Respect What You Have

Kinga Kiełczyńska, Hidden Interface, 2022-2022, courtesy of Exile Gallery | Find out more


Respect What You Have

Kinga Kiełczyńska on Reincarnation and The Limits of Art Production

It was in 1972 when the report The Limits to Growth was issued by the Club of Rome as a warning to humankind. You were born in the same year. Looking back at the last half-century, how do you feel?

I’m very proud that I share my first day with the report. I always underline this fact—fifty years, it feels like a hundred! Since then, the world has changed completely. For me, the biggest change is the transition from a rural mindset to an urban mindset which happened at the beginning of my lifetime. This transition from an agriculturally oriented society, which used to be common in the time of my grandparents, to an information society is, for me, the biggest change which has pulled humans away from nature and closer toward a connection with data. We acquired new external brains in the form of computers; we became aliens.

Is that something negative or positive for you?

I believe that every change is positive. However, I approach it with nostalgia and melancholy because my childhood happened in those idealized times. Many kids nowadays think that meat packaged in plastic comes from a factory, not from animals. And the environment is mistreated. On the other hand, people live longer, there are new medicines, we can construct new things, and the overall development allows us to live more comfortably and longer.

Are there any promising developments to come that could save human existence on this planet?

I understand the course of the world such that we are in one stage, which leads us to another stage, to another transition, which will then again be based on the mistakes that we made before. And we learn from those mistakes. I always understand progress in a circular way: as a civilization, we go through cycles, cycles in different climate conditions that are either caused by humans or by some other catalyst. I hope the current stage will lead us to something new and exciting.

What could this new and exciting thing be?

I just went to a workshop in Vienna that established the image of a post-oil society. We speculated on how to replace fossil fuels with bacteria or oxygen mixed with carbon dioxide excess. There’s a lot of research around this topic and that gives me hope.

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.

Kinga Kiełczyńska, Photo © Kruno Vrbat

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.

Kinga Kiełczyńska, Courtesy of Infinity, 2021-2022, video HD, binaural sound, Courtesy of Exile Gallery

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.

Kinga Kielczynska, Hidden Interface, 2022-2022, courtesy of Exile Gallery

Do you think art can eventually change the world?

I believe it can promote certain ideas without being didactic. And it can change the world if it’s done in a collective way.

Your work Courtesy of Infinity is based on the non-fiction book, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. It asks what would happen to the natural and the build environments if humans suddenly vanished. Your video work is underlined by a meditative sound and a dialogue of questions on what is growth, progress, and change. What’s your understanding of growth?

There are two sides to it: the metaphor of spiritual growth that we take from nature and actual natural growth, which we all undergo. Both are intertwined. To see how the natural world is growing is very inspiring to me, because there are many interesting dynamics going along with it, like the evolving relationship between plants or animals. For me growth also means accepting the situation we are in and not disturbing the environment in its process of biological and spiritual growth.

How would you define progress then?

We need to step away from that linear notion of progress. Growth and progress go hand in hand as long as progress is associated with a circular notion of growth, of repeating cycles. For me, the idea of recycling, of reincarnation, is inherently linked to the idea of progress.

Your work Hidden Interface is an installation of hazelnut shoots with computer motherboards that are embedded with leaves. Is that what you imagine the future to look like?

I have this underlying science fiction fantasy, which is the basis of my fascination with nature. I am really interested in how nature and science fiction connect with each other, which technological processes we’ve been undergoing and how they influence natural biological structures. There could be some surprising future connection between nature and technology. I don’t think mother boards will literally grow on trees, but it acts as a metaphor. What I want to show is that this binary division between the natural and non-natural is false. Everything is built from the same molecules and atoms, just in different combinations.

If you could change one thing about the world we live in today, what would it be?

We need more of a shift in human consciousness. What we have is already there and we don’t need more.

To wrap up all your thoughts, can you complete this sentence: To me, this is personal because. . .

To me, this is personal because I’m everywhere.

Questions by Antonia Lagemann


Kinga Kiełczyńska, Hidden Interface, 2022-2022, Courtesy of Exile Gallery. Garden waste of hazelnut shoots, reclaimed computer motherboards, dimensions variable, 2021

Will technology and nature eventually become one? According to Kinga Kiełczyńska the division between nature and non-nature has always been wrong. In the end, everything is made from the same molecules, she says in her interview. With her site-specific installation consisting of blue hazelnut shoots with computer motherboards embedded as leaves, she pays homage to the aesthetics of "Avatar," solarpunk, and primitive technology. The viewer enters an area of a futuristic forest with organic-non-organic flora. If this is what the future will look like? Who knows.

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