Friday, August 1, 2008

Artur Zmijewski

I saw a beautiful film piece named “An Eye for an Eye” at the New Museum this afternoon. It’s from 1998 and directed by polish artist Artur Zmijewski, and portrays the bodies of amputees closely intertwined with “normal” and “healthy” bodies.

I read a brief description of his work at the website of the Polish Cultural Institute, and it appears that juxtaposing the nude, disabled and defective body with the nude, healthy one is his trademark.

What the artist finds most interesting, are cases, where heavy bodily dysfunction and severe disease foreclose any possibility of participation in social life and even destroy the mind. At the same time, he admits, those defects create a kind of otherness, seductive and much more telling than anything we consider normal. And this is Zmijewski at his most poignant.

I, too, find myself utterly fascinated with amputees for some bizarre reason, and I certainly relate to the idea of the defective body being seductive because it is simply so otherworldly to look at and relate to. I fear it’s not a very sophisticated fascination, but rather one that is related to people always having taken pleasure in looking at bearded ladies, two-headed cows and other such “freaks”.

Nevertheless it struck me that one of the things that fascinates me when looking at an amputee, is that I almost get a sense of suffering from phantom vision, wanting to balance and harmonize the defective body by adding to it whatever it's missing.

What was interesting about Zmijewski’s piece, at least from my perspective, was that he placed the amputated body in specific situations, where I wanted more than anything to add that limb that was missing. For example, he showed a man missing a leg walking up at set of stairs, only later to let him join forces with a normal body, which, by supporting him from behind, allowed them to enter some form of beautiful symbiosis, where three legs perfectly carried the weight of two bodies.

Genuinely beautiful. And it made me smile, too.

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