Zacheta: Demining fear. Mikołaj Sobczak in conversation with Aleksander Kmak

August 1, 2021

Aleksander Kmak: While I prepared for our conversation, I thought about a couple of categories that seem to define your work well. To my surprise I discovered that the basis of all your endeavours is not at all the motifs used, the recurring themes or even the style. Above all, it is the compulsive need to tell stories and the constant reformulation of these stories. What is the significance of narrativity for you, a category that is somewhat problematic in contemporary art because, it would seem, it is quite conservative?


Mikołaj Sobczak: Weaving grand narratives has become the domain of populists today because it allows us to create what I call a community of imagination. We grew up in an era in which we were brought up with slogans: ‘Count on yourself!’, ‘Don’t look to others!’, ‘Be yourself!’ Only extreme individualism was a guarantee of happiness. And suddenly this heavily atomised society begins to crumble, as do the world’s economic markets. We don’t have money for our own flat, we go to psychotherapy, and we know the concept of a united group mainly from protests in big cities, which is still a gigantic success. In view of this, the right-wing spin doctors have come up with the idea that myth-making narratives should be reinstated in official circulation. Thanks to them, an unemployed young man threatened by economic migration can feel, for a moment, that he is an important defender of a ‘white’ Europe — that is to say, an imaginary one that never existed. Imagination is easier to control than facts. And it goes even easier when fear is mixed in with everything. Today, politicians owe their greatness to fighting contrived wars or defending values that have never been traditional. The community of imagination is one of the most effective weapons of propaganda. I therefore believe that it is our duty to disarm it, to defuse fear.

At the beginning of my art studies, I was mainly preoccupied with family stories. I had the impression that under the layer of these stories there was always something contradictory to the apparent order, which did not yet have its image or had even been consciously deprived of it. Like figures cut out of photographs — traumas passed on by grandmothers to their granddaughters. This shaped my sense of responsibility to give visibility to what has been erased, to materialise a history overlooked or distorted by memory or politics. Only this materialisation of inherited traumas allowed us to cleanse ourselves of them, to start seeing the positives in a reality shaped by right-wing fantasies.


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