Shapeshifting: Eisenstein as Method



ms1, Więckowskiego 36, 1st floor


22.06.2018 - 23.09.2018


Aleksandra Jach

project initiator

Tomasz Majewski


Katarzyna Mróz - exhibition coordination; Martyn Kramek - editorial coordination

This exhibition connects Eisenstein’s work to his visual sources of inspiration and contemporary art. The figure of shapeshifting offers a vantage point for analysing Eisenstein’s work, and, conversely, Eisenstein becomes a method for thinking about shapeshifting.

Shapeshifting is a force that transgresses divisions between thought and action, creation and destruction, matter and organism, and life and death. Metamorphosis awakens terror, spawning untamed and unforeseeable forms. It can also compel us, for we associate it with freedom and escape from constraining norms. The ability to recuperate oneself within this dynamic and manipulate the plasticity of matter, relations, and the body is a skill of enormous value. Art can be taken as the pole of these experiments with form, for as a practice, it stretches boundaries, transcends them and then delineates new ones. Art reckons with change.

The exhibition constructs a shapeshifting narrative through the figure of Sergei Eisenstein, drawing from the biography, films, drawings, and writings of the renowned director and theorist. It was particularly in his drawings that Eisenstein explored the theme of metamorphosis. The experimental nature of this work not only consists of its discovery of new expressive modes and themes: his drawings become a key for understanding the artist’s work as a practice oriented around process. For Eisenstein, to draw became a method of creating and thinking: a visual diary that allowed him to notate his own evolution and that of the world in real time.

By following tropes seeded by the artist, we can piece together a story about the perpetual transformation of matter and the imprint it leaves on our conceptions of history, identity, the body, and its drives and relations. Metod [Method] (1932–1947) was one of Eisenstein’s last – unfinished – books. In the text, he announces the need to “think with the senses.” This mode of thought requires the deft registration of the precise moment one entity leaps into a new state of matter, towards a new way of life or mode of operation. Art reveals moments of ecstasy (ex-stasis), when water becomes steam, fire becomes ash, and the human transforms into an animal or is reduced to a heap of dust. Art itself is capable of triggering a chain of transformations, and its form is only a passing glimpse of the world in evolution: the fleeting animation of the non-living, the donning of costumes and masks, destruction, fragmentation and the pursuit of unity.

This exhibition draws from citations and fragments bound together under the banner of the “cinematic.” Eisenstein was fascinated by various artistic genres’ power to manipulate viewers’ experience of space and time. In light of this, the exhibition includes artists crucial for Eisenstein’s work active in the world of film and beyond it, in drawing or animation (Miguel Covarrubias, Walt Disney, Honoré Daumier, J.J. Grandville, Jean Painlevé, and Saul Steinberg). For Eisenstein, the “cinematic” status of a work of art was a prerequisite for its capacity to represent the plasmatic dynamism of organisms and matter. Work by Marcel Broodthaers, Wanda Czełkowska, Władysław Hasior, Peter Kassovitz, Grzegorz Kowalski, Ana Mendieta,, Hanna Nowicka, Allan Schneider, Piotr Kopik and Franciszka Themerson sit together with Eisenstein’s body of work in the space of the exhibition, expanding on the director’s theoretical apparatus and insights and testifying to the persistent relevance of shapeshifting as a theme for contemporary art.

Some of the exhibited art pieces contain motives that could be perceived as controversial. Admission for minors only with the consent of their legal guardians.

exhibition design: Krzysztof Skoczylas

graphic design: Turbodizel





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