Henryk Gallery | Déjà vu
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Emilia Kina, Filip Rybkowski, "Deja vu", widok wystawy

Déjà vu

Emilia Kina, Filip Rybkowski


… the notion of the spectacle concerns, first and foremost, the post-historical inclination towards watching oneself live. … the spectacle is the form that deja vu takes, as soon as this becomes exterior, public from beyond one’s own person. The society of the spectacle offers people the ‘world’s fair’ of their own capacity to do, to speak and to be – but reduced to already-performed actions, already spoken phrases and already-complete events. (Paolo Virno)

The formation of memory, according to Henri Bergson, is not secondary to the formation of perception. They occur simultaneously. The phenomenon of déjà vu is considered an aberration, dislocating us from everyday course of history. What if, however, the deviation is precisely a flare of truth about the operation of memory and a basic condition for the emergence of historicity?
Our experience of the present breaks up into two components: the direct perception and its virtual, mirror image – a memory of the present moment, which does not refer to any specific past, does not refer to any event or specific date, but constitutes the kernel of history and the condition of all potentiality. Memory is therefore a mechanism whereby here and now discovers its mirage in an indefinite idea of the past. In the process of déjà vu, this formal characteristic acquires a spectral content: a specific, evental complement. According to Paolo Virno, the past form (possible present) is replaced with a past content (actual past), which, in an obsessive gesture of unavoidable return, will be repeated and duplicated.
Here lies the true fatalism of déjà vu and false recognition. In no way can we alter the course of events, are taken hostage by a foreclosed vision of history, ourselves becoming observers of our own enterprises, as if replaying, like actors, a previously assigned screenplay. Déjà vu turns our actions into a self-quotation, an unbearable repetition, a sense that against our will, history has switched on a never-ending replay. We feel that we choose and will, but that we are choosing what is imposed on us and willing the inevitable.

As individual experience, déjà vu is quite innocuous. Sometimes, it is accompanied by a sense of anxiety and fatalism, sometimes, on the contrary, by a feeling of peculiar familiarity. What if, however, it is transformed into a supra-individual, social experience? What if the contemporariness of the neo-liberal end of history is transformed into a universal, tragic déjà vu? Despite the recent, slight acceleration of history, the dominant narrative forces us to endow it with already defined analogies. Thus, nothing is accelerating but the course of the circle of history, which, according to a screenplay already put down by historians, will chance upon the same gestures. Tragedies of the present have already happened, we can only repeat them (as a farce, of course), and the hope of revolutions is shattered against the spectres of failure of those which have already ended.
Everything has already happened in the spectacle. The history, Baudrillard affirmed, has moved to the order of recycling and we are doomed to an incessant quotation of schemas of our own lives, infinite repetition of extant forms and the endless reproduction of capital.

Emilia Kina and Filip Rybkowski perform a laboratory reconstruction of the experience of déjà vu and the whimsical rhythm of history, hypnotizing memory and introducing us into an atmosphere which intermixes the familiar with the alien. Their fundamental instrument is a critical, un-sentimentalist act of reconstruction: restoring to the gaze what seemed to have been consigned to oblivion. Donning the mask of antiquaries, they compel us to reflect on the political of the gesture of restoration, preservation and conservation, posing questions about who holds the power of memorialisation. What deserves to be preserved, which cultural object or which image of memory ought to survive? Who assumes a responsibility for reconstruction and who will bear its cost? What dangers lie in a hypertrophy of memory? What will happen if we agree to a constant repetition of gestures, of the same forms and shapes?

They appear to be repeating, citing conservationalist strategies of the post-historic society of the spectacle. However, the act of repetition soon reveals its unmasking nature. Reconstructions they perform are merely apparent, based on confabulation, understatement, displaced meanings. Their works rupture the circle of history, the repetition translates the original gestures to another place, opening it up to the still possible.

Referring to such apparently disparate phenomena as architectural reconstruction, destructive cleaning of the Parthenon frieze or a repetition of trance movements of the purported Victorian prophet, Mollie Fancher, they reveal that the very process of reconstruction is itself a political act of creation of a particular vision of historicity and is dependent on a hypermnestic experience of a community. We cannot forget, therefore we bring to life what has past.

Their exhibition at the Henryk gallery is the first opportunity for Kina and Rybkowski of producing a joint presentation and incorporating the sparse, gentle forms of their work into a multi-threaded narrative. Objects, paintings, photograms, records of processes enter into a sophisticated dialogue with each other. They are seductive in their refinement and finesse, but equally command our re-creation of their reciprocal, often unapparent allusions and histories, not eschewing irony and incisive criticism. Shaping the space of exhibition, they suggest to us a rotating movement, during which, constantly returning to the same place, we will be discovering new connection, and, therefore, deciphering new narratives. Initial suggestions adopt in the process further developments or specifications.

The artists work with ruins and, at the same time, are working within the space of the ruin of history and our common horizon of utopia. They demonstrate, in their subtle, contextual manner, that every act of reconstruction is entangled in a dialectical relationship with the process of destruction or self-destruction. In order to conduct reconstruction, we have to sacrifice another fragment of history, transfer attention and consign to oblivion. The un-masking is accompanied by an act of veiling, as if the curtain were being moved to another place. All in all, Alberti’s window turns out to be no more than a material surface, a false perforation and a beautifully constructed illusion. The florigraphic art of making wax flowers, which take over the role of genteel communication, masks in the hands of Mollie Fancher the Victorian excess violence (She was not fond of the wax flowers. It seemed they were not made by her, but by someone else. A person no longer alive.) Bricks of the dismantled Kostrzyn castle served to reconstruct Warsaw, while the price for a restitution of their supposed glory to the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum was their irreversible maiming. A reconstruction of King Casimir’s castles, spurred by national megalomania, will have to inexorably erase the Romantic charm of the ruins, and with them – the remains of common sense.

Kina and Rybkowski ask us to step aside and from the outside observe ourselves involved in the process Boris Groys would call “the infinite violence of material flow.” Through someone else’s mouth, somewhat nostalgically, they are saying: “forget-me-not”, while allowing us to observe how we trash about in a collective night terror of impossibility of forgetting and history constantly returning in ever more farcical versions.

curator: Michał Zawada