THE LAST TIME I saw New York–based Polish artists Joanna Malinowska and Christian Tomaszewski was at a party in Brooklyn. The guests were asked to set their inhibitions aside and howl together like a pack of wolves (or was it coyotes?) in preparation for a participatory group performance Malinowska was staging as part of her contribution to the 2012 Whitney Biennial.
Nothing quite so taxing, or invigorating, was required of the elegant crowd gathered around the giant Tyvek spacesuit for the opening earlier this month of Mother Earth Sister Moon at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw. The spacesuit was a dubious homage to the first woman in space, the Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, by way of Niki de Saint Phalle’s iconic 1966 hon-en katedral (she-a cathedral) sculpture made with Jean Tinguely. The only beast in our midst, on this occasion, was a man dressed up as a Siberian bear, an allusion to the never fully elucidated Tunguska blast of 1909, which frequently crops up in sci-fi novels and films from the Soviet era.
A collaboration between the two artists, the installation-cum–fashion show was conceived for Performa 09, and subsequently included in the 2010 “Star City: The Future Under Communism” group exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary. Shown for the first time in Poland, as a curious addendum to “The Splendour of Textiles” exhibition curated by Michał Jachuła, Mother Earth Sister Moon looked and sounded different in its third and final iteration. For one thing, the supine figure had been dismembered—a gloved hand here, a severed leg there, a large red liver hovering above us in midair like a remnant from some explosion.
Whereas on previous outings the fashion show took place inside the spacesuit, with the audience huddled round, at Zachęta a makeshift scaffolding accessed through two side staircases served as an aerial runway for models (and the bear) to parade on above the discarded suit, before descending into it and reemerging through a narrow vaginal slit between the figure’s amputated leg. Unlike in New York and Nottingham, where volunteers of all ages, sizes, and ethnic-origin had participated, the models this time came from an agency, which accounted for the greater uniformity in their appearance. Sporting futuristic hairdos with add-on fringes, courtesy of “avant-garde” celebrity stylist Jaga Hupało, they wore an impassive, droid-like expression that kept with the sci-fi theme of the show.
More or less flattering and outrageous, the thirty-seven costumes come in a subdued palette of black, white, grey, and washed-out colors meant to evoke an archival photograph. (Reproductions of film and cultural magazines from the 1960s and ’70s, their covers collaged and altered by Tomaszewski, were mounted on the walls.) The outfits draw inspiration from a variety of sources, from period filmic and literary materials to costumes worn by indigenous people of Siberia (the Evenks and the Tungusi) that Malinowska and Tomaszewski came across while traveling in the region. They reference avant-garde trends and communist pop culture alike, from Krzysztof Wodiczko’s The Personal Instrument, performed on the streets of Warsaw in 1969, to the Relkas boots popular in the ’80s.
Details such as these would no doubt have been lost on a non-native audience. The same goes for the eerie, composite musical accompaniment to the show. Besides bits of the original soundtrack composed and mixed live by Masami Tomihisa in New York, it featured strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as well as liberal doses of alternative ’80s Polish rock bands, Pancerne Rowery chief amongst them, which elsewhere might have fallen on deaf ears.