The Social Studio is where what happens happened

Artur Żmijewski’s show is covered by we make money not art. The blog talks about two works by the Polish artist. One is a recreation of a scientific study at Stanford to find out what happens to good people in an evil environment. Students volunteered to act, some playing the screws, some the inmates. But the prison was real. Żmijewski’s Repetition is a film of the 2005 recreation, using unemployed people as its actors.

The Stanford experiment lasted six days. Żmijewski’s performance lasted only a couple of days. The curtain was brought down by the actors in the the latter case. They opted not to continue. The decision to leave the set was allegedly a collective decision.

Was the walk out perhaps inspired by the Stanford experiment? In that case scientific observers called a halt to proceedings out of fear that their subjects were in danger. The volunteer guards were terrorising the volunteer inmates.

This on its own might not inspire a contemporary cast to bunk out. However, it is recorded in addition that the Stanford crew were enjoying themselves while they were torturing, humiliating and punishing their prisoners.

Might it not be said that the participants in Żmijewski’s play cut short the run for the same reason as the scientists at Stanford? Both were afraid that there might be some enjoyment to be had and wanted to end this reign of pleasure, in 2005 before it even began. In fact, doesn’t Żmijewski’s work preempt the Stanford experiment?

It leads us to ask: Why didn’t the students opt out earlier in 1971? And to formulate a possible answer: Because the prison scenario existed to hide the fact that the experiment itself was the prison, in which the scientists were the guards.

This notion of immoral pleasure reminds me of two friends conversing: ‘Why do people want bad art?’ said one.

It’s not that they want bad art, it’s that they prefer it,’ said the other.

Another of Żmijewski’s film or video works (I think they’re referred to as video to foreground by association, by sympathetic magic, the vérité aspect; their function as artworks depends on the authority of the performance they are simply recording) shows the artist convincing a Survivor to have his tattoo refreshed.

This is what we make money not art has to say:

Żmijewski believes that in order for art to regain its value in society, it has to expose societal conflict and disclose the conditions in which social antagonisms are cultivated and maintained by the powers that be. Convinced that the hard-won autonomy of art–in which art is considered independent from the “real” world–has actually disempowered it from acting as an accountable public voice, Żmijewski insistently requires of art that it take responsibility and engage in a dialog with the current social and political reality around us.

And in Żmijewski’s own words:

When I undertook this film experiment with memory, I expected that under the effect of the tattooing the ‘doors of memory’ would open, that there would be an eruption of remembrance of that time, a stream of images or words describing the painful past. Yet that didn’t happen. But another interesting thing happened. Asked whether, while in the camp, he had felt an impulse to revolt, to protest against the way he was treated, Tarnawa replied: ‘Protest? What do you mean, protest? Adapt – try and survive.

I think it looks nicer now. More visible. More eye-catching.

In other words, Żmijewski’s rehearsals of scenes of social conflict are eye-candy: a pornography of the human condition.

Now, I know we don’t negotiate with terrorists, but dialogue is indeed possible between the “current social and political reality” and pornographers.

After all, it’s our history, let’s change it!

In other words, Żmijewski’s rehearsals of scenes of historic conflict write history, as a rerun.

Sure it looks nicer this time around. It’s more visible. More eye-catching.