Henryk Gallery | Be Sober!
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Be Sober!

Grupa Opcja

21.08.2015 – 15.09.2015

Let those who have no need of the drink, dare not pass judgement on vodka. If the humankind has so far achieved anything enduring by way of spirit, it is precisely alcohol. Marek Hłasko, Umarli są wśród nas [The Dead Are Among Us]

Alcohol is easily accessible and cheap. It shines on the shelves of all the shops licensed for its vending. Besides appealing flavours, it has no nutritional value. People can live without it. Can we? The drink has tacitly accompanied humans since the beginning of our civilisation. It participated in all the creative transformations of humanity, our acts of invention, revolutions. It pushed us towards madness, without which the human society would have been much healthier, but, most likely, also spiritually voided. Alcohol is a companion in and of itself, the invisible friend. During adolescence, it’s the desired stimulus in the search for limits of our identities. As we survive the period drowning in cheap wine, we change our drinks to better, but also stronger ones, and our connection to alcohol matures. We enter into dialogue with it, we implore its intercession in times of trouble, we pray to it, we abandon it in clouds of despair, only to return to our toxic liaison. Such is the outlook on intimacy between a human and a drug. However, if we view the problem from a distance, we cannot but notice that alcoholism has consumed our societies for centuries. The disease kills several hundred people a day. On the roads, on road crossings, at homes. It destroys childhoods, breeds pathology, fosters poverty. Ultimately, its symptom is indifference, a slide into the perilous state of creative impotence. The problem is there. The creative dilemma concerning alcohol use, its effects, its purifying qualities which can cleanse an irritable spirit, too. We are flooded by waves of ‘alcoholic literature’, waves of reckoning, creators contra their personal experience. Film-makers present us with effigies of our drunken nature. At its worst and grossest. They sponsor our shock treatment with a much more powerful visual impact than most social campaigns. Visual artists address the issue both critically and not so, aiming to give viewers some hiccups. They want to make us reflect, start a discussion, a dialogue. The dialogue between the artist and alcohol is the theme of the OPCJA group exhibition, entitled Be Sober!

The exhibition is composed of pieces created by individual members of the art group, working in various contemporary art media. They are: Jolanta Nowaczyk, Jana Shostak, Maciej Szczęściak, Eliasz Styrna, Iwo Rachwał and Patrycja Włodarczyk, cooperating under the name Opcja since 2013, when they established the art group as students at the Intermedia Faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Their activity is characterised by group and individual examination of collectively set subjects. Their exploration of these domains consist in individual reflection on a set subject and creation of installations and objects to represent their complete, collective expression.

The exhibition title is also the title of their joint work – a neon sign. The red-lit sentence is stylistically reminiscent of bar signs, passed at night on our way home from night cruises. The subverted phrase comes from the Bible and the verse in full is: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. This earliest work, which the OPCJA exhibited at the Mała Czarna gallery in Łódź, was the point of departure for the young artists to construct their unique, subjective statement on attitudes towards alcohol.

Iwo Rachał in his performance Alkoperformans (performed with Wojciech Gąsiorowski), which is presented at the exhibition as a video recording, invokes broadly conceived rituals surrounding alcohol drinking with their significant preservation of the culture of gestures. Similarly to Maciej Szczęśniak in hi on-camera performance Potyczka [Duel], Rachwał and Gąsiorowski draw attention to the physiological impact of excessive amounts of vodka drunk on our bodies. Szczęśniak takes up their challenge and performs several self-arranged physical activities. He juxtaposes them in twos, demonstrating the contrast resonating before and after inebriation. Documenting his activities under the influence, he confront the image in order to reflect on his behaviour. Eliasz Styrna’s work also takes the form of documentation; Styrna, having undergone consumption, takes Polaroid pictures. His series of self-portraits, created while being hung-over, present a possibility of reckoning for the author. Looking at oneself, as if in a mirror, through the medium of photography and documenting one’s states of ill-being, aims to arouse reflection on the life-style he chooses to pursue. Jana Shostak and Jolanta Nowaczyk underline the cleansing aspect of alcohol drinking in their pieces. Jana Shostak presents alcohol drinking by referencing the accompanying extreme states that are a near-torture to a human. Jolanta Nowaczyk in engraving “Drink a drop only, and thine servant will be healed… “ on shot glasses refers to a mystical dimension of alcohol drinking, which the artist perceives to be a cure for the wounded soul. Jolanta Nowaczyk’s and Jana Shostak’s pieces exemplify a distanced approach to the problem: Nowaczyk underscores the eminent cultural-religious aspect, Shostak in her references to a Chinese torture, where an adversary is being submerged, brings out the psychology of drinking – mental states of patients suffering from alcohol dependency.

All the works by the OPCJA art group presented at Be Sober! exhibition are not connected solely by their subjective perspective on drinking. In their interdisciplinary activities these authors aim to reach the viewer’s consciousness to the point of awakening their conscience. For alcohol is. Was. And will be.

Text author: Karolina Spyrka