and works in Brussels.