Current Tom of Finland Foundation Artist-in-Residence Paweł Żukowski was featured in Vogue Poland for a series of works created during the COVID-19 pandemic. With bold, provocative lettering declaring “Something went wrong”, “We’ll make it”, and “Tests now” on starkly repurposed cardboard packaging, Paweł’s works became a rallying cry for neighbors during quarantine. As Basia Czyżewska writes in her article, his form of protest outgrew his own balcony to museum walls and beyond.
When the quarantine began, Paweł Żukowski hung a cardboard box with the slogan “We can do it” on his balcony. The artist has already had followers. The same comforting banners appear on the facades of Warsaw buildings. – Paweł very accurately sensed the social mood – collective alienation and the need for neighborly solidarity – says Natalia Sielewicz, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, which also displayed its cardboard.
It started three years ago. – At that time, I was going to parade parades, and next to my block I saw beautifully cut cardboard boxes from a TV box. I have decided that they cannot go to waste. I will paint something on them – recalls Paweł Żukowski. This is how the first cardboard box with the words “Something went wrong” was created. The slogan turned out to be so strong and ambiguous that the banners quickly developed into a series of images that spontaneously commented on reality.
Paweł often took his works out onto the street. With “We have never been so afraid in our life” he stood alone in front of the Seym. “Life easily turns into death” he held in his hand, standing on Krakowskie Przedmieście, full of carefree strollers. And the “LBGT is me” was protested by the editorial office of “Gazeta Polska”, when it distributed stickers with the slogans “LGBT-free zone”. Then Żukowski was joined by others with cardboard boxes produced at his own expense. The action made its way to the media and at the same time caused a reaction in the artistic community. In August, Żukowski took part in an exhibition at the Warsaw Exhibition Office, and in February at the Doris Ghetta gallery in Ortisei in the Dolomites. He went there knowing that the coronavirus was already spreading in Italy. -The theme of the exhibition was contemporary anxiety. Thick, luxurious cardboard boxes and black paint awaited me there. Closed alone in a gallery, I was painting for a week – says the artist. 40 works were created in five languages, including one in Polish: “People want to be better, bolder, but they don’t know how to do it, someone has to show them to them.” This slogan is taken from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s film “Without End” from 1985. Perhaps it became a signpost for Żukowski.
After returning to Warsaw, locked at home, in a lonely quarantine, Paweł hung a cardboard box on the balcony with the slogan: “We can do it”. – I admit, this work was not measured and refined. The letters were crooked, so I took it off quickly, he says and adds. – But it simmered. The neighbors started posting photos on the Facebook forum in Muranów. Another cardboard box with the same password appeared somewhere nearby. Then Żukowski decided to expand the action – hang cardboard boxes on the balconies of friends, acquaintances and strangers. All those who measure the balconies will photograph the shape of the railings and agree to fix them on their own. Because, according to the safety rules, the works are delivered without contact, to the door. ‘Cardboard boxes’, as Żukowski calls his objects, are slowly changing into permanent structures – made of plywood with precisely screwed hooks, painted with waterproof paint and signed on the reverse. On the one hand, they are decent banners that will survive the wind and rain during a long pandemic, on the other – they become artistic objects signed by the creator – paintings, installations or artist interventions. Especially since one of the works hangs on the facade of the office of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. –Paweł very aptly sensed social moods, collective alienation, and the need for neighborly solidarity. With a simple gesture, it reached both the immediate community and the Internet audience. As Paweł himself says, sometimes his personal protest stops, but the method and slogan are intercepted – says Natalia Sielewicz, curator of the MSN. Recently, she invited Żukowski to cooperate as part of the L’Internationale initiative (cultural institutions from around the world encourage artists to act during a pandemic). –Artists and artists as well as people working in the cultural sector on junk contracts or self-employment found themselves in a very difficult situation. Concerts, performances, exhibitions and lectures have been canceled. Theaters, galleries, museums, cinemas and community centers were closed. Some of the activities temporarily moved to the Internet, because functioning in the city space is very difficult and risky – adds Sielewicz.
In Żukowski’s We’ll let you know, a calm resonates. The same one who recently accompanied him on his trip to Italy. It is a voice that comes from experience. Paweł is a committed gay, and in his environment, the threat of contracting serious infectious diseases or living with them is an everyday reality that has been going on since the HIV pandemic in the 1980s.
In this light, the coronavirus is nothing new. This is another serious threat that we must deal with methodically. By following the rules of hygiene, limiting contacts with people to a minimum, doing tests and waiting calmly. If we approach the matter as a task, gather strength and support each other, we can do it.
Published: 4th May 2022Tags: Artist-in-Residence, Chcemy testow, Damy radę, Paweł Żukowski, Vogue Polska