Joanna Malinowska is a New York based Polish artist whose sculptures, installations and performances draw a line between her fascination with anthropology, art history, pop culture and the socio-political struggles of her homeland in the modern era.
This is evident in Mother Earth Sister Moon (2009), a quasi fashion show, stage play performance produced in collaboration with Christian Tomaszewski which was shown in a huge space suit like structure to resemble the suit worn by the first Russian woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.
The designs of the costumes, reminiscient of outfits seen on Russian and Eastern European science fiction movies hark back to the ‘space race’ witnessed during the cold war, and the general fascination with the cosmos seen within the former Soviet bloc.
Some of the designs were quite avant garde at the time in drawing references between architecture, fashion and cinema, and in turn inspired many science fiction films of the era.
This was juxtaposed with elements of western pop culture, with a chewbacca-like costume reminiscient of Star Wars and of the myriad of bear attack horror movies and scenes produced during the 1960s and 70s.
Malinowska also went for a reprise of the show in 2013, this time with video art specialist C.T. Jasper and for this edition, catwalks as seen in space craft launching pads were erected around and crossing over the whole suit with the models displaying their outfits walking up and over these ‘catwalks’ with urgent wartime public announcements blaring in the background.
These metal catwalks together the lighting, the way spot lights were located at the camera’s infinity point as the models walk along the bridge, camera angles and the tense sounds create an ambiguous situation as to whether one was watching a depiction of the Soviet space program, a fashion show, a stage play or a science fiction movie.
Malinowska’s other passion, anthropology, specifically in relation to art history and the avant garde, is a theme for many other works. In Boli (2009), a replica of the traditional West Mali, Bamana tribe talisman, a primitive religious idol made in the vague image of an pig or an elephant, is created in huge proportions with the tusk of a mammoth sticking into its side.
But Malinowska’s Boli is fundamentally different from the traditional Boli as her’s is the size of an elephant, while the traditional one is hand held. This suggests that her’s is imagined with a life of it own, a character in a play, as evidenced with a replica of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) which is hung “for the Boli to look at”.
While a traditional Boli contains all the elements pertinent to the life of the Bamanas, cow dung, blood, earth, nuts etc.., Malinowska’s Boli is made of materials which are symbolic of her own cultural concerns; a litre of water from the Bering Strait, hay, scraps of Philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics and a sweater of current Bolivian president Evo Morales.
What does water from the Arctic have to do, with Spinoza’s Ethics, Mammoth tusks or Evo Morales? If I’m not mistaken, this is somewhat representative of issues that Malinowska is concerned with, which also is somewhat representative of our civilization. While mammoths were regarded by Arctic tribes as deities that ruled beneath the earth and their tusks and other remains were considered good luck charms, Spinoza’s Ethics provides an order that holds modern society together, lest people with power abuse others whenever they felt like it, but what of Evo Morales? What did he do to make it into this creature?
Besides the Ed Snowden saga, which raised eyebrows around the world when Morales agreed to grant him asylum against the wishes of the US Government, Morales has been upholding the rights of women and the under privileged, pushing the World Bank for better terms in Bolivia’s development, which makes him somewhat of the embodiment of a hope and freedom that Malinowska treasures.
Thus Malinowska’s Boli, I believe, is actually a mammoth that has been attacked and wounded by another mammoth, but that survived and now has become a symbol of her hopes and dreams, or a good luck charm, just like those mammoth tusks were to the Inuit Indians of the Arctic, or what another piece, From The Canyons To The Stars (2012) which is made of walrus tusks and made in hommage to Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (1914).
It is unclear why Malinowska chose to reference Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (1914). Perhaps its the same unexplainable subconciousness at work that caused Duchamp himself to buy it from the store and call it ‘art’ in the first place, while others later tried to explain it as his lonely, subconcious desire for an erection at the time, but that’s just speculation – no one will really know.
But what ultimately happened to Bottle Rack was that 1st World War started, and Duchamp felt he had to leave Paris for the safety of America, leaving it behind with his sister and step-sister who threw it out as trash.
Perhaps that the original does not exist anymore is what drove Malinowska to pay hommage to it in From The Canyons To The Stars (2012); destroyed because those in possession of it didn’t have faith. They didn’t believe it had any value, and by extension, did not believe that their brother Marcel would ever amount to anything. Has anyone ever heard of Duchamp’s sister or sister-in-law? No, for it is written ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’.
I have no doubt that for Malinowska, the repression experienced growing up in Poland in the 1980s with Soviet-style central planning to every facet of life, compared to the freedom she experienced in the west as an adult, would have left quite an impression, a scar even, that needed to be expressed in Mother Earth Sister Moon (2009). However one can easily be mislead with the inclusion of certain icons of western pop culture in the mix, and led to believe that everything, like the Soviet space program, is futile. (Which I don’t agree, for it pushed the boundaries of technology at the time). And if everything is futile, why even bother to have the Olympics? We might as well all go home and become couch vegetables.