Polska’s ‘The Demon’s Brain’ is a Demanding Audiovisual Wonder
By Estelle Lassus . February 15, 2019
Time’s running out to see The Demon’s Brain, Agnieszka Polska’s video installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof (till the 3rd of March 2019)!
I can still remember it vividly: those huge eyes and wide smile of a blazing sun, talking with a soothing voice. My first encounter with Polska’s work. She and three others were shortlisted for the Preis der National Galerie, a little over a year ago. Sitting down in the darkness, listening to the projected sun sing, joke and share his observations of our world and coming downfall. It was an experience of inner reflection and induced a peaceful state of being, physical and mental.
“What the sun has seen” and “Little sun”, Polska’s pieces, went on to win the Preis der National Galerie and gained her a solo show at Hamburger Bahnhof. Which leads us to…
The Demon’s Brain, Polska’s audiovisual whisper to our subconscious.
Agnieszka Polska’s large-scale multichannel video installation stands tall in the main hall of Hamburger Bahnhof. Five gigantic projections in the dark, high-ceilinged room, all playing in the same space. Each a piece of the puzzle, looping endlessly together. All sounds are synchronised, commenting on each other and conversing, creating a constant soundscape which binds all videos together. Polska immerses all into a contemplative state and whispers her trigger words into the viewers’ ears.
Historical letters, witness of the early toll of Capitalism.
Polska’s piece begins with a historical correspondence. The correspondence occurred in the fifteenth century between Mikołaj Serafin, the then appointed custodian of Polish salt mines, his workers and his various debtors and creditors. The mining of salt, then a priceless commodity, developed into an early form of capitalism allowed within the feudal system. The letters, shown on a wall at the entry of the space, intersected with theoretical texts, gives an insight into the damaging consequences this medieval capitalist endeavour had on both a human and environmental level.
Demons questioning our social responsibility as individuals.
Focussing on an illiterate messenger who delivers Serafin’s letters, the videos follow his journey across the land, horse-riding through landscapes of deforestation. He is stranded in the forest after his horse’s head “detached and flew away” and encounters a demon whose ominous voice switches between motherly inquiries and emotionless descriptions of a nightmarish world (perhaps our very own).
The demon’s voice pleads with the messenger (and with us, the viewers) for the possibility of individual action to overturn the course of things. “You are the one who can change the future”. The visions turn more and more dream-like from one projection to the next, as we are taken down an endless tunnel within the salt mine, faced with the horse’s floating head, or the speaking demon (detached eyes and mouth, floating in the darkness. Two crows with the same eyes, speaking as one).
The fever took humans, animals and plants, who all hallucinate together in this one miraculous dream. Misery is the condition for growth.
Hope rises, anticipation rises, Destruction rises, death rises, Love rises, guilt rises, beauty rises, heat rises, everything rises! Fever devours forests, lands and stars. Air burns faces, leaves, snouts; love burn hearts, muscles burn coal, sweat smells of oil. The dream expands.
Extract from The Demon’s Brain, Screen 2 ©Agnieszka Polska
A poetic and hypnotic call for change.
Mixing live action and animation in her unique style of recomposing found footage and distorting scales, Polska creates imagery strangely and concurrently real and surreal. Through it, she draws parallels with our current situation, questions the individual’s means of action and reveals a certain mystical darkness within what we consider to be a cold, irrationally rational and often minimised collective dysfunction.
Her videos contain a recurrent, hypnotic nature: those unmistakable wide eyes that gaze back at the viewer intently, the use of sound to create a meditative state of close awareness. They are tools she manipulates, drawing our full attentions and conveying meaningful reflections. Her powerful choice of words resonate with the mind, subliminal messages of our own condition and perdition, poetic and piercingly relevant.
Dive into The Demon’s Brain at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin until the 3rd of March 2019.
Courtesy ŻAK | BRANICKA / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
Photos: Estelle Lassus