Polish artist Karczmarczyk on desire in a post-Communist country, why the Catholic church needs modern art and being mistaken for Lady Gaga.
After seeing Ada Karczmarczyk’s work on the website of the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, I was enticed (if not seduced) to know more about the colorful imagery that illustrates her spiritual journey. At the heart of this quest, as she so adamantly discusses in this interview, is the search for deeper meaning in a world dominated by superficial desires. Much of her work is a reinvention of centuries-old Christian motifs, ones that are now canonical in the history of art, which she uses to attract the attention of viewers who may otherwise be idling away on their smartphones. She is not prostelytizing, but rather creating “attractive bait” that conveys the “important messages connected to the Gospels.” In a long email exchange over the course of two months, Karczmarczyk explained her work in the recent exhibition Testimony (at CCA), the road to conversion, the role of religion in today’s society, and how others have interpreted (and often misinterpreted) her message.
Harry Weil In a brief explanatory text for Testimony, the curator Monika Szewczyk asked if the Catholic Church needs modern art, and if so, for what purpose? What do you think the church would do with modern art?
Ada Karczmarczyk Modern art would be much more appealing to a wider audience and not evoke such negative feelings. It is the mission of the Church to sustain and disseminate the Christian faith, but the problem is that the manner in which it wishes to reach the potential contemporary recipient is not a very effective one. The mentality of our times has changed so much that, in order to encourage someone who is young to believe and deepen his or her faith, it is not sufficient to use traditional methods.
In order to understand the most important notions in this religion, one ought to, first and foremost, activate their faculty of abstract thinking. The first associations that young people have with Catholicism are often statues of saints with funny halos, nails in hands, and a woman in a blue shawl. In order to understand certain transcendent matters, one ought to be able to imagine them. Illustrating motifs from the Bible are important, but what is needed is a new way to visually convey them, a way that is closer to the minds of young people. Think of the films on YouTube, where, when you hear or see suffering or pain, you can automatically escape by turning off your computer. For that very reason, my proposal of accessible and colorful aesthetics for sacred art in Testimony is a model of “attractive bait,” which is to make young people interested in faith, while simultaneously conveying the most important messages connected with the Gospel and the ethics disseminated by the Church.