Joanna Malinowska

Selected works by Joanna Malinowska

Joanna Malinowska


Wood, plaster, clay, scraps of Spinoza's Ethics, sweater of Evo Morales, 1 litre of water from the Bering Strait

254 x 264 x 396 cm
It’s impossible to ignore the presence of Joanna Malinowska’s Boli (2009) an oversized, confounding sculptural ‘elephant in the room’ holding court in the centre of the gallery. The rough animal shape is similar to a traditional object of significance to the Bamana culture in West Mali of the same name, also vaguely bovine but usually much smaller.

Traditional bolis represent the Bamanan cosmos and are held in a special location by village elders. They can be made out of earth, blood, cattle dung, kola nuts and other material related to spiritual ritual. Malinowska’s hypertrophied version of the talisman is made out of plaster, clay, hay, wood, scraps from Spinoza’s Ethics, a litre of water from the Bering Strait, and a sweater belonging to Evo Morales, the Bolivian president. Just like with traditional bolis, its materials could be interpreted, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Inspiration for Malinowska’s sculpture, performance and video-based projects comes from her fascination with anthropology, and her works often playfully suggest her own take on anthropological field work and interpretation. “Before choosing art, I had considered becoming a cultural anthropologist, but eventually decided that what made me interested in anthropology was not so much the research that aspires to scientific objectivity, but rather the sense of relativity of a cosmic order of one’s own culture in comparison to other possible systems.”

Malinowska’s Boli re-creates the Bamanan original with a new set of materials, and embodies the artist’s interest in re-imagining the way objects are charged with meaning. “If asked to find a common denominator in my recent works,” the young Polish, New York-based artist says, “I would say it is an interest in methodically testing and engaging the invisible, hidden aspects or powers of an object, revitalizing its metaphysical potential, and simply giving it the benefit of the doubt.”


Garry Neill Kennedy and Joanna Malinowska by Carrie Moyer - SHIT HAPPENS/“In Search of the Miraculous, Continued…”
CANADA April 29–June 4, 2006

SHIT HAPPENS/“In Search of the Miraculous, Continued…,” the two-person exhibition of Garry Neill Kennedy and Joanna Malinowska, pairs two artists whose work resists the proverbial Easy Read. Both artists make art that responds intellectually and perceptually to the conditions of its site. Kennedy, a well-known figure in the Canadian art world, takes for his site the interior of the gallery. For the gallery Canada,* he produced an elegantly exuberant system-based wall painting, reminiscent of the work of Daniel Buren and Lawrence Wiener. Malinowska chose artmaking sites ranging from the exotic (a remote location on Baffin Island) to the everyday (the D Train as it passed over the Manhattan Bridge). Her contribution to the show consisted of a rough, honeycombed “hut” made of soundproofing foam and 2×4s that camouflaged stacks of equipment and looped videos.

Using the tenets of system-based painting, Kennedy transforms the white cube into a space that dazzles with the graphic confidence of late-Modernist abstraction and the combustion of agitprop. Set in a blocky, stylized font called “Superstar Shadow,” the phrase “SHIT HAPPENS” is painted in gigantic letters that span the entire gallery from floor to ceiling. The phrase is indecipherable at first glance. Instead, flat, hard-edged shapes of red, beige and green draw our attention to the quirky architecture of the room. The commercial house paints in Kennedy’s palette are selected for their tasteful, complimentary hues as well as their evocative product names (“Persian Gulf,” “Persian Green,” “Arabian Night,” and “Arabesque”). Punctuating the wall painting in various locations, large squares composed of bold, patriotic stripes key us into the artist’s intention: these are the oversized replicas of the commemorative medal ribbons awarded to the U.S. military for duty in the Global War on Terror and Service in Iraq. Kennedy reinvigorates the connection between politics and abstraction by using the pleasant, domesticated Orientalism of home décor to foreground the pumped up signs of a futile war.

Kennedy’s meticulous wall painting acts an astringent foil for Malinowska’s flirtation with chance operations. Paying homage to the mythic performance artist Bas Jan Ader, “In Search of the Miraculous, Continued…” is comprised of four loosely related videos. All four works investigate the artist’s own relationship with the unexpected and commonplace, playing the thin edge between the random and the staged. “Part I” shows an “accidental” encounter outside of Carnegie Hall between a glamorous woman and celebrated pianist, Piotr Anderszewski, who becomes an unsuspecting actor in Malinowska’s drama. In “Part III (Preaching Avant Garde to a Commuter),” a woman resembling pianist Margaret Leng Tan “plays” John Cage’s 4’33” on a toy piano to a car packed with oblivious subway riders. “Nunat Erucilkai – A Village Without Daylight” closes in on the irregular pulse of an energy-saving light bulb being manually switched on and off. Looking like a parody of early abstract art film or a light experiment by Moholy-Nagy, the common, florescent coils mysteriously glow and fade into the darkness as a strange, disembodied voice retells an Inuit folktale in the Yupik Eskimo dialect. In “Part II,” one continuous shot bears down upon the incandescent landscape of the Canadian tundra. Center screen, a solar-powered boom box plays Glenn Gould’s “Goldberg Variations.” The artist’s sly preoccupation with the conditions of art making is beautifully encapsulated here. In hopes that future travelers might stumble across this gorgeous piece of music, Malinowska has planted a flimsy piece of technology deep into an unforgiving landscape. Whether the boom box has already broken down or has miraculously recharged itself, broadcasting Glenn Gould into perpetuity, we will never know.

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TLD Featured Artist: Joanna Malinowska Arts Contributor Ashlie Cotton recently spoke with Polish Artist Joanna Malinowska.

TLD: When did you start “making” art?
Joanna Malinowska: I moved to the United States after high school from Poland, originally intending to study Cultural Anthropology. Then I started getting more into art, as it felt more experimental in America than it had in Poland. This enabled me to continue taking different Liberal Arts courses, but also many art classes, especially in sculpture.

TLD: Which artist has inspired you the most?
JM: Well, for many years it was the mythical Bas Jan Ader. But it really depends. Last weekend, I spent a lot of time staring at Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights , juts trying to figure out what is really going on in there. But I think I’m generally more inspired by non-visual artists like, for example Olivier Messiaen, the composer…or by artists that unfortunately are never credited, but presented as primitive or indigenous art.

TLD: What are you reading these days?

JM: I have been reading several books lately. I just did a performance at the Sculpture Center that loosely referenced potlatch ceremonies of the Pacific Northwest, so I have been reading a lot about that. Also, I’m reading “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes,” by Daniel Everett, that I discovered through an article in The New Yorker. Everett traveled to the Amazon as a Christian missionary to work among the Pirahã people and during the process has become a distinguished linguist and perhaps the only non- Pirahã person who can speak their language. The Pirahãs are very different from a lot of the other tribes in the Amazon, maybe not as “colorful”, without any elaborate material culture and spectacular ceremonies. But the thing is, they have a very unusual language, which according to Everett doesn’t fit within Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar. The language is on the one hand grammatically primitive, on the other hand very difficult, with many whistle sounds, many tonalities and variations. Complex sentences don’ t really exist. However, the tribe is also interesting because they also have a vague—or rather NO—concept of time. They live in the present moment. Like, if you told them about Jesus, they would want to know if you had met Jesus. Or, they build things only for specific task, and not for future use. When they were taught how to build canoes for long term use, they abandoned them and forgot the trade. They built a basket to carry something, but it never gets used again—everything is for the moment.

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