Polish Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale
The practices of Joanna Malinowska and Christian Tomaszewski (aka C.T. Jasper) are marked by an engagement with multicultural subject matter. Although both artists are Polish-born, Malinowska spent her formative years in the United States and continues to live in Brooklyn, while Jasper is based between New York and Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Malinowska has attributed her interest in ethnography and cultural anthropology to the fact that, “Polish culture was very monolithic, very influenced by the Catholic Church. I was trying to escape from it, to find alternatives.” She and Jasper have collaborated in an experimental film set in the Bolivian rainforest in the past. Representing Poland together at this year’s Venice Biennale, the two artists have conceived of a collaborative exhibition that examines nationalism in a post-colonial, global context.
In the early 1800s, Napoleon sent his troops into colonial Haiti to quell an insurgency of slaves. A Polish legion, looking to ally with France against its own occupiers, Prussia and Austria, joined the army; upon realizing that the Haitians were fighting for their freedom, the Polish soldiers turned on the French and aided in the revolution. For their exhibition, Malinowska and Jasper, along with their curator, Magdalena Moskalewicz, traveled to Haiti to show Stanisław Moniuszko’s opera Halka (first performed, 1848) to the descendants of these Poles. The work asks questions about the durability of national affiliations and the potential of 19th-century art forms, especially ones like opera that were once used to espouse radical ideology but can now easily be associated with Western cultural hegemony.
Malinowska and Jasper’s work is in dialogue with other contemporary explorations of opera, from Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo—the story of an impassioned German determined to bring opera to the people of the Peruvian Amazon—to Slavoj Žižek ’s 2002 philosophical text Opera’s Second Death (2002).