Barbora Zentková and Julia Gryboś

Daily Swallowed Dilemma

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1 In late capitalism, the predominant form of looking [...] is what we might call consumer vision. The rapid changes of industrial capitalism made us into consumers, a new kind of person who emerges in the nineteenth century [...] We are ever on the move, restlessly driven by modernity’s mandate to consumer, perpetually distracted by an avalanche of information and stimulation, and shaped into conformity by a network of intricately structured institutions . Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Staring: How We Look Consumer vision, which is becoming the predominant method of looking at the world for a postmodern individual, requires not so much the use of scientific concentration as a superficial, distracted “glance” characteristic of browsing a range of products in a store or navigating the internet. However, this manner of looking becomes impaired by the practice implemented by Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková. The Polish-Slovak artist duo places focus on what is beyond the sphere of desires of hyper-consumers – that what is superfluous or even troublesome in the global economy – waste, leftovers, items that are discarded, outdated or second-hand. The artists exploit the potential of abandoned places and objects “left out” of the high-speed commercial scheme, such as furniture from shops going under or former canteens. At their exhibition in Opole, Gryboś and Zentkova present a multi-element installation which requires the viewers to dedicate some time and attentiveness, to slow down their gaze and to learn how to focus their seeing anew. We become acquainted with the artwork gradually, discovering successive layers little by little. At first, one is struck by the simplicity of the shapes, the repetition of elements and the emptiness. The space is dominated by metal objects associated with industrial artefacts. They feature strict modernist forms with clear geometric separations, evoking the functionality of furniture or structural landscaping items (they can, in fact, serve as benches). Another visual layer consists of coarse yarn fibres stretched over sections of metal structures and falling in decorative waves to the floor, fine wax plates with flowing shapes and “thread-like” texture, and fabrics partially obscuring the windows in the gallery. They soften the discipline of the geometric divisions, lend a colourful quality to the installation by relying on delicate shades of nude, ochre and blue, and also add a discreet touch of expression and uniqueness of handicraft. However, the meanings and the “aura” of the exhibition are founded on aspects much more ephemeral, such as the components of the creative process – the meticulous weaving techniques, the use of nature-friendly materials, the materials used in fabric pigmentation (tea, herbs), the haptic qualities (the delicate texture of the fabric, the organic nature of beeswax), the scents (melted scented candles) and the sound accompanying the exhibition. 2 […] the subject […] liberates itself into a project. However, the change from subject to project does not make power or violence disappear. Auto-compulsion, which presents itself as freedom, takes the place of allo-compulsion. This development is closely connected to capitalist relations of production. Starting at a certain level of production, auto-exploitation is significantly more efficient and brings much greater returns [leistungsstärker] than allo-exploitation, because the feeling of freedom attends it. Achievement society is the society of self-exploitation. The achievement-subject exploits itself until it burns out . Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society In his essays diagnosing the “achievement society”, also known as the “burnout society” (a civilisation of fitness clubs, plastic surgery clinics, apartment buildings, corporations and supermarkets), Byung-Chul Han points out that discipline has been replaced by an ethos of achievement, success and productivity. As “managers of ourselves”, to compete more effectively with each other, we “optimise ourselves to death”. To comply with the requirement of “self-fulfilment”, we exploit our capacities to the point of total exhaustion and burnout. The philosopher points out that we currently live in a society suffering from a lack of intervals understood as time without work – periods of fun, contemplation or even boredom. In a world of intensive production, the interval remains part of the working time – its purpose is to enable us to continue functioning efficiently, while our return home does not provide a respite, as laptops and the internet enable working in any location. The installations by Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková help transform the economy of attention and contribute to soothing the overstimulated eye while serving as potential zones of relaxation. As the authors themselves explain, the key inspiration for their recent artwork was the collective feeling of fatigue. The artistic duo sets the pressures of entrepreneurialism against an environment conducive to restful deceleration, the model of hyper-production against the model of whiling away time on a bench, the sense of choking with a multitude of exciting happenings, information and impulses against a modest harmony of forms, a dreamy repetition of lines of yarn and muted chromaticism, multitasking techniques against protective screening techniques that cut us off from endless external stimulants, the nervous rush of competition against the therapeutic qualities of herbs, scented wax and music, and finally plastic, seasonally replaced “confections” recommended by corporations against the alternative of various recycled forms and natural materials. The qualities embodied in the installations support the “inhibiting instincts” of late capitalist hyperactivity, without which, according to Han, “action scatters into restless, hyperactive reaction and abreaction” preventing any creative thinking or action. In the strange era in which we live and in which the term stresslaxing has been coined – being so stressed that relaxing generates even more stress because we are not working on the project that is the very cause of our stress – Julia Gryboś and Barbora Zentková seem to recommend following advice of Byung-Chul Han: work, production, working time and capital should be profaned and transformed into a time of fun and festivities. Supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council
Łukasz Kropiowski