Poetry Passage#4: I Am the Mouth

Date: 05.10.2016 - 19.02.2017
Place: Trade Fair Palace

Agnieszka Polska
featuring Jean-Luc Nancy, Vox Clamans in Deserto

Language, the sensuality of sound and materiality of voice are in the centre of the Poetry Passage#4. A disembodied pair of lips, intoning “I am the mouth that produces waves”, greets the viewers upon the entrance. Short animation video by Polish artist, Agnieszka Polska (b. 1985) is inspired by Samuel Beckett’s theatrical production “Not I” (1972) and based upon a scientific description of sound waves moving through different materials. Ultimately, Poetry Passage#4 generates a fictive dialogue with the French philosopher’s Jean-Luc Nancy’s seminal essay/play, a meditation on body, voice and speech, “Vox Clamans in Deserto” (1993).  

How to grasp the past? How to memorize past moments? How to represent and evaluate them? Agnieszka Polska exercises nostalgia as a vivid critical means employed to articulate the past and the feeling of the “pastness”, but also as a tool for seduction and allure, a lens to render an idealized version of time. Her photographic and video-animation work is base upon a permanent return to the visual reservoir of the past: old (found) photographs, printed materials mainly from the interwar period, documents and forgotten image archives, and archaic techniques and practices are primary sources of her contemplative video-narratives that leave the spectator filled with anxiety and bewilderment. Polska’s earlier video work is a process of “never-ending modeling of the past”: an ongoing, carnivalesque seance of mourning, a dance macabre of history’s myths and truths. Her “Calendar” (2008) - a visual symphony which consists of masterful alterations to the original material (a found Polish calendar for countryside housewives, printed in January 1939) - is a captivating portrait of an agonizing humanity in ruins and a diary of nature on a threshold of an unknown disaster. Equally, Polska’s “Medical Gymnastics (2008) and “Fire Cuping” (2009) are further studies of a forthcoming catastrophe and destruction; mimicking the language of old-fashioned scientific material and referring to traditional practices, they uncover a disguised vocabulary of discipline, authority and rigor. In the artist’s triptych, “Three Videos With Narration” (2009-10), the art historical legacy acts as both volcanic rubble, permanently being reshaped, and an obscure object of desire, possessed and repossessed, simultaneously adored and denied. Appropriating and altering in a parodic way a genre of documentary, Polska conducts a provocative act of surgery that examines the body of art historical reference documentary material and its archival condition. Following Freud’s elaboration of disturbed remembering processes (“The Forgetting of Proper Names”, 1901) that eventually lead towards the displacements that generate substitutes or equivalents, the artist expresses her concerns regarding the troublesome issues of art reception: the correct reading, interpretation, and archiving of art. Hers is an act of excavating the memory of past events and reconciliating all that is seemingly forgotten, overlooked, or misread. 

Agnieszka Polska’s most recent post-internet-like video works, shown for the first time in the solo exhibition, “Body of Words” at Zak\Branicka Gallery in Berlin, shift the artist’s interest towards the investigation of the origin and nature of language. Here too though, like in previous works, Polska’s corporeal and psychotic cosmos is an organic and fluid substance, an object of unsettled matter, in a dynamic state of on-going formation. We are - as if - in the delirious realm of a ritual, somewhere in the passage of the animate and inanimate, there where the regime of looking challenges the sense of transcendental, if not metaphysical appearance. The animistic landscape of a quasi-surreal “The Talking Mountain” (2015) and the dialogue it generates, perform a transition from that which proceeds language— noises, sounds, voices—to that which is part of language—words, names, statements. In “Watery Rhymes” (2014), the way to the origin of language goes through examining the difference between spoken and written language, or more precisely, the tension between speech and writing. In it, a voice-over cites a text whose words simultaneously appear on screen, overlapping each other. As if played by a vocoder or a computer, the spoken text is spatialized by its graphic appearance. Polska’s “I Am the Mouth” (2014) - a tableau anime - is the artist’s manifesto of the emBODYment of a language. Digitally animated, red-painted lips, detached and dismembered, half-submerged in water, on a threshold of life and death, articulate themselves as a vehicle of the voice and meaning, a messenger, a medium. An ambient, psychedelic incantation puts the spectator in a state of trance and hypnosis. The artist is interested in the phenomenon of ASMR (Autonomy Sensory Meridian Response) videos, which feature softly sensuous sounds—breathy whispers, fingernails on glass—that trigger tingles in some viewers. In “I Am the Mouth”, Polska’s own voice undergoes slight modifications to make it rasp and sparkle as it issues through the speakers. Here, like in her earlier films, the quasi-erotic subversion corresponds to the sensual performance of a healed or trained body under pressure. As Ory Dessau observes, “the lips are impersonal, faceless, and digitized. Polska’s detached lips manifest the implications of becoming a speaking organism. In order to speak, the lips had to forget the body they were segmented from. In “Watery Rhymes” the body is captured by the unity speech/script, while in “I Am the Mouth” speech dematerializes the body, making it disappear, and then re-appear, but as that which was lost, i.e., as a memory, as a ghost”. 

