“Casting,” Katarzyna Kozyra’s Warsaw solo show presented at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, is not a comprehensive retrospective, as the curator Hanna Wróblewska emphasizes. Nevertheless, the exhibition puts together the artist’s most well-known works..
It begins with her graduate thesis work, The Pyramid of Animals (1993), which stirred controversy in 1993. The work addresses, among other things, questions about the right of humans to decide about the death of other creatures. The sculpture exhibited consists of a stuffed horse, a dog, a cat and a roster standing one upon the other. An accompanying video shows the killing of the horse in an ordinary slaughterhouse, (controversially) selected by the artist for the sole purpose of artistic representation.
Nonetheless, human beings are central to Katarzyna Kozyra’s work. Two video installations, entitled Women’s Bathhouse (1997) and Men’s Bathhouse (1999), were filmed with a hidden camera in public baths in Budapest to present the separate intimate worlds of men and women. The artist entered these closed worlds to take a closer look (or more precisely to peep) at how representatives of both sexes behave when they rest together, outside a co-ed public setting. Kozyra made the film in the men’s bathhouse disguised as a man. In Men’s Bathhouse, for which the artist received an honorary mention at the Venice Biennale in 1999, an important feature of Kozyra’s work is apparent: namely, her insistence on using her own body in her work.
Her works prior to this explored the frailty of the body and the morbid awareness that goes along with bodies marked by disability. This motif dominates a series of photographs and videos entitled Olympia (1996), which present the artist, suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, imitating Manet’s famous painting. Her later works focus on the performative aspect related not only to corporeality and acting out roles ascribed to gender, but also to playing with the construction of identity in general. Also being shown are successive parts of In Art Dreams Come True. This is a project realized between 2003-2008 consisting of recorded performances and films in which the artist plays different roles. She stars as an opera singer performing in front of a real audience, a cheerleader, Snow White, and a drag queen doing a strip show in a gay club in Berlin.
The exhibition in the Zachęta National Gallery suggests a view of Katarzyna Kozyra’s oeuvre as a continuous process in which motifs and topics recur, develop and find their (often unexpected) next incarnation. Kozyra’s recent project, the eponymous Casting (2010), may be regarded as a part of this process of variation and renewal. This ‘casting’ process involved the selection of a person from the public who will play the role of the artist in her forthcoming autobiographical film.