Michal Martychowiec, born 1987 in Lublin, Poland, is a contemporary conceptual artist. He studied at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and graduated with distinction. Martychowiec’s works, mostly in larger series, cover almost all genres of artistic expression. Depending on the question and subject, he uses the medium of photography, writes, shoots and produces films, draws, designs neons, objects, outdoor sculptures and environments. A new project is the creation of avatars and other personas. The ideas for this come from the philosophy of the Orient and Occident, anthropology, art and cultural history, universal historical thought, history of religion, literature, archaeology as well as contemporary culture and communication analysis. In addition to his artistic activities, Martychowiec teaches as a guest lecturer at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Michal Martychowiec currently lives in Berlin.
Portrait Michal Martychowiec + Josephine © Martychowiec | Migrant Bird Space
You live in Berlin. Since when – and is there something that you expect from Berlin especially as an artist?
I moved to Berlin at the end of 2011 and I have been here since, at least for the larger part of the year. I had no specific expectations of the city. It was more a result of me wanting to move out from London. That left me with several options, and after considering each, I settled for Berlin, which at that time seemed to have quite a good scene.
How do you assess the current development of the art market in Germany?
I am not sure I am in a position to answer this question. I try to, personally, stay away from the market as much as I can, leaving it to others to handle. If by market, you also want to consider the scene as a whole with its exhibition programme and critical discourse, then the art scene in Germany or Italy (in other words the continental art scene) is closer to me than that in the Anglo-Saxon countries. That is probably due to the fact my work is deeply positioned in European socio-cultural context, which has a very different historical background comparing to the, for instance, American one. It would not make sense to ask the same questions here and there.
You travel between Berlin and China. What are the main differences between these two countries especially regarding art, artists and the art market?
Well, of course there are differences but it is a big topic. And China is a big country.
Art is different everywhere. As I mentioned, I do not think it makes sense to ask the same questions in Europe and in America. But strangely, I find the kind of historical immediacy of Europe and China more alike than that of Europe and America. Then again, looking at things from the perspective of my historiosophical practice, there are differences. Most specifically the mater of the position of modern tradition in the contemporary art.
Modern tradition, at least in the context of visual arts, has been around the longest in Europe, or you could say, modern ideas dominated European art longer than elsewhere .
And so, understandably, my perspective on the modern ideas is somewhat different to that of many of my Chinese colleagues. The idea of European Modern art begun in China quite later, as an imported foreign idea.
The interesting thing, which there is no parallel to in the West, is that in China you have two separate establishments, which are, incidentally, not very compatible. That means you have the ‘traditional’ art rooted in Confucian and Taoist ideas, and there is a very strong establishment for that, and you have contemporary art, which is rooted in, again, different ideas: individuality, freedom, etc. Now, one of my students in Hangzhou struck me with a question: what is the traditional art [right now] like in Europe? For a moment I was lost for words, because I simply was not sure what could be considered as such. There certainly are many classical historic works of art, and there is establishment of institutions for that, but rather than art, I would say it is history of art, I mean this art is not practiced. And should anybody practice this kind of art, it would surely not become historicised and institutionalised. My answer was: traditional art in Europe is contemporary art.
There is clear historical narrative: there were these tendencies and then those throughout various periods. Then, there were some artists, excluded from the mainstream, or art history, they were doing their own thing, but they were never part of a bigger movement, or for that matter, there was never establishment of a sort behind them. So, we never had the dual establishment China does.
Migrant Bird Space: Michal Martychowiec, Winter kept us warm, 22.06.-09.08.2019
Two sentences about your current project at Migrant Bird Space Berlin. And please let us know, why you named the “first” art rabbit “Josephine”. Is that an homage to Joseph Beuys?
This exhibition is showing a certain contemporary culmination to the whole historiosophical narrative I have been developing throughout my practice. Of course, what is presented is a tiny part of it, the space has its limitations…
As for Josephine, the references are there, and I am not hiding them. Referencing other artistic practices is a rather classical thing; it has always been in art. To me, it hass always been most important to ask myself why there are such references, what do they mean and why it is significant to make such references. So, the reference to Beuys is made very clearly, throughout various works and my writing. In fact, I mention it at the very beginning of the commentary I wrote for this exhibition: ‘However, how should one approach, the hero of this story – Josephine – a black and white rabbit whom the artist draws as one who was spared the fate Beuys’s hare met in the process of art-making?‘
How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration these days? How do you keep the focus in a world in which hundreds of thousands of impressions attack us every day?
