Title: Ashes to Ashes
Venue: Skala, Poznań
Photo: Tomasz Koszewnik
Text: Daria Grabowska
Øleg&Kaśka, a Poznań duo who identify themselves as an individual and singular superorganism, was founded in the summer of 2018, at a time, when Greta Thunberg organized her first protest under the Swedish parliament, and the ecological disaster was ignorantly referred to in the mainstream as a mere “crisis.” The exhibition Ashes to Ashes is nothing more than a pleading cry from Millennial artists who are being slowly killed by the present. The collapsing colonnades of ancient buildings, the heat of the Earth, the smell of burning plastic – the apocalyptic imagination engages all the senses, seizing our thinking completely.
Ashes to Ashes is a collection of color pictures, disturbing animations and peculiar objects connected by a sense of anxiety. The artists turned their fears into imagining their escape from what is coming. And what is coming is war, more social protests and revolts; as a result of global warming, water will reach people’s throats. But, importantly, Øleg&Kaśka do not play artistic activism. They do not create yet another exhibition with a quasi-engaged feature; they do not moralize the viewer nor do they call for a change in our behavior and conversion of our beliefs. The reason is that they do not put their hope in a global (or, better, planetary) change, but in what is beyond the decaying planet. According to them, the Earth is now only a cemetery of ideas as well as civilizational and cultural achievements. A symbol of the destruction of human values is the installation The Temple (2019), at the top of which the Greek Parthenon was set on fire. Along with Athena, the goddess of wisdom and just war, to whom the ancient temple is dedicated, human intelligence and previous armed conflicts have been incinerated. Now nothing matters except the glowing sun (Solar Cult image, 2019).
Watching the exhibition, we experience the disintegration of the planet, although the landscape shown is not quite a brutal, pre-apocalyptic vision of the world. Øleg&Kaśka, thus, create a funny, cartoon character of a dazed boy whose bulging eyes gaze up at the night sky (Astral Prayer, object, 2019). For them, astral elements are a symbol of blind faith. As the artists say: “Being dreamers, we search for hope in the stars.” It is somewhat illusory and disturbingly reminiscent of the passivity of the main characters of The Dreamers (dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003), whose isolation (through complicated, sex-based relations) from the French strikes in May 1968, ultimately, still ends in a clash with the protest reality. In the case of Ashes to Ashes, the artists resort to cosmology. When the nearby Noteć River dries up, they look for answers in stories, dreams, and the proverbial stars. They resemble the naive Little Prince on LSD (The Insane Dreamer, painting, 2019). Similarly to Saint-Exupéry’s protagonist, they seek/find a solution to their problem on other planets. And so, Øleg&Kaśka are on the run – above all, from the cataclysm which is already happening (the manifestations of the ecological catastrophe, which includes the pandemic of the coronavirus decimating mankind). The message of the duo is important: current small apocalypses are too big for visual art.
Stanisław Lem once wrote: “We don’t know what to do with other worlds. This one is enough and we are already choking on it.” Perhaps we should talk about this kind of gagging (more often than the BDSM one).