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'My Tu Byliśmy / We Were Here' by Rafal Zajko at Galeria Sleńdzińskich, Białystok

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Rafał Zajko titles his exhibition “We were here”.It references directly the wild, illegal inscriptions created in public space, very often considered to be acts of vandalism. But this particular sentence – by the virtue of being the official title of the exhibition – was transported into the administrative sphere and no longer retains its rebellious functions. It can be considered their metaphor at best. 

However it still expresses the same sentiments as the wall writings: the desire to record oneself, mark one’s own presence; to show the word one’s existence!

Rafał Zajko fills the walls and the entire space of the gallery with the objects he has created – works of art. Objects, which represent his own artistic language. Objects which present his, so to speak, handwriting. Zajko is an artist with a very particular aesthetic style and as such can be “easily recognizable”.

But already in these individual works the artist refers to the collectivity. One that is not yet named, but already expressed. We could say that it is a community of oppression. The aesthetics of Zajko’s individual works in a sense questions the individuality. His bas-reliefs resemble pre-fabricated elements, seemingly not created by an artist, but rather a collective of workers; people without their own names, human tools. The dominating motif are the graphically simplified symbols resembling hands and/or workshop wrenches. Brought together by an embrace (both people and tools) start to resemble each other. And it becomes hard to determine who assembles whom. 

Zajko strips the human hand from its power of individual signature. Hand impression is often and individual sign. A symbol of inimitable individuality. It is a common knowledge among the pop-culture celebrities, who keep leaving their hands impressed in various star alleys. In the quasi-industrial, technical aesthetics of Zajko’s works, tool-like hands and hand-like tools do not have an individual character. They grasp each other, link together to form a chain (or perhaps a labyrinth), forming a hybrid and community. Zajko calls it “unity”, clearly pointing towards the objective nature of collectivity. 

These patterns of hands and tools can be a sign of community once formed by the female and male workers of the “Fasty” Białystok Textile Industry Plants. The artist’s ancestors were members of this community, and objects with “Fasty” logo (did they even use the word ‘logo’ back then?) filled the world in which he was raised. He now recreates the logo in the exhibition as a sign of memory. Thanks to him the words “we were here” can be uttered not only by his grandparents, but all workers of “Fasty” – a once great industrial combine, which was defeated by the political transformation, and brought to ruin by the economic changes of 1990s. That is why he chooses to create his post-industrial rendering of the logo in ice. Just like the logo of “Metro” club – Białystok music venue, which is a legend of Polish electronic music scene. This is another world in which the subject is also the individuality-forming collectivity. The club, which gained a national fame, formed its own alternative community, which was a source of formative strength. This community allowed people to create their own identity and find their identification. This experience was shared by the author himself. Hence the reconstruction of the club’s logo in ice. “We were here” – these words are uttered by the signs of the past and they become past themselves before our very eyes. 

But there are other signs being born before us. Zajko not only reaches into the past, but also designs future memories. He initiates collectivities. The entire space of the completed exhibition is painted over by a group of invited graffiti artists. They tag their presence completely independently. In their own way. They say “we were here” and leave.

He also prepares a special column for chewing gum made out of pavement bricks. A place for collecting the viewers’ identities. And for creating a collective sign. Slightly sculptural, very physiological. It is the real “us”, made from our saliva, teeth impressions, and DNA. Raw components of our faces prior to the digital reconstruction.

— Janusz Noniewicz

18.5.19 — 16.6.19

Curated by Katarzyna Siwierska

Photo by Catherine Scrivener

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