Last summer Piotr Kawęcki presented his project entitled Visits to the Scene of the Crime in Mały Salon (Little Salon) in Zachęta. It was a series of photographs which at first sight seemed to be "news-papaper" illustrations of the news - reports of crimes or accidents. However, after a while the viewer realized that nothing in those photographs was what it seemed. The forest was too green (made of plasticine compound), the sky behind the window too blue (made of painted cardboard), and the body of the woman imprisoned in the cellar seemed too shapely and perfect (she turned out to be a Barbie doll). Scenes of car accidents, photographs of a weapons store-room just discovered, a victim locked in the cellar or a desolate landscape after a hoodlum scuffle turned out to be not photographic outfield reports but pictures of carefully arranged and lit models, constructed according to the descriptions of factual events. It resem-bled a transformed version of World Press Photo in which the artist perversely presents the public with what it likes most - violence, blood and tears - but in a somewhat ironic way.
In the FF Gallery in Łódź Piotr Kawęcki presents his two most recent projects, Neighbours and The Evil One. They also reflect his experience as an artist engaged in press photography on a regular basis. Press photography is the starting point, but the author stages it again or reinterprets. Neighbours - this title seems to be used only too often nowadays by horror films and books, not to mention tabloid news stories. In this short series of photographs the author symbo-lically shortened and condensed everything that may be hiding behind the nightmarish term "neighbours". Consciously or subconsciously the artist contained in those photographs a fragment of the history of philosophy of the 20th century. Starting with the first photograph (let us presume that we view them in order, one by one), over which a nauseating smell of unhealthy Sartreian voyeurism hovers, we move on to the next ones (oh, the guy is putting on a bra, we are on Bataille's ground now), and finally we discover that we are actually looking at a terrorist putting his explosive gear on - shock, change of places, estrangement, difference, therefore a footnote to Kristeva's object, but also the theory of absence and alienation.
The literal character of the last scene may be a disappointment but that is how it is with neighbours - we must be ready for the worst. Works by Willie Doherty from Northern Ireland, shown not long ago in Zachęta at the Realities exhibition presented a city land-scape seemingly after a terorist attack. But those photographs really show places from which people have been "removed". Untitled photographs mysteriously reflect the nightmare of a threat unseen at first sight. In Kawęcki's works the mystery of the topic is not hidden behind a prophetic code of absence but it develops within a series of photographs leading the viewer towards the final solution. In Doherty's works nothing is visible so the photographed place seems anonymous. In the case of Neighbours, however, we are witnesses to a sequence of events in which presence and absence, difference and identity mutually block and expose one another.
It is surprising that Kawęcki's photos form an unstable emotional sequence. I am a viewer (or a neighbour). Of male gender because the viewer is always male in Polish. It is a good start though the calf seems too muscular to me. And the depilator also seems to misbehave. Consecutive phases of the viewer's erotic interest are transformed into a kind of anticipation which the next three photographs confirm. The photographed figure is, of course, a man undergoing "strong sexual differentiation". All in all, the viewer/voyeur is not disappointed because the photographs keep him atop of the rising wave. For the voyeur, concretely defined erotic content is not important because in his case the act of looking (peeping) must be dynamic and reveal a given phenomenon effectively (not only symbolically). However, the last picture evokes strong reactivation - the return of trivial reality, although it shocks and baffles me, and of whose meaning the viewer, submerged in its pseudo-erotic potentiality, is not completely conscious. Thus the series develops in the following sequence: perception - fantasy - truth.
Drifting as if in a somewhat filmic aura, as if frozen in the beginning stages of a movement, those photographs bring to mind the famous painting series by Gerhard Richter, 18th October 1977, in which the author shows the dead body of Ulrike Meinhof, completing the image with question marks: did she commit suicide? Was she a victim? It is also very interesting to note that Richter paints these series in such a way that we have the impression we are looking at photographs, not paintings. How many alternatives does a photo-editor have to take into account when he puts his everyday images together! Facts, myths, legends and unclear preferences - they all form a powerful explosive material of this kind of work.
The Evil One stands as if in the shadow of Neighbours. The Evil One is the return of absence to the centre of the frame. The photographs contain images of worn-out objects of everyday use: incomplete pair of trousers, a broken cellular phone, a suitcase etc. In the photographs they are accompanied by their outlines as the possible points of reference for the reconstruction of those worn-out objects. The suggestive technique of those photographs points to the author as the evil one who tries to cope with his stress breaking and destroying various objects. We know from other sources that the artist once said that he relaxed destroying his property like other people relax listening to music or exercising. The Evil One is
a neighbour who knows what is going on in the whole building - he has seen all terrorists and visited as many horrifying scenes of the crime as possible. Unable to decide between the two elements of this alternative he finally catches the scent of self-therapy and destroys everything that falls into his hands. Seeing him doing it we notice a marvellous parody of a certain media complex which could be called the complex of Natural Born Killers (what if the images of cruelty which news programmes show us every single day really influence the rise of the level of aggression in our society?). Here the artist proposes a very specific therapy. Have you had enough violence and cruelty on television? Calm down and leave Crime and Punishment for later. Do not go out into the street. You have so many nice things to destroy at home. Do not destroy your neighbours' property, start with yourself and your own trousers first.