During the press conference of Agnieszka Holland’s 2017 film Spoor (Polish title: Pokot) adapted from Olga Tokarzcuk’s novel, the author spoke about the film’s feminism and the inequities of hunting. “Hunting is spectacular and a metaphor for the domination of the weak. It is a very male hobby. Political decisions are taken on the hunt. In Pokot, women and nature fight back.”
Joanna Rajkowska has a studio in the Polish woods, which has prompted her to think about the alienation of humans from the natural world, the ways in which they have irreversibly modified landscape and the impact this has on the ecosystem. It has also prompted her to look into her own world as an artist, woman and mother, as well as someone who has grown up under communism, has lived in different countries and navigated different cultures. She describes partaking in collective visions only to encounter inflated egos. As she was becoming disillusioned with mankind, she turned to the animal world.
In line with Holland’s film, Rajkowska sees hope for humanity in re-establishing communication with the other species of this world, in her case, the birds. In order to win their trust, she needed to “become” like them. She therefore created a series of masks using bones and animal fur. Her primordial desire to communicate guided her to the basic signs of empathy: the heartbeat, the warmth, the early life sounds. This is how The Hatchling was conceived: a replica of a blackbird’s egg, which emits the sounds of the labour of hatching birds. Two of these egg sculptures, along with the masks form part of the artist’s current solo exhibition at l’étrangère in Shoreditch. A giant version of The Hatchling emitting sound is now in Regent’s Park, part of Frieze Sculpture.
Public space is the natural habitat for most of Rajkowska’s work. The “untaming” of nature is at the core of her ecofeminist practice. Her 2016 project Trafostation was an attempt to re-naturalise the ecosystem through a defunct transformer station building, which becomes the scaffold for a living sculpture, an unmonumental ode to plant life.
During a trip to Jerusalem in 2001, she spotted a miniature palm tree in the highly militarised landscape. Upon her return to Warsaw, she embarked on creating a palm tree sculpture in a square in the city centre, echoing the void left by the lost Jewish community in Poland and the significance of the history and etymology of Jerusalem Avenue to Polish identity. The project, which she titled Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue, 2002 took her years to complete and was often met with aversion, derision and prejudice, but it achieved its goal to problematise and bring people closer to the things that they share than those that divide them.
Joanna Rajkowska’s work can be seen at Frieze Sculpture Park, Regent’s Park until 3 October 2019. “The Failure of Mankind”, Joanna Rajkowska’s solo exhibition is on view at l’étrangère until 31 October 2019.