Art Translation Agency
Karolina Breguła. photo: Wojtek Rudzki

Art Translation Agency

Talk with Karolina Breguła

The project’s main idea is to open people to more creative interpretations of art. I also try this way to stir things up a little in the available knowledge on contemporary art. Karolina Breguła talks to Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska

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Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska: What is the Art Translation Agency?

Karolina Breguła: It is an online agency that translates contemporary art for all those who have trouble understanding it. Using a special form, via the ATA website, you can ask for a translation of any work of art. The orders land on my desk and I send them to selected translators, those who, I believe, will interpret the given work in the most interesting way. The project’s main idea is to open people to more creative interpretations of art. I also try this way to stir things up a little in the available knowledge on contemporary art. I hope to cause exhibitions to be officially described, by accident, on the basis of the ATA translations.

The ATA is your graduation project at the Łódź Film School. Aren’t you afraid how it will be received in the academic circles? The postulate of granting equal rights to lay interpretations of art can be considered as rather subversive.

Yes, the ATA is my graduation project in Prof Józef Robakowski’s studio. What I’m doing here may not be a typical example of academic thinking but it is completely subversive either. The ATA alludes, for instance, to Umberto Eco’s The Open Work.

I do not know yet how the school will react to my project – I am defending it in the autumn and then I will find out [laughs]. I’ve studied photography, where graduation projects usually do not go beyond photography or film. But I suspect that if anything causes indignation, it will be the work’s form rather than content.

The subject will not come as a surprise to the review committee because I have been pursuing it for some time now. My bachelor’s degree grad project was called 66 Conversations on Contemporary Art. It was a series of conversations with people who are not professional recipients of art. I asked them about selected Polish works of art that critics regard as good and important. I found out how they understood them and what they thought about them. All that to create an instrument that would allow the contemporary artist to learn the public’s tastes, expectations and doubts and, in effect, to reach the public more effectively. An artist who functions chiefly in his own milieu has no contact with the man in the street, who is bored with art he does not understand. Perhaps this is why his works use such a hermetic language.  

How has your interest in the reception of art by the so called man in the street evolved in your work?

Karolina Breguła

Born 1979, graduate of the GFU course at Folkuniversitetet Stockholm and the European Academy of Photography; in September, she is defending her graduation project at the National Film School in Łódź (PWSFTViT). Her projects to date include, for instance, Let Them See Us (2003), I See a Palace (2005), Married Women (with A. Buczkowska, 2006), Summer Inside (2010). Art Translation Agency is her graduation project at the PWSFTViT. Among the “translators” she has invited to participate in the project are Anna Zdrojewska, Katarzyna Wyrozębska, Zuzanna Wrońska, Grażyna Plebanek, Oiko Petersen, Paweł Marczewski, Jerzy Grzegorski and numerous other persons active in various fields of culture and art. To date, the ATA has dealt with queries on, for instance, Władysław Hasior’s Black Landscape I, Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, Adam Witkowski’s 100 Potatoes on a Drum Kit, Cezary Bodzianowski’s Rainbow, Salvador Dali’s Great Masturbator, Agata Bogacka’s The Glass, Kamil Kuskowski’s 52 Police Sirens or Agnieszka Kurant’s The World Is Still.

Conducting the 66 Conversations…, I got into the habit of taking notes of overheard comments on contemporary art. At some point, I realised I had filled an almost entire notebook with them. I used those notes to create the work I Don’t Understand for the exhibition Video Point. In it, I become an actress reciting excerpts from about twenty comments on contemporary art, some of them enthusing about it, some complaining about its incomprehensibility. The video is a kind of confession. I am not an art historian, my knowledge of iconography is very uneven so I often have the same problem that the comments’ authors do. The purpose of my film was to put the artist in a situation in which the recipient of their work may find themselves, as well as to show the artist as someone who themselves is a confused recipient sometimes.

Why, do you think, art has this communication problem?

