The history of Poland is irrevocably linked to the Catholic Church, which has played an important role at various times in that country’s past, and represented a significant component of Polish national identity during long and frequent periods of foreign domination. Today, some 93% of Poles declare themselves Catholics. And to this day, Catholic clergy and activists wield a powerful influence in Poland, often through the use of its blasphemy law. Article 196 of Poland’s Penal Code states that “anyone found guilty of offending religious feelings through public calumny of an object or place of worship is liable to a fine, restriction of liberty or a maximum two-year prison sentence.” This often conflicts with international standards of freedom of expression, and is particularly egregious when dealing with artists. Foreign as well as Polish, it has to be noted. In 2004, Norwegian artist Børre Larsen was accused of blasphemy and offending religious feelings for exhibiting a sculpture which consisted of small statuettes of Jesus and a broken one of Virgin Mary. The most prominent case was of Polish artist Dorota Nieznalska, condemned for her piece entitled Passion, showing a naked Christ. She almost ended up in jail, but was eventually acquitted some seven years after the beginning of the trial. Now, one of Poland’s most famous contemporary artists is wading into yet another controversy, with her video presentation, Seeking Jesus. Shown at Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art as part of their Video Room series, it is the work of Katarzyna Kozyra, inspired by the so-called Jerusalem syndrome, which has some visitors to the holy city inexplicably identify with biblical figures, mainly the Messiah. Kozyra began her project in 2012, with a trip to Jerusalem, together with a camera crew, recording the preparations for the Easter Holiday; the many rituals, and most of all, the people of various faiths and ethnic backgrounds that are part of this colourful religious landscape. More of a documentary researcher than a creator this time, Kozyra involves the public in her ongoing project, by presenting its different phases as she continues her montage of over 50 hours of footage. Using Jesus as the lead will no doubt stir controversy, but this is nothing new for this multi-faceted artist. Born in Warsaw in 1963, Kozyra is a sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, author of numerous performances and interventions, often using herself in her productions, as she did in her controversial video-installation Bath House, in which, fitted with a prosthetic penis, she mingled among the men, filming surreptitiously. Presented at the Venice Biennale in 1999, it won a special mention. She first garnered attention with her diploma work titled Pyramid of Animals, showing taxidermy animals stacked together, which created a frenzy of national condemnation. Identity, death and transformation are the muses of this audacious artist. An irreverent iconoclast, she focuses on cultural and societal stereotypes and mores, exposing them to public scrutiny and critique.

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Pyramid of Animals, 1993, taxidermy animals
At the Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw

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Bath House, 1977, video installation
At the Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw
www.zacheta.art.pl(lien externe)

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Katarzyna Kozyra

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Seeking Jesus, 2012-13, video installation (3 images)
Centrum Sztuki Wspolczesnej, Warsaw
www.csw.art.pl(lien externe)

www.katarzynakozyra.pl(lien externe)

Further reading: Sabine Folie, The Impossible Theater: Performativity in the Works of Pawel Althamer, Tadeusz Kantor, Katarzyna Kozyra, Robert Kusmirowski and Artur Zmijewski, Verlag Fur Moderne Kunst (2006), ISBN 3-938821-03-5