May 2009, Interview with Karol Radziszewski
Karol Radziszewski, Fag Fighters, 2007, Digital colour print, courtesy of the artist
Karol Radziszewski is a Polish artist – in his own words - actively seeking and initiating diverse means of communication. He is also the creator of DIK Fagazine - the first and only magazine from Central and Eastern Europe focused on arts and men. DIK Fagazine is now being featured in Live Archive which is part of the exhibition The Generational: Younger Than Jesus at the New Museum in New York City.
Bartek Kraciuk: Do you like to talk?
Karol Radziszewski: Yes, I do. Sometimes I'm even told that I do too much talking as an artist. It seems as if they wanted me to be painting – since I have a degree in painting – and letting the curator speak for me. They would rather see a passive artist. But my art is much rooted in dialog. Also, I quite often know why I made something, whereas many curators prefer to do the thinking for the artist. Actually the project I have been working on is going to be a curatorial one.
BK: Do you think mere conversation could replace the object?
KR: In the fore-mentioned project I as an artist become a curator who again is an unrealized artist. It is all looped and the commentary overshadows the actual work.
BK: Tell me about the interaction with others in your projects.
KR: I called my thesis project Art as a Form of Communication with Reality. It is pompous but sincere at the same time. Art for me is a specific way of communicating, where the message is never simplified. The viewer is very important to me, both as audience and as a participant. Confrontation is key to my work. The work begins to exist when it can be perceived.
BK: So you wouldn't make something if you were not to show it?
KR: There are works I do not show. But I make them for myself only. They could be exercises or personal things. They don't mean much in my overall career.
BK: Let us go back to your thesis title. Where does the dichotomy of art and reality come from?
KR: The title had a lot to do with how the educational system works. I went to a very conservative Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. I had to learn drawing in order to become a student, then I learned painting, got bored with that and started doing murals. Then I got more interested in the crowd that was gathering around the work than in the actual mural – my thesis was compiled of all those threads. I did it outside of the Academy, in public and private spaces, where it was in touch with actual reality. Focusing on the meeting point of artificial art and real reality I wanted to use art as something that could take me away from itself.
BK: Do you include much of your private life in your works?
KR: I use the language of popculture and therefore the individual aspect of my works is the only warrant of authenticity and authorship. However I do tend to use my private life in the form of cliches or icons, so it never is fully exhibitionist.
BK: Does your work carry a mission for the society?
KR: I don't think I'm giving any more than I am taking. My art is not charity. Also, I don't fight for gay rights or anything of that kind. I do actively include others in my projects, but it is because I need them. Working with people is very inspiring to me. I as an artist don't consider myself a part of the society and art is the way of getting in touch with them. Also, the artistic community is very reserved. When you do a social project it is most likely to be filed under some convention and trivialised. But if you make something that has to do with art in itself the art world is suddenly excited to discuss it. I deal with the theme of manhood, manliness and man as an object of desire. Lately I jokingly made a project called Artist - an Object of Desire. The response was tremendous. It seems as if the art world could only talk about itself, about what concerns them. But I tend to make work that is less marginal, that concerns broader aspects of life. I want it to be interesting – maybe some people still cannot understand it fully, maybe it still ends up being hermetic, but that could never be the starting point. I started publishing the magazine in order to have everything in a 1000 copies rather than one. Each of them could either be a work of art or a mere transmitter. But many curators cannot understand that publishing a magazine could be just as important of a strategy as painting. It may seem hard to believe, but still today I hear questions like “So you're not a painter anymore but a photographer now?” or “So you turned into a publisher?”. And they come form the professionals in the art world.
BK: Right, there is still a tendency to narrow everything down, especially when it comes to the medium. What about the themes?
KR: It's just as bad. Many people don't want to acknowledge the fact, that my art is about anything more than being gay. When I make a video about love it is going to be about men, because only then I can make it be sincere. For most viewers it is going to be a video about gay love. But I am interested in the cultural construct of a man, not necessarily a gay man.
BK: What about your magazine?
KR: It is very interesting, that most people feel they are not the target. An average gay man doesn't know the artists I include in the magazine. No Madonna, no Kylie, no glossy paper - so he doesn't read it. Then the gay activist considers it too much of a giving in to the heterosexuals. No gay pride is no good for him. Finally the art world says the magazine sure is interesting, only as something about gay people. But one of the upcoming issues will be about straight women. The previous one was all about Polish artists, heterosexuals. What I am trying to do is focus on the differences in representation of a man in Eastern Europe and in the West.
BK: So you're an educator?
KR: I don't think that would be the right word. But I do want to influence or to show alternative ways of thinking. I don't compromise, whereas I think education does in order to reach its goals. What I do accomplishes as much as is possible without compromising.