A recurring theme in Joanna Rajkowska's works is collective memory. This is often central to her works in public spaces, for example, Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue (2002, Warsaw), or Benjamin in Konya (2010, Turkey). Rajkowska sometimes uses private mythologies in her work, which in her interpretation become a universal story.
The exhibition Gold, Silver, Brass includes works created by Rajkowska over the past six years. The starting point is the artist's family history – an ordinary bourgeois family from Warsaw, their story similar to that of thousands of other families, which together shaped the identity of Eastern Europe and its collective memory in the 20th century.
The recurrence of absence and loss runs through the show. Each work is a short narrative relating a specific story from the family's history. Spittoon is an exact replica of the spittoon which once stood in the dental practice run by Rajkowska's great-grandfather. It was the only surviving family memento until the artist's father, Andrzej Rajkowski, lost it in a card game. In 2008, Spittoon was placed at Constitution Square, Warsaw, for a few weeks, in the place where Rajkowska's great-grandfather's house stood before it was destroyed during the war. Around this sculpture the artist builds a story of three generations.
Jawknob is an echo of revenge on the Soviets by Rajkowska's grandfather in 1945. Russian soldiers returning from Berlin ordered gold teeth from him, paying with looted jewellery from the Third Reich. Instead of gold, he fitted them with teeth made out of brass, which had been melted down from ordinary doorknobs. Each patient was given some brass polish and told to use it to clean off the green and poisonous deposits.
In the film Gold and Silver the artist's father searches for the family's valuables, which were buried somewhere in the area of Zyrard&oacute;w, near Warsaw. Perhaps the search for these relics from the past was also a search for lost family ties. Her father's life was a constant flight – from an escape from the transport to Auschwitz, to leaving his wife and family. “My father did not change my nappies and did not accompany me on my first day of school […] He was not there when I was in hospital with sepsis. He ran away from my mother.” This breakdown in his relationship with his daughter is the core of Rajkowska's film My Father Never Touched Me Like This, for which she asked her father to touch her face. Perhaps for the first time ever.
Joanna Rajkowska's works are an invocation of the past. Beneath the superficiality of everyday life the artist reveals layers of memory and touches the wounds of the past, from which we all bear scars.
Joanna Rajkowska was born in 1968 in Bydgoszcz (Poland). She is the creator of public projects, objects, films, installations and ephemeral actions and interventions carried out within city spaces. The artist participated in the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012. In December 2013, the first English book about Rajkowska Where the Beast is Buried was published by Zero Books.
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