What if the sun spoke back to the world? Agnieszka Polska’s videos ‘The New Sun’ and ‘What the Sun Has Seen’ (both 2017) conjure this ecological encounter at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, exhibited for the first time in the U.S. in the exhibition ‘Love Bite’ and curated by Amanda Donnan. Looping antiphonally on screens that encapsulate viewers on either side of the gallery, the video essays imagine the sun’s response to humankind through radically soft argumentation. In ‘The New Sun,’ a doe-eyed yellow sun, voiced by Aaron Ronelle Harrell, chants with childlike candour, “It makes me want to cry, I cannot look away,” but still helplessly consoles the viewer, serenading: “Hey, don’t worry baby; don’t cry.”
Polska’s videos, known for their animated personifications and poetic voice-overs, immerse viewers within quantum realities that lead us to query our mode of existence. With this in mind, when ‘What the Sun Has Seen’ premiered at the Hamburger Bahnhof and secured Polska the Preis der Nationalgalerie in 2017, she and her fellow finalists spoke out against the art world realities that celebrate institutions over artists and values notoriety over prize monies to fund artists. Much like the sun, the artists called for structural shifts. ‘What the Sun Has Seen’ runs with this slightly more pedagogic tone. The video zooms from a view of the globe in deep space to a Caspar David Friedrich-esque wanderer looking out on mists (or pollution?)—cosmic loneliness and climate fragility sink in. “Hey, what’s wrong with you?” rebukes the sun, wrenching us out of any last romantic delusions. In Polska’s video, bystanders are no mere flies on the wall; we embody the phenomenon in quantum mechanics in which witnessing an event affects actual change. Here, we witness trippy dreams of CGI-decaying fruit, leafy pixilation, and dripping neon cum saturating the screen amid fluid guitar strumming at the speed of web surfing—it is as if we have awoken to a new world.
Polska deepens these pseudo-ASMR sensations, fostered by the singing sun and dreamy vistas alongside tough-love politics in ‘The Happiest Thought’ (2019). Floating hammers, nails, and screws tilt towards the viewer on a massive screen in an Einsteinian demonstration of relativity, as Geo Wyeth’s mesmeric voice-over directs us to “Notice the room you’re in; notice how heavy your body is.” Foam squares cocoon our bodies as we gasp the last breath of the Permian era—the geological period that witnessed the largest mass extinction. The video fabulates a primordial genesis that queries, “Mass extinctions, what’s that? Everyone has to die. What’s your point of reference? Are you floating or falling?” Gazing up at the slanted screen, the unhappiest thought of death is strangely approachable. Perhaps these soft spaces embody yet another quantum reality—the uncertainty principle, which theorises the impossibility of knowing both the position or velocity of an object, rendering much of scientific specificity virtually inconceivable. With a Polska-esque perspective, the uncertainty principle relieves us of the burden and hubris of knowing all. Instead, we can focus on planetary responsibility to one another and the earth.