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Artur Zmijewski, Them @ Documenta 12

Artur Zmijewski, Them @ Documenta 12
Artur Zmijewski, Them, Documenta 12, courtesy Documenta GmbH

“Though we often ostensibly apply actual labels to fictive things, we
can hardly apply fictive labels; for a label used exists.”
-Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art

‘I’m starting’ says an old lady in her modest but excited voice. Nobody
anticipates the beginning of a battle. She draws a black line, then
another, and more.

Four different teams illustrate their four diverse views in simple
drawings. A catholic church, a word ‘’ in Hebrew framed in the
contour of , Chrobry’s Sword, and the word ‘Freedom’ (in Polish)
again framed in the contour of .

Each team’s members come from a different ideological background. As
groups supposed to appear representative of the ideology they become
stereotypical in themselves. Moreover – they use stereotypes to express
their beliefs.

Their illustrations serve as emblems, also in a literal meaning, as
they are printed on t-shirts that each group will wear. During the
second meeting, dressed in their new outfits they become easily
identifiable. Simple rules are set – there are no rules.

Teams begin to correct each other’s expressions, removing or adding
elements until the message is in compliance with their own views. They
each represent some type of an extreme, not one being a so-called
typical Pole. However, it is the very use of stereotypes in which lays
the strength of Them.

Their actions are a battle of representations, a war of images, symbols
and gestures, which gain their intensity from being simple, direct and
most importantly – not always adequate. The extremity escalates as the
exchange of fire takes place.

None of the participants are artists; it is only for the sake of the
video that they agreed to use visuals. The conflict is spectacular,
almost thrilling as the actions develop.

If one ever asks the question whether art can be harmful, this video
provides a particularly interesting answer. Only the elderly catholic
ladies notice that the tumult is not leading the discussion anywhere.
They decide to leave the room. The remaining three groups consisting of
much younger people seem too excited to notice that their actions are
destructive. The reason for that is as simple as it is peculiar. They
have to invent ways of expression that are new to them and that will
prove what they consider to be the strength of their argument.

There is no single attempt to explain any belief or the reason behind
it. Nobody tries to reach an agreement. Nonetheless, members of each
group seem to be satisfied with their doings. Perhaps it is because
they are stubborn. But it may also be due to the fact, that they are
engaged in a creative process, the most fulfilling act any human can
undertake. The godly act of creating easily becomes opium for the

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WM's Bartek Kraciuk

Bartek Kraciuk is a freelance writer in New York.

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