I think it is because we believe the work of art is a finite product, created by the artist-demiurge, and its significance can only be understood by someone who possesses arcane knowledge. As society, we have not learned openness and a “take it easy” attitude towards art, which blocks us and prevents us from experiencing it in the right way. For me, the work of art is an insignificant object that becomes art only in contact with the viewer, who filters it through their emotions, knowledge, experiences. It is only at the recipient/artist contact point that value is created. In the ATA, I try to make sure that every work is translated by several people from different milieus that participate in culture each in its own way – so that the breadth of the possible interpretations becomes evident.

What exactly do you expect from your “translators”?

I practically make just one condition – that the translation deviates as far as possible from the official version set by the curators. Contemporary works present no problem because often no set canon exists but with the classics, the translators are often hard pressed to free themselves from the dominant interpretation.

In 1999, Akademia Ruchu did a performance called Translation Bureau during which the artists, sitting at tables set up right on the street, explained various issues, including artistic ones, to interested passers-by. Was that action one of your inspirations?

Akademia did the project with Komuna Otwock. I highly appreciate Akademia’s work but I must say I didn’t know about that piece. I learned about it in a funny way when the my project was already under way. I decided to invite Krzysztof Żwirblis, he was in fact the first “translator” I contacted. And he said, but hey, that’s already been done. We quickly agreed, though, that the two projects were very different, in fact, the only thing they have in common is the name. Their “translation bureau” explained phenomena that the artists had chosen themselves. One of the “stands” was devoted to art and explained Katarzyna Kozyra’s works. So there is no repetition here because the idea is different – what I try to do is motivate the recipients of art to come up with their own interpretations. Akademia Ruchu’s Translation Bureau itself explained phenomena from various fields of life to the confused man in the street of the late 1990s.

The ATA project is an attempt to make people more familiar with contemporary art. I think “making familiar” fits what you do generally, to mention but the Let Them See Us series (with homosexual couples holding hands in the street) or the I See a Palace project, in which what you did for instance was put the monumental Soviet gift for Warsaw on the roof of the miniature Fiat 126 p, removing some of its symbolic dread…

Let Them See Us (2003) was indeed based on the idea that intolerance is often a result of unfamiliarity. Besides the photographs in the gallery, I was also planning to put up posters showing the characters life-sized. The photographs would thus bring the protagonists closer to the passer-by, inserting them, as it were, into the street scene. That, of course, never happened because at the time it was very difficult to convince anyone to support this kind of work. Even Campaign Against Homophobia (the exhibition’s eventual organiser), when I first came to them, did not believe it could be done. We did not get the permits so instead of those huge posters the pictures appeared in city space in the shape of billboards. It was not exactly what I had envisaged but I was still overjoyed that we had achieved so much.

Becoming familiar with an “alien”, in the cultural sense this time, is also the theme of your recent work, The Telescope.

Yes, The Telescope raised the painful issue of Lublin’s non-existent Jewish community and our relationship towards it. The installation was presented as part of the Open City Festival in Lublin. It looked like a real telescope, of the kind you can find at panoramic beauty spots. In stood in the centre of the city so you could really expect to see a distant part of the city through it. What you really saw, however, was the Israeli coast, with a street, an illegible advertising sign in Hebrew, and passers-by who from time to time turned towards the viewer and greeted them friendly. The Telescope was to cause people to simply make the first friendly gesture, which should be natural and yet in Poland is still rare. This is proved by another project that was shown during the festival and also concerned the city’s pre-war Jewish, Chassidic in this case, community. It was a street art piece by Ron Eidelman who put up life-sized photographs of Chassids from Lublin on building walls. Almost all photographs  were torn off or devastated within a few hours which shows clearly that we are grappling with unresolved issues in Poland…

You think that de-hermetising art can be an answer?

I am sure art can do a lot here. But for it to work, the recipient has to want and know how to listen to it.