M/W - Jeremy Millars exhibition

ms1, 36 Więckowskiego St
30th May 2014 - 24 August 2014

The idea of the M/W exhibition refers to Bronisław Malinowski and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s expedition to Ceylon and western Australia organised a hundred years ago. The expedition, although Witkacy abandoned it before its end, can be considered  one of the journeys contributing to the tradition of modernism, similarly to Paul Gaugin’s journey to Tahiti or Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud’s roaming Europe. In M/W Jeremy Millar asks the question about what could have happened had the trip lasted longer.

The actual destination of the trip was New Guiney or, more precisely, Trobriand Islands in its vicinity. It was there that Malinowski intended to conduct research project in which Witkiewicz was to be a photographer and a graphic artist. Witkiewicz’s extremely complex emotional state in the aftermath of his fiancée’s death (in February that year), differences of opinions between the two and, most importantly, the outbreak of war in Europe made Witkiewicz leave for Russia having spent almost seven weeks in Australia. He stayed there until the end of the war. It was there that his paining style matured , the foundations of his aesthetics and ontology were laid. Malinowski in turn, continued his journey to New Guiney, conducted research on the Trobriand Islands (in 1915-16 and 1917-18) that gave rise to a new branch of science – social anthropology.

In 2009 Jeremy Millar created a series of works concerning the possible consequences of Witkiewicz’s staying in the tropics and his continued cooperation with Malinowski. The artist constructs a kind of projection of Witkiewicz’s character onto contemporary circumstances he witnessed in Papua-New Guiney. Looking for traces of Witkacy’s unrealised presence Millar assigns himself the role of an explorer providing material evidence of what kind of works Witkacy would have created if he had not interrupted his journey. In the project Millar proposes a fragmentary narration concerning the unrealised episodes from Witkiewicz’s biography and encourages the viewers to complete it. Similarly to other projects by Jeremy Millar this one also features fictitious events staged by the artist that stimulate reflections on their possible aesthetic and philosophical consequences.

The exhibition consists of three components. The first one is a series of black and white photographs titled As Witkiewicz depicting the inhabitants and sights of Kiriwina Island – a place where Malinowski conducted his research. The photographs are made in a way Witkiewicz might have taken them had he continued the expedition with Malinowski. The lighting and framing of the faces connects them to the portraits created by Witkacy before the First World War. Similarly to the  originals they combine psychological dimension of a portrait with an element of masquerade.  In the series Millar asks about the anthropological aspect of the photographs Witkiewicz never took; he provokes the reflection about how different they would have been to the ones taken by Malinowski, and asks if they might have changed the way in which Melanesian culture is understood.

The second element of the exhibition are two recordings of video-staging of Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf one of the ‘tropical plays’ written by Witkiewicz in 1921. Jeremy Millar invited artists from Australia and Papua-New Guiney to interpret the drama. The performances were held in Adelaide and Goroka, respectively. Metaphysics, with its plot set in New Guiney and Australia, is kind of polemics between Witkiewicz and Malinowski. The narration it contains questions the functionalist approach to the issues of totemism in Malinowski’s early work „The relation of primitive beliefs to the forms of social organization”, written before the journey to New Guney. The staging of Metaphysics performed by local actors is an attempt of giving the fantasy vision of New Guiney created by Witkiewicz to the culture of the region.

The third component of the exhibition is a ceremonial necklace soulava from the region of Papua-New Guiney modified by Millar. A necklace like this is a subject of exchange in the Kula ritual described by Malinowski characteristic of tribes of the islands of western Pacific. Circulating clockwise in a closed ring of the islands, the necklace is always passed on With the Left Hand. The exchange system outlined by the rules of the Kula ritual is aimed at integrating social life and the value of the objects of exchange is determined by their aesthetic features. Millar decided to fit the soulava necklace with coins with Malinowski’s image minted in Poland – tis way both the necklace and the coins are excluded from two different economic exchange systems typical of two different traditions. Integrated they become a part of artistic exchange system.

Jeremy Millar – British artist and curator, a lecturer of art criticism at Royal College of Art in London. He has exhibited his works on numerous occasions in Britain and abroad at Tramway in Glasgow; CCA in Vilnius; Rooseum in Malmö; Vigeland Museum in Oslo; Tate Modern and National Maritime Museum in London; Tate St Ives; Ikon Gallery in Birmingham; Plymouth Arts Centre and others. He has created projects devoted to important personalities of 20th century culture such as J.G. Ballard, Marcel Duchamp, Bronisław Malinowski, Chris Marker, W.G. Sebald, Robert Smithson, Andriej Tarkowski, Aby Warburg, S. I. Witkiewicz. He has been the curator of famous exhibitions including  Institute of Cultural Anxiety at ICA in London (1994); Speed at Whitechapel Art Gallery (1998); Every Day is a Good Day – dedicated to devoted to  John Cage (2010, a part of the Hayward Touring programme). He has published several books and texts about modern and contemporary art in journals and exhibition catalogues.

Curator: Paweł Polit

Exhibition coordination: Martyna Gajda

Promotion coordination: Dorota Sztyler


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