With a subtitle “Women disconnected from the history” the paperback was published by Stowarzyszenie Sztuka i Dokumentacja (ISBN 978-83-931176-6-6). I have added ISBN so that you may identify the book, missing little signs and accents in writing Polish names on this PC. Sorry. It is a substantial read, 164 pages. And more on http://www.invisiblewomen.info and http://www.ankalesniak.pl
The introduction describes the project as search for histories of persons not included in the dominant histories. Among the first questions she names as in need to answer the relationship between the canon of political and social contexts and controversial stories.
The data base has been limited to “biographies of women who are difficult to interpret (p11) and who experienced exclusion by ” universal point of view” in all its forms”(p11).
The author’s sources include the internet, friends and researchers and – a chance find. As for the method she names a juxtaposition of what she subjectively perceives as questionable and engaging (with reference to Joseph Kosuth, Artist as Anthropologist, 1975 see p 15)
The next 15 or so pages is a survey of her art practice in relation both to greater awareness of feminist art outside Poland and, to the site specific performances, to local legends and stories.
“Abandoned” biographies and abandoned places become then a focus. Hanna Reitsch is first, as a pilot who does not fit either the Nazi or the Polish history of WW2. “Then when I realized that the subject matter was too serious and if I still wanted to work with the biographies of women ‘disconnected from history’ I would not be able to do it without the help of the expert who deal with my topics from the historical and social point of view” (p38). That realization betrays her original trust in subjectivity. She now accepts a leading role of other judgement. Consequently she writes a long passage on the differences between a historian or archivist or journalist and an artist as historian, as archivist, as journalist, while miming each of them. She focuses the reader on two of her projects Grodska 5, Lublin, 2014, and Eugenia is getting married, Lodz, 2015, as illustrating the differences.
In short, it is a subjective selection of the available sources as opposed to striving for inclusion and interpretation of all sources.
Not different from the tradition of historical paintings and its symbolic revitalisation of places and persons.
There is a difference in the tools she uses : real windows, houses, replicas of already existing objects, ready made, remakes, etc: My installations are not simple illustration of a given story (p46) This may be understood as assuming that a history painting is a simple illustration?
I believe she bypasses all previous art that deals with history – perhaps it is not important – but it is also a given. Yet, not in her sphere of interest.
The book is, in the first place, a story of her search for a subject, most strongly embodied in the three biographies: of Fifi Zastrow, Michalina Tatarkowna-Majkowska and Stanislava Przybyszewska( pp 71 – 136).
The tools are framed by performance art, found objects, installation, lens based media, site specific art – all well established parts of art system. She adds renovation, cleaning, and search for older layers of plastering, and last but not least, texts. I particularly cherish this: “My interference with an abandoned place and an attempt to find a new function for a ‘useless’ house is a kind of symbolic revitalization which allows us to ‘see again’ the neglected and thus ‘invisible’ building”(p49)
Consequently, her “given story” benefits from the dynamics of the tools, from subjectivity of choices and foregroundings, developing from these first principles: the story is not a part of the canon, it is not well known, it is about a female character and a place with forgotten history. Providing the artist has access to sources and spaces germaine to it. She makes a significant claim here: “…my aim is not to commemorate a given person… (p 50) – this is an objective ground for difference between history painting and her history-inspired- art. Yet, the three last biographies are anything but different. The difference is in manifestation of what she knows. Her adjacent claim is not so obviously achieved by the stories, but by making the verbal visual : …”how the memory about her can be useful in contemporary discourse” (ibidem).
When a contemporary discourse is placed above some earlier ones the danger of a myopic service to it is not avoided. Hence her summarising defense of adaptive and performative nature if installation and performance and their sincere temporaneity. ( see Conclusion, pp 143-147)
Lesniak faces the possibilities of misunderstanding, opacity, missing of the point, by leaning on supporting material on “...websites that allow for the broadening or understanding with regard to the context and purpose of my actions.” (p145) having previously considered a concept highlighted by Gernot Boehme, about specifically placed objects producing a perception of architectural atmosphere. (p144)
While I applaud visual documentation using paperless forms – I do not accept that to perceive visual art I should need verbal crutches. Visual thinking is independent, however, may result from words, like Dante describing Inferno, to excite my visual imagination.
And yes, once again I advocate with Italo Calvino the absolute value and freedom for visual thinking, irreplaceable by any verbal interpretation or description, labels or paperless. Lesniak is aware that the visual aesthetic experience has to do with freedom of thought, and marvels of being tacitly with or be inquisitive about, what is seen. “I am opposed to placing explanatory plaques” – she may be including here also labels, people read next to art object in galleries and museums.
This book is a confessional document of her art practice, uneven in the way art process are, and as they, it is also open ended.
My subjectively cherished thought in the whole text is when she compares one part of a large assemblage to “visual poetry” – that made me to start believing in her.