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Bestiary

Place: Günter Grass Gallery in Gdańsk, Szeroka Street 37
Opening: 16th of February, 6:00 P.M.
Exhibion: 16th of February - 26th of May 2018
Artist: Rafał Wilk, Basia Bańda, Zofia Gramz, Irena Kalicka, Czekalska + Golec, Katarzyna Kozyra, Wojciech Doroszuk, Art Spiegelman, Günter Grass
Curators:
Anna Ciabach, Marta Wróblewska

We are no animals, and the concept of being human, as we understand it, we will never probably achieve. And although we are no animals, we are worse than them. Animals kill only when defending themselves or hungry, but always for a reason or if needed. People kill for no reason. They kill because of their faith and ideology.
Günter Grass [in:] Günter Grass and Polish Don Quixote, written and collected by Maria Janion, słowo/obraz/terytoria, Gdańsk 1999, p. 27

Bestiary is an illuminated book depicting real and fantastic beasts accompanied by commentaries didactic in their nature. Our Bestiary is a collection of works by contemporary artists where animal motifs appear as metaphors related to human character traits, situations and emotions.

An attempt to describe ‘our’ world through symbolic reference to the world of fauna has an extremely long tradition going back to primal religious rites and first cosmogonies, for animals are biological beings closest to us, and yet distant enough to transfer onto them what is unclear and disturbing, and less often beautiful and fascinating in ourselves.
In the works by Günter Grass that were the starting point for this exhibition, the animal imagery appears often and plays an important part. His literary and artistic world is filled with dogs, rats, fish, birds and representatives of other species which create their own microcosm parallel to the human one. Grass’s bestiary is however more like protagonists of Grimm's Fairy Tales than Aesop's didactic fables. His drawings and graphics might also bring to one’s mind the works of North European masters of Medieval bestiaries.

In contemporary art animal symbolism is still present, although it appears on different levels of representation, providing a wide range for interpretation.
On the one hand, artists choose to depict animals in order to tell a story of oppression from political and social systems, although long ago we already realised that the most cruel species, also to its own representatives, is man. In Rafał Wilk’s work, entitled Hero, a snail on a razorblade symbolises both the ability of people survive the times of the Holocaust, as well as falling victim of mindless ‘games’ of the offenders. Art Spiegelman’s comic book, Maus, is already a classic metaphor of the Holocaust.

The story of human relations is also distinct in Basia Bańda’s installation, He Burned Down a Stable Full of Horses in Revenge for a Rabbit, where attachment and longing intertwines with a need for revenge and cruelty.
The world of fauna is also inseparably connected with the field of sexuality and hidden perversions. They can take place at home, as in Irena Kalicka’s series of photographs entitled Table Top Theatre, or can be grotesque in their nature, as in Katarzyna Kozyra’s video, Entry of LouSalomé.

In art, there are also private menageries, everyday bestiaries where, as in Zofia Gramz’s drawings, animals and hybrids ironically describe ordinary stories of city life.
There is also a different possibility for looking at animals: they can be regarded as autonomous beings having their own traits without the need of judging them from the human perspective as good or bad. In the cycle of photos of the duet Czekalska/Golec, entitled Catwalk, the main protagonist is a lonely white cat exploring human or natural spaces at night. Although we can sometimes barely see it, we realise that our access to its world is very limited, and our feeling of superiority as a species – disputable. Let us just consider the abilities of cat sight that works perfectly in the dark…

Or perhaps cats and other animals know of us, people, a lot more than we think, and a lot more than we know about ourselves?

Anna Ciabach