Last year, Filip Markiewicz invaded the Luxembourg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Paradiso Lussemburgo, a 'total art work' in which he presents a critical but nonetheless humorous portrait of the Grand Duchy which in 2014 gave a new president to the European Commission, without renouncing its enduring image of a tax haven. The exhibition addresses multiple aspects of this 'emblem', and includes a wholly new series of drawings of a markedly political bent.
Born in Luxembourg, of Polish origin, Filip Markiewicz studied in Strasbourg and resides in Hamburg, a journey that echoes his interests in the concepts of otherness, nationality and migratory flux, all issues that are today at the forefront of concerns for a European Union forced to question its foundations and its future.
Filip Markiewicz often addresses the issues of the day, and in the last several months this has meant the attacks in Paris and Brussels as well as the migrant crisis, but also the rise of the extreme right, both in Poland and in Europe more generally.
His new series of drawings confronts all these issues, though elliptically, and most notably via the figure of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956), the actor best known for his role as Count Dracula in many films and stage plays. Born in Lugos in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Lugoj, Romania) and deceased in Los Angeles, Lugosi incarnates - as much owing to his personal as his artistic course - a flamboyant failure of sorts, and his tale reverberates for Filip Markiewicz in terms of the crisis traversing Europe in the present day.
For example, his drawing Euro Dance is an evocation of the eponymous musical current of the 1990's, a kind of house music a bit on the 'cheap' side, but equally referring to the great title from the post-punk band Bauhaus, Bela Lugosi's Dead (1979). Bauhaus remains in the electronic musical imagination as a precursor of Gothic rock - and a way for Filip Markiewicz to hark back to the Danse Macabre now playing out at Europe's borders.
In Bela Trump, Lugosi holds in his hand a small marionette of Donald Trump sporting a mask like Zorro (or like Batman's sidekick and minion Robin), with, below, the printed title "Paradise Is When There is a Commercial Break" - a the world where entertainment, business and American presidential politics meld as one.
Filip Markiewicz also underscores the obsession for the immediate upon which rests today's social media. Hashtag Depression, where the figure of Lugosi again appears, crushed by the word Neuropa - a contraction of the terms Neurose (i.e. neurosis) and Europa. The symmetry of the composition is that of a banknote with, on either side, a migrant holding a child-in-arms. The portrait of Lugosi is supported by a shirtless man, who is none other than Justin Bieber. The latter's deformed face introduces a new reference in Filip Markiewicz's work, that of the aesthetic glitch, originally signifying a simple fault in the transmission of an electronic signal, but has given birth to a veritable artistic current making use of digital errors, as much in the domain of the image as in music. For this artist, the glitch also stands symbol for the weaknesses and breakdowns of today's world, marked by superficiality. It is no accident that the protagonists he represents in this way are drawn from mainstream culture... For that matter, we find Miley Cyrus benefitting from the same treatment, associated with the slogan "Making Love With Your Ego" - a reference to Bowie but also to the omnipresence of Pop stars on the social media - while the two Kaczynski brothers, just as deformed, refer to the authoritarian and populist trend in today's Poland. "Era Pegida", the name of the anti-immigration movement born in Germany, highlights to what extent these ideas are now anchored in our mental world.
Clockwork Fugees takes as its starting point the famous scene in A Clockwork Orange where Alex is forced to watch scenes of ultra-violence. But if this shock treatment, together with the use of a powerful emetic, ended up by producing its effects, nothing seems able to touch us in the plight of migrants who die in their thousands at the gates of Europe. The 'glitched' Statue of Liberty is there to remind us that with Donald Trump at the head of the United States, the international situation is hardly likely to improve...
Just as with the pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the exhibition comprises a total whole: the drawings are but one element, no doubt the most direct, of a complex discourse that Filip Markiewicz equally explores in his films and installations. With a sometimes-wry humour, but without cynicism, he invites us to consider the paradoxes of a Europe facing a serious existential crisis, while still trying to embody the values for which migrants are willing to risk their lives.
P-Y Desaive, Brussels, 2016