Against the backdrop of the climate breakdown, what do you aspire to as an artist and as a human being on this earth?
For me, being an artist and a human being go hand in hand. Let me give you one example: in the time of my grandparents there was no plastic packaging, but they easily managed without it. This idea of using what you have, what is already there, is very important for me, both as an artist and as a human being. I live in a very modest way in terms of my apartment, I use my bike, I have been a vegetarian since I was born. I try not to take too much space in terms of my work and in terms of my daily life as a human being. It’s a philosophy that I apply in my artistic practice and in my daily life.
Could you specify what exactly that means for your work as an artist?
I try to avoid creating things out of material that still needs to be made and produced. Instead, I use existing material within my reach, be it waste, be it some organic material. And making films also causes less material production. Hence, I try not to waste anything—if it’s not necessary. It’s kind of a post-communist attitude I adopted because I grew up in communist Poland with a shortage and lack of everything. I learned to live with this mentality to respect what you have—and because you have very little, you have to treat it with care. You share things and you don’t take too much for yourself.
In your work you focus on the relationship between humans and nature, can you give some examples?
It sounds very vague, but I conduct research in a transgressive, transformative manner. At the beginning of my career, I worked with nature in a very naïve, hippy-like way, discovering the joys of nature, its secrets, magic, and power, through an intuitive approach—similar to how a child would experience the forest. The older I got, the more I stepped away from this approach and started to speculate on things, such as: What if a human is left alone in nature, what would they do and what would they think of?
Art describes the contemporary state of affairs, and we need that image to reflect upon ourselves.
Apart from that, I also worked on a few projects with activists who are defending the Białowieża forest, connecting the themes of fighting, defense, and conflict. In this way, my work varies between a collective and a very personal, metaphysical relationship with nature. Usually I develop one theme through different media. The project with the activists, for instance, was realized in the form of a movie, drawings, and an installation.
You also wrote the Reductionist Art Manifesto, which starts with the lines, “There’s too much art on this planet and it needs to be reduced.” You do not only call for a reduction of the commodities we produce, buy, and use, but you also call for a reduction of art production. Where would you start?
That manifesto brought me a lot of trouble, because people took it very seriously, but it wasn’t meant that way. It was rather a reaction to the problem of overproduction. It relates to my observation that people have this constant need to output and produce—but not every human idea needs to be materialized. Rather, I am trying to make people think of what we really need to produce as humans, and whether it promotes something positive or constructive.
To what extent did that manifesto change your relation to art?
After I wrote the manifesto, I stopped making physical works. I was so troubled by this overproduction. We think that scarcity is limiting, that it’s somehow linked to poverty and has something negative about it, but that’s wrong. At that point, I was close to going to a monastery and just pray. In the end, excluding myself from society wasn’t a viable option; it felt too hard for me. Therefore, I went back to producing art but with a stronger ecological consciousness for the choice of materials.
Do you think the production of art is still needed, after all?
Yes, absolutely. Art describes the contemporary state of affairs, and we need that image to reflect upon ourselves. However, we need more inclusive art, as opposed to the strong expression of ego, of genius, which is still anchored in art history. With the appearance of the Internet, the question of authorship has also changed, as it promotes a continuous exchange, a borrowing, repeating, and transforming of ideas.
And we need art that is more collaborative. The artworks of Indigenous groups, for instance, have always been collaborative: they create together, they learn from it together, they enjoy it together, and it’s part of their daily life. For them, making art has the same value as the job of a doctor or a priest, for instance.
To what extent is your own work collaborative?
When I made the movie about the Białowieża activists, I decided to only use the material that they had gathered, not to produce any new material. They were not planning to do anything with this material; it was intended only to be used as court evidence. I gave them a hand as an artist, as a video editor to put it together and give it a second incarnation. In that sense, it was a collective work that raised a greater awareness.
Growth also means accepting the situation we are in and not disturbing the environment in its process of biological and spiritual growth.