You could say and think we live in such a visual time, of an overproduction of imagery with which we are flooded everywhere. But I do not think it means people actually see more than they did. To see is one thing, but to see and be inspired is another. Of course, you often see things: lets say some strange arrangement in the street, and you think to yourself it would make a nice sculpture, installation or whatnot. But making simply an interesting assemblage would not be satisfactory to me. Something which looks interesting or pleasing to the eye does not necessarily hold much significance, and to me, that is the predominant prerequisite to be inspired. In this sense, I think Arte Povera was quite masterful, because it found or assigned meanings to what was not considered to have them, or you could even say, what was not seen as inspiring.
We heard that Classical and Ancient Art is influencing your art. Could you please share with us the intention of your art? How do you combine the Classic to the Presence?
I cannot classical or the ancient is inspiring me unequally to the, say, contemporary popular culture. In fact, I would consider contemporary popular culture as necessarily, by its nature, a product of the past. And so it qualifies for contemporary historical interpretation atthe same level the ancient culture does. To interpret heritages of all sorts allows one to create a contemporary commentary because the interpretation is, again, by its nature dependent on the historical situation of whoever interprets: the artist, the spectator, the critic…
What makes you happy these days? What frightens you?
(Michal Martychowiec shows an image of one of his artworks instead of an answer)
Michal Martychowiec, The whole secret of existence is to have no fear
When you think back: How did you get to art? Why art?
I was interested in possibilities. Of all sorts. I considered studying mathematics. I applied for a degree in fine art and an interdisciplinary degree in mathematics and philosophy. I supposed they are similar fields anyway, so at that point whichever made not much difference to me. But then the decision became clear as I was accepted into both courses, I felt somehow reluctant towards the latter. So, I went to an art school.
What are you thinking about most at the moment; what are you up to right know?
It was year 1100. Guo Fan played a game with Li Baoxiang. Both played poorly. It is history. In the end we will never be sure why. But I am sure mistakes of historians became our mistakes.
Two sentences about your vita.
looking for meaning in history do you believe in art ?
What do you feel about political art?
I think all art is political.
Does art run in your family?
There have been entrepreneurs, economists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians in my family, but no artists really. Many did some music, but not outside of what would have been a social norm at the time. There was a somewhat renown romance writer, but it was at the end of 19th century, quite an embarassing story.
What should your art cause/evoke in your audience?
If something is not clear or seem very difficult to understand, I would not want the spectator to feel discouraged or humiliated (believe it or not, I have received such feedback at times). I think not understanding is a wonderful condition because it prompts us to learn, to explore and to think. Pre-historic man had not this quality, that man was concentrated on consuption and had not the concept of history. But we have lived in the ‘historic’ times for a long time. Whatever we do not know about, can be studied and learnt, and then things become clear and can be read. Sometime it feels contemporary man, however, has a certain audacity: everything should be for him, it should come with no effort. So will we enter a certain post-historic time? Some things might suggest it to be the case, but I do not believe it will be so.
From: “The daily questions” | © Martychowiec, Migrant Bird Space
Which project would you like to implement?
There are some large scale installations which have not been materialised yet and I cannot produce them without a form of institutional backing. I would like to finalise some of these works in the foreseeable future.
Are you interested in what collectors are doing with your artworks?
I am very. In fact, it is one of the reasons why I think I go through the trouble of making art (materializing an idea in one way or the other). When I present my work and am asked for an explanation, I always present an idea. To me, this idea, is not so much a way to interpret the work, but a reason for due to which I commited it. In the end, what I present, is, let’s say, an object. This object can be approached in many ways, one could study my other works, my notes, and find a way to read it, but they could also approach it from a very personal circumstances and take it from this perspective. These approaches are most interesting to me, because I think a work of art can only stay ‘alive’ if it can continuously inspire various readings in different historical circumstances.
Is oneself born as an artist? Or is it strongly required to study?
I don’t think one necessarily needs to study art, but I think it is important to know history. Otherwise you end up wandering in the dark, without realizing where you exactly are. I will give an example, perhaps from another field. It is often the case of the contemporary journalism. Journalists write political commentary analyzing current and most recent development between, say, North Korea and USA. If one looks at it from the perspective of one term in office, so just some recent years then one draws a particular image of the case. But then, North Korea doesn’t have an office term per se. It has a continuous policy which has remained unchanged throughout some decades. So to make sense of what is happening in North Korea, one should rather look at the history of negotiations and respective activities, at least starting with Clinton’s time.
What does the first hour of your day look like?
The first hour would be spent on making arrangements and plan for the rest of the day, setting up whatever work I intend to do. Normally I would do that over breakfast.
*The exhibition “Winter kept us warm” by Michal Martychowiec can be seen until 09.08.2019 at Migrant Bird Space, Koppenplatz 5 in 10115 Berlin-Mitte. If you have any questions about Michal Martychowiec’s works or would like to arrange a personal viewing appointment, please contact Migrant Bird Space directly: Dr. Eva Morawietz, , email@example.com, Tel: +49 30 49952524
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