Signs of the Times
Art Laboratory Berlin is pleased to support Berlin based artist Karolina Żyniewicz in her new ongoing project Signs of the Times. After having hosted artist designer Fara Peluso in our spaces in spring 2020 and artist Sarah Hermanutz in early 2021, we are glad to offer another residency now to Karolina Żyniewicz. For her new project the artist invites everyone to come into contact with her, either on-site or online.
Signs of the Times – Collecting Biological Traces and Memories
Masks (medical/ textile) became symbols of the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic – confinement, uncertainty, and fear. Pictures of people wearing masks will be historical documents of this period. With time, they will have different meanings. Masks are meant to protect us from the virus, but used for too long they can also be dangerous for our health, accumulating everything coming from our nose and mouth while breathing and talking. After a few hours of wearing, they are soaked with body secretions and individual micro-flora. We should not absorb it back. Besides pictures of masks being worn, there are also masks lying in the streets. After usage, they become trash, bio-hazardous trash. They are then anonymous; we can’t know who was wearing them. Maybe it was a coronavirus carrier or a person being sick with various illnesses.
Stage I: Collecting Anonymous Biological Traces
In Spring 2021, I decided to collect masks from the streets of Berlin to use them as laboratory samples in the future. It was a specific activity of dealing with masks understood as an abject and a possible place of the virus location. Collected masks have been placed in laboratory test tubes.
Stage II: Collecting Individual Biological Traces and Memories
At a certain moment, I realized that anonymous masks were not enough for my pandemic archive. I was curious about the people behind the face covers. I wanted to listen to individual stories, collect masks contaminated by personal biological material and memories from the Covid-19 pandemic. To do that, I had to organize meetings in person. It was essential after such a long time of confinement. Every participant was asked to sit in front of the camera and share a memory from the time of the pandemic. I did not ask questions; it was crucial to leave space and freedom for the stories. I gave the person a fresh medical mask to contaminate it while talking and breathing. After the talk, I took the mask to place it in the laboratory test tube and added it to the existing collection.
Realized events of the project Signs of the Times:
Liebig19, Berlin | August 2021
Łaźnia Gallery, Gdańsk | October 2021
TOP (Transdisciplinary Project Space), Berlin | November 2021
Stage III: Biological Traces Examination
The laboratory stage of the project is planned for 2-3 years from now. I plan to investigate biological remains from the collected masks. They came from the body and the environment contaminating the sample. I am less interested in human genetic material but more in nonhuman agents, human life collaborators.
Appendix: Creating collective memory
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, between March and June 2020, I participated in online meetings with the working title Viral Culture Bio-art and Society. An academic curator at Pomona College Gallery, Claire Nettleton, initiated the series to put together the international art & science community and exchange experiences and support each other in the global crisis. The meetings were also an occasion to discuss professional issues such as creativity in the pandemic period, virtual exhibiting, online education, the role of bio art in the discourse around the pandemic. There is a collection of notes, chats, transcripts and video recordings. I see them as a meaningful archive that will be good historical documentation for the future. That is why I decided to work on them, doing video transcription, ordering collecting references. My goal is to prepare a publication complemented by short interviews with people participating in the meetings. I would ask them mainly the question about the meaning the series had for each of them individually.
Karolina Żyniewicz is an artist (2009 graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, Department of Visual Arts) and researcher, PhD student (Nature-Culture Transdisciplinary PhD Program at Artes Liberales Faculty, University of Warsaw). Working in a laboratory (mostly at the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw) Żyniewicz locates her works in the field of bio art, although she tries to avoid using this term. She sees her liminal activity as situated knowledge production. She is mostly focused on life in its broad understanding (its biological and cultural meaning). Her projects have mostly conceptual, critical character. The main point of her PhD research is multilevel relations emerging during the realization of liminal projects. She tries to put her observations, as an artist/researcher (liminal being), in the context of Science and Technology Studies (STS) Actor-Network Theory by Bruno Latour and feminist humanities. www.karolinazyniewicz.com