I have been working on “Temporary Density of Matter” for two years. For now, the project is a collection of sculptures, photographs and mobile installations; the existing works are merely an introduction. I keep my mind open about the multidirectional activities that are part of this project. In fact, I do not expect this project to ever be finished – mostly because it involves participative activities whose artistic results are difficult to predict.
When I was a child, my grandma taught me how to make traditional folk decorations, usually from paper (colourful hanging structures or balls called “spiders” and “hedgehogs”, paper chains, etc.). It all came back to me when I was browsing through the family archives and stumbled upon the decorations that we made more than 20 years ago. Those childhood memories were one of the strongest impulses that prompted me to start this project. When I was younger, I was fascinated with my grandma – she was an exceptionally intelligent person with a vast knowledge, but she tended to be emotionally distant. Image-based communication has been important to me since I was a little child, but back then it was less about the shared creative activity and more about getting closer to my grandma – the sense of closeness, the pleasure derived from learning and communicating. We actually opened up to one another by concentrating on a shared activity. Today, when I come back to those memories, I think about people opening up to another people, about a global community extending beyond the family ties.
My creations are inspired by folk art which is known for putting special emphasis on the artistic form. Folk decorations, with their vivid colours and complicated structures, were treated as lucky charms that would bring abundant harvest or prosperity in the coming year. However, their symbolic or even magical nature was only one side of the coin; what was equally important was the time spent on their preparation – people would work on them together, talking and singing songs. It was a form of social consolidation for the sake of the common good. Their creations were not only inspired by nature, but they were also directly connected to it thanks to the biodegradable materials. When no longer needed, the traditionally made decorations would decompose and come back to nature. Industrialization, and then capitalism and consumerism, changed the function, quantity, and life of objects. Today, objects are a tedious problem of the geological epoch called the Capitalocene (I use the term “Capitalocene” instead of the well-known “Anthropocene” due to the direct relationship between human activity and the capitalist system, and driven by the belief that the present epoch will be followed by the Chthulucene – the times in which people will live in harmony with all forms of life on Earth)1.
My objects are made of plastic collected from beaches, among other materials. The waves wash up on shore what we have thrown away. What I find particularly interesting and important is the movement of objects – not only the physical movement, as garbage swirling in the ocean’s currents, but also their movement within society. The object whose production is ordered on one of the continents is later manually manufactured in a completely different part of the world, and finally, in yet another place, it is used and thrown away (circulation of objects will not slow down unless consumers start to reflect on it and corporations restrain their desire to accumulate capital). Everything around us is in constant motion – galaxies, planetary systems, oceans, people, atoms and cells in the human body, etc. It is the same for objects and their remains, scattered across the seas, oceans, and lands. Since plastic is a synthetic produced from natural materials (crude oil), it is possible to get carried away for a while by the idea that circulation of garbage is actually a fascinating and, in a way, natural phenomenon. But let’s come back to earth: it is difficult to refrain from criticism in the face of the present-day circulation of objects and its destructive effects, especially because overproduction is a deliberate consequence of the system based on the rapid accumulation of capital by a select few. The 15th century and the beginning of overseas colonization was an important period for the fledgling global circulation of objects. A few hundred years later, the oceans and seas became the main trade route in the global production system. Thanks to container ships and the unified sea transport system, global production entered its golden age which has never ended. Cheap labour has never been so easily accessible, production has never been so simple, and accumulating capital has never been so fast. The brutal colonialism which originated in the 15th century has evolved into perfection; exploitation and violence became almost invisible, repressed or ignored, even in the times of instant information flow.
I consider overproduction and the consequent environmental pollution to be a growing problem – mainly for the future generations, but also for all those people who give up their own lives for our comfort, for example the ones who work in textile factories in the former Indochina, manufacturing products for, among others, the Polish company LPP (owning brands such as Reserved, House, Cropp, MOHITO, and SiNSAY), the Swedish company H&M and the Irish store chain Primark (the factory workers are mostly women because, due to the socio-cultural conditions, it is easier to coerce them into exploitative work beyond their strength and prevent them from forming labour unions).
Another example of exploiting people by the companies’ owners wishing to accumulate more capital are the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the mine workers are often children (cobalt is necessary for the production of one of the smartphone components, among other things). Working conditions in those mines can hardly be compared to the worst possible labour standards in the so called Western countries, especially regarding the high mortality rate. There are many more examples of exploitation, lowering the standards of living or holding back the development of the so called Third World countries; the phenomenon which I would describe as invisible violence for which we, the consumers, are largely responsible. I refer to it as “invisible violence” not only because we fail to notice or blatantly ignore the textile factory workers in Cambodia and the children mining cobalt in Africa, but also because of our primitive consumer activity which is a form of violence targeted at people, other animals and the whole ecosystem that we will never know, for it will exist in the unreachable future. Our legacy for the next generations is the world that we leave behind.
The project that I am working on is based on objects or their remains. Their presence on Earth opens a wide field for discussion, for example during the planned participative activities by which I would like to encourage people to not only experience the physical materiality of objects, but to also broadly reflect upon the complexity of the world’s problems and the possible directions for its future development. My main goal is to promote the principle of mutual respect that would go beyond the ephemeral behaviours tailored to the local needs, and become the broadest and the most solid foundation that would apply to all people globally − including those living on the other side of the world and those who are not yet born. Just as once using natural materials to create folk decorations was considered a lucky charm for the future of a local community, so today I consider using the collected plastic and other garbage as a lucky charm for the future of the whole ecosystem, in which human activity will finally be based on community planning, reflection and empathy.
1 Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene., Durham and London: Duke University Press 2016