Justyna Scheuring creates in her work singular allegories of impossible communication. During her Situationist performance actions, the artist combines separate communities by arranging a space for encounters, where individuals, conscious of their limitations, face one another released from their meticulously crafted cultural roles. Scheuring’s work heads towards invisibility. Her actions cause art institutions, viewers and, paradoxically, the artist herself to disappear, leaving only actual people, co-present in a particular space and time. So little and yet so much.
Like many artists before her, Scheuring tries to embody in her work the dream of a direct experience of being with others, being without prejudices, fully tolerant and accepting. Her work can be understood as a consistent opening of fissures in reality, where a regular, if only momentary, meeting with the other becomes possible and offers a chance to reach the core of one’s individual subjectivity.
The event at CANAL was no different. Scheuring transformed the small exhibition space into a strangely theatrical stage, emphasising the spectacular nature of a solo exhibition. Set centre-stage was a rostrum for the performer and a long black curtain, concealing what turned out to be a colossal pedestal, on which the artist placed herself during her performance. The floor and walls were covered with geometric diagrams and a mural: a square divided into four equal parts containing the 3 first letters of the Latin alphabet; a black line and primary-coloured circles, as well as a mountain suggested with a few strokes of a brush. The provocatively simplified space, defined only by abstract symbols, housed a group of five Polish-to-English translators as well as two sign language interpreters, British and Polish. These surreal non-actors would later turn out to form a cacophonous chorus interpreting every line spoken by the artist.
Scheuring spoke in her performance about the desire to express suffering caused by a sense of alienation. At the same time she tried to draw attention to the impossibility of conveying the overbearing experience to others by means of established cultural codes. The lines she delivered were a performative deconstruction of language. Her mechanical Bauhausian gestures and costume, as if derived from a non-existent Mondrian commedia dell’arte, exposed the grotesque role of the artist, a role which Scheuring has perversely agreed to play in her work since her graduation from the University of Fine Arts in Poznań and Goldsmiths. The conventionality of the situation she co-created was further heightened by the fact that the performance was to be repeated every week throughout the month of her exhibition.
The audience, part of which I had the pleasure to form, was confronted with an aesthetically refined event, which honed art down to a set of lines, colours, words, gestures and actions, revealing its conventional nature. The situation staged by Scheuring reminded me not only of the illusion of the actual being produced through culture – which has been and still is made and unmade by numerous artists – but also led to a broader reflection on contemporary models of subjectivity. Scheuring’s passing reference to the Shoah – yhe ‘zero point’ of contemporary humanities – directed my thinking towards Giorgio Agamben’s figure of ‘bare life’, a life that is separated from itself, characteristic of the postmodern subject facing the challenges of totalitarianism, biopolitics, and the ever more prevalent technocracy. She simply reminded me of what, here and now, is at stake.
Scheuring’s performance at CANAL was therefore a great opportunity for an extra-cultural encounter with others as well as with oneself, an opportunity to confront one’s own subjectivity somewhere at the limits of art, life and dream. Sadly, stepping out of the gallery into a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was immediately placed back on the carousel that keeps spinning us, the ostensibly happy people. Now though, I am much more aware of this merry-go-round we all amuse ourselves on, whether we want it or not.
Translated by Piotr Mierzwa