Przemek Branas. Moonrise
29 September 2018 – 6 January 2019
Przemek Branas graduated from the Faculty of Intermedia, Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (2013) and now attends doctoral studies at the University of the Arts in Poznan. He started his public activity with radical, identity performances. Although the scope of his interests has considerably increased in the following years, the art of action has remained in the centre of his artistic work. Branas reaches for the history of performance and performers, referring to such figures as Krzysztof Niemczyk or Chris Burden, who were both active at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. His archival interests are inspired by contemporary political debates. Such was the character of his project devoted to General Józef Bem, concerning bringing his body from Aleppo in Syria to his hometown Tarnów in 1929 (Work-shop, 2016) or a film about political terrorism and violence presented during the Deutsche Bank competition Looks in Zachęta, 2017.
On his website (https://www.przemekbranas.com/about-me) he writes that even if the result is something different, he usually starts work from objects, their physical presence and ways in which they may be presented. In these things – be it an anonymous photograph of a street painter drawing on the pavement in Marseille, or a fragment of a dismantled and abandoned fountain designed by Wiktor Zin in Krakow – he recognizes signs – signposts for a journey into the world of abandoned senses of the past and spaces evading a casual (and also Europe-centric) understanding. Branas’ objects are extremely sensual, which does not mean that they are always pleasant. They often have an intrinsic wild energy of primitive sensuality, and it is the sense of smell that comes to the fore in his art. In the Birth of Black and White (2016), it was the intensive smell of wood tar that became an overwhelming dimension of the work.
In 2017 Branas received a scholarship of Terra American Art Foundation for a residency at Giverny, the place where the impressionist Clause Monet spent the last years of his life and where his house and garden, portrayed by the painter in his famous series of paintings Water Lilies, are still carefully maintained. During his residency Branas devoted himself to botanical studies, in an initial attempt to distinguish in the lavishly blooming Monet’s garden decorative plants from edible ones or healing herbs. He soon realized that many of the eye-pleasing flowers pose a mortal danger to man. Finally, the artist bought a beautiful, historical press for drying plants and with its help he created over 100 cards of a herbarium, as well as he distilled poisons from the garden flowers.
The meaning of his work embraces both the historical and anthropological contexts. The things produced by the artist connote both the concept of a ‘poisonous beauty’ and the pre-Christian lunar practices – of wizards and witches collecting herbs by the moonlight. This is the meaning suggested by the title Moonrise. In painting, the flower still life, which is the most decorative genre, has always had a vanitative meaning. Cut flowers in vases, at their full bloom always reminded about the transitoriness of matters of this world – of the inevitability of death. Herbaria achieve an even higher effect, and the framework of the palace chapel in which they are exhibited, enhances their eschatological message.
Branas’ works evoke another chain of linguistic associations – a deceptive beauty, mischievous and inhuman, not for human measure, also moral one. I wonder if the artist could be making ironic remarks with this project on the discussion of contemporary art, which opponents criticise from the aesthetic Platonic positions about the triad of beauty, good and truth. Is beauty necessarily good if the case of the historical botanical press is decorated with the torn wings of several dozen decorative butterflies?
Herbaria, a nineteenth century symbol of the ideology of the epoch with its positivist interest in taxonomy and belief in the cognoscibility of the surrounding world by an enlightened reason, appear in the exhibition next to a shaman mask of leaves and fetishist objects symbolizing the smell and hearing – senses more primitive than sight, belonging to a higher degree with animals than man. In the unique flasks scent distillates are displayed as well – extracts from healing and lethal plants.
Thanks to Przemek Branas’ exhibition we are taking a detour from the garden in Giverny to the Park of Contemporary Sculpture in Orońsko, to ponder about the meaning of the topos of a paradisiacal garden - creation of art and nature – which inspired both places, spaces of eternal happiness … and death.