Artur Zmijewski's "The Social Studio" at Utrecht's BAK, basis voor actuele kunst

Opening this weekend at Utrecht's BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, "Artur Żmijewski: The Social Studio" features a handful of the Polish artist's recent works, including videos Them (2007) and Powtórzenie/Repetition (2005). The exhibition title offers a helpful, conceptual frame for Żmijewski's pieces, which take the form of quasi-documentary "social experiments," often counterpoising the disabled or marginalized with signs or representatives of societal ideals and political force. In photograph and video series Oko za oko/Eye for an eye (1998), for example, Żmijewski combines the bodies of amputees and those of the physically fit into "corporal hybrids." The articulation of bodily difference here also becomes the precondition for new forms of social interaction and integration, achieved through Żmijewski's manipulation of the conventions of portraiture. These results are in keeping with the artist's broader agenda, comprehensively laid out in his essay, "The Applied Social Arts," that artistic production should "take responsibility and engage...with the current social and political reality." A timely return to past controversy, Powtórzenie/Repetition re-conducts Philip Zimbardo's 1971 Stanford Prison experiment, in which ordinary college students assumed the roles of wardens and prisoners in a mock-prison environment. Claiming to be an expert in the "psychology of evil," Zimbardo here sought to show the predictable behaviors people adopt in such charged, power-based circumstances. While the facility with which the students adopted sadistic or masochistic roles then seemed to confirm Zimbardo's theory, Żmijewski's participants chose an alternative solution: they protested the project and collectively left the prison. Though Powtórzenie/Repetition caused a good deal of outrage in Poland, its participants' action does lend some credence to Żmijewski's belief that provocative art may "influence social consciousness and stimulate reflection." - Tyler Coburn

Image: Artur Żmijewski, Powtórzenie/Repetition, 2005 (Still)

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