Monday, December 8, 2008

Opening speach - Learning by seeing

Gisela Weimann

“Seeing Oneself” through the lens of a photographic camera is one of the many international projects-in-progress conceived by Jerzy Olek. And, like all of them it involves much more than an individual vision. Recently, at the opening of the exhibition “Simplex Komplex” in the University of the Arts in Berlin – another project that was invented by Jerzy Olek together with Witold Szymanski – the university’s vice president professor Burkhard Schmitz described Jery Olek’s ideas as being contagious. They are indeed virulent and have infected not only Andor Kömives and me but many other artists and theorists all over the world who are magnetically drawn into his sphere of never ending ideas and constantly ongoing and emerging exhibition projects. What is the secret behind this? Jerzy Olek’s ideas are of a most generous openness towards participation and cooperation. They speak the world language of art in search of a universal essence that can be meaningful to everybody. He starts this search for true understanding and truth with clear and simple concepts that leave space for complex developments, personal ones as well as those that surpass individuality. This potential gives them a deep humane and global quality. To see oneself, as one really is, who of us has not tried that over and over again? In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s magical book “The Little Prince” we hear the fox say: “Only with the heart can one truly see well, the essential is hidden to the eye”. This is the lesson we have to learn from this, our common project. With this ongoing project we continue a long tradition of projects where the concept and the curating is realized by the artist themselves. So far 70 artists from Poland, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico and Romania – who also belong to different generations – have plucked up the courage to look at and critically question themselves in order to reveal what they have found to each other as well as to the visiting audience. In this show in Cluj we will not see the self portraits by the 10 Mexican artists who joined our international circle in October and showed the complete exhibition in Mexico, because the CD with their high resolution images did not arrive in time. They will, however, be part of all the following shows. The individual search for the meaning of our life starts with questioning our own personal existence as well as our status as human race in this vast and mysterious universe: How do I see myself? With what things do I surround myself? What is typical for me and what determines me? Who am I, after all? Not only do we have to use our eyes and heart to be able to answer these questions but also our intellect. Furthermore, there has to be a readiness to get involved, to be confronted with self-images that are difficult to understand and anything but simple and realistic representations. These 60 different photographic self-reflections that we see here automatically lead to a dialogue about difference, diversity and cultural descent. Through self-reflection and knowledge of oneself, a sharper perception and understanding of the other emerges. Sometimes these self-portraits are humorous and ironic, for most of the time, however, they are disconcerting. In many cases they reveal alienation, disintegration or even destruction of the self, in other cases there is a kind of revelation which leads to the very core of an individual, its DNA. Others still reveal only a wide open staring eye of what appears to be a strange creature, half man, half animal, or simply a tuft of hair, a shadow, a structure or a deformed skull scantily held together with a worn ribbon. Who are we behind our façade, behind our eyes? The visiting audience in the different countries are invited to examine the portraits carefully and discuss these existential questions with the artists present. Jerzy Olek’s contemporary exhibition concept that is based on digital media and internet correspondence reflects his cosmopolitan thinking and his philosophical approach as an artist, curator and professor. In the process of the continuously growing exhibition a photo artist from each participating country functions as co-curator and organizer on location and proposes 10 colleagues who send him their digitalised self-images on a CD. Olek undertakes the final selection and - in order to secure an equal quality - Petr Mosko prints and mounts the images in his workshop in Pardubice in the Czech Republic. The first presentation of the project at that point with the participation of artists from four countries was organized by Rudolf Nemecek and shown in a beautiful, vaulted gallery in the Nové Mesto nad Metují castle in the Czech Republic in August 2005. The second show followed in the beginning of 2006. It was co-ordinated by Kurt Buchwald and shown at the “Fotogalerie am Helsingforser Platz” in Berlin. The next exhibition took place in November 2006 in the historic Casa de las Conchas in Salamanca and was prepared and realized by Angiola Bonanni. Bonanni also compiled a catalogue. It was the third stage of the project, enriched by the works of 10 Spanish artists. This year 20 new artists from Mexico and Romania have been included. Irmi Flohr and Enrique Nuňez suggested the Mexican artists and prepared a show in San Miguel de Allende in October within the renowned Festival Cervantino. Andor Kömives and Dorel Gaina proposed the 10 Romanian photographers and Kömives organised the exhibition in the National Art Museum in Cluj to take place in November/December. The artists who attend the openings not only experience generous hospitality and inspiring meetings and discussions, they also enlarge their self-perception as well as their perception of others against a cultural-historical backdrop: - Nové Mesto nad Metuji, founded in 1501, is one of the most beautiful Bohemian cities. - The “Fotogalerie am Helsingforser Platz” in Berlin looks back on a long tradition as one of the leading photo galleries in the East of the city. - The Casa de las Conchas (Palace of the Shells), that houses a public library and a lively cultural scene has an even longer history dating back to 1493. The unusual palace integrates Gothic, Renaissance and Moorish elements. - San Miguel de Allende is a colonial town famous for its unique atmosphere. - The National Museum of Art in Cluj resides in the former Bánffy-Palais, a baroque building from the 18th century designed by the German architect Johann Eberhard Blaumann. The complex effect of Jerzy Olek’s simple concept is the contamination of more and more countries with his virus of passion for art and integration by using personal contacts of the growing number of infected artists and art institutions. Through the investigating look at themselves and others the artists and their audiences will hopefully learn to see the essential part of the other with their hearts.

Gisela Weimann Cluj November 2008 (English translation: Christina Nicholson)