French Philosopher, Jean-Luc Nancy (born 1940, Bordeaux) - the thinker of a voice (“Le partage des voix”, 1982), as well as of a body and touch (“Corpus”, 1992), of “we” (“Être singulier pluriel”,1996) and, last but not least, of existence and poetry (“The Birth to Presence”, 1993) - understands poetry as the presentation of presence: “‘poetry’ means, not a literary genre as such, but the limit of ‘literature’, of ‘writing’, where nothing is written but the coming of presence, a coming that can never be written or presented in any way. The edge on which writing writes only its own limit, exposed to……”. Exactly, well, exposed to what??? Such is an open end of Jean-Luc Nancy’s introduction to his “collection as such” of “The Birth to Presence” which includes the philosopher’s outstanding essay on the ontology of a voice, “Vox Clamans in Deserto”, a quasi theatrical drama play with a stage appearance of other celebrity-thinkers of a voice, such as Saussure, Valéry, Rousseau, Kristeva, Hegel, Agamben, Montaigne and Derrida - concluded with the following definition of a voice in relation to the Other: “It is the soul itself which the voice calls forth from the other. That is how it frays the path for the subject, but it doesn’t let it settle in yet. On the contrary, it avoids the subject. It does not call on the soul to hear itself, or even to hear any discourse. It simply calls, which is to say that it makes the soul tremble, arouses it. The soul arouses the other within itself. That is voice”. Nancy’s essay is a performance on the ecstatic nature of being in the world and it is centered around the Biblical passage in which John the Baptist is a voice crying out in the desert. For Nancy, we are all voices in the desert of deserted existence. In other words, our very existence, our being-in-the world is comportment in a desert. Voice is an abandonment in a desert but also a need and a gift. It carries over a distance, across spaces. “What is proper to existence” is a spacing, a flesh of space where voice can resonate. This willingness to give oneself over to an outside through voice is part of Nancy’s project to think “being-with” or Mitsein (Ron Broglio). 

Poetry Passage#4 expands the relational space, built up by the voice’s architectural and communal ambition. Agnieszka Polska’s cinematic work and Jean-Luc Nancy’s literary construction of a presence search for the language’s sites of exposure, the connecting points of the writing’s (and speaking’s) liminal condition(s).  

Agnieszka Polska was born in 1985 in Lublin, Poland. She lives and works in Kraków and Berlin. Polska graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (2005-2010, Agata Pankiewicz’s photography studio) and from the Universitaet der Kunste Berlin (2008-2009, the class of Hito Steyerl). She first began exhibiting her works in Kraków in 2007. In 2010 her first major solo show outside of Poland took place at the Kunstmuseum Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus, Germany. Important group exhibitions include  “Ain’t No Sorry”, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2008), “Breathless” Vienna Centre, Austria (2009), “Early Years”, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2010), “Good Old Days”, Aarhus Kunstbygning, Denmark (2010), “The Forgetting of Proper Names”, Calvert 22 Gallery, London (2012). In 2014 Nottingham Contemporary staged Polska’s first solo show in the UK. Most recently she has participated in, amongst others, the 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014) and in the exhibition “Suspended Animation” at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, (2016). She was among 21 finalists for the Pinchuk Future Generation Prize 2012. 

Polska is represented by Żak/Branicka Gallery in Berlin.

Curated by Adam Budak


Exhibition partner

Opening hours
Daily except Monday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Trade Fair Palace, Dukelských hrdinů 47, Prague 7

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Metro C – Vltavská
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Tram 1, 6, 8, 12, 17, 25, 26 – Strossmayerovo náměstí
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