In one of the last scenes from “La Grande Bouffe” (1973) we see a servant placing huge slabs of meat, which are then devoured by stray dogs, on the trees surrounding a building. This is a symbolic moment when the remains of an opulent, several day long feast — after the revelers ‘leave‘ the table — is thrown to the hungry animals. Before this final moment occurs, the viewer looks at suggestive images of feasting on refined dishes and wines which bring to mind an orgy out of the Bacchanalia, but also the pervading spirit of Thanatos. Wojtek Doroszuk’s film „Festin“ can be interpreted as a kind of appendix to the classic work by Marco Ferreri; in this case, the animals and insects previously hanging around the dark nooks and crannies only come out to complete the catastrophic and decadent vision of the end of the world after the death of all the human participants in the orgy.
The video begins in a fairly innocent mood and manner. The Baroque style composition consisting of the images of beautiful dishes, elegant platters and serving bowls laid upon the table, lends itself to the equally elegant and fluid movements of the camera. Saturated colors beautifully underline the juicy succulence and texture of all the meat, cold cuts, poultry, sea food, or fresh fish. Exotic fruit and vegetables piled up in tempting pyramids of color, brightened here and there by the occasional accent of flowers, hardly leave any space on the table. At first, the video resembles a classic painting study of still life. Only after awhile the still image comes alive. The plot thickens when worms and beetles of all sizes and colors begin to move. Some insects attempt to hide under the plates, crawling under, or between the dishes; others, such as a praying mantis, simply go ahead with a systematic consumption of everything and everybody around them. Then the dogs join the party, first trying to steal the better cuts of meat off the table, then jumping right into the spread to feast, unreprimanded, among the piles of food. After the dogs have passed, only the ruins of the old splendor remain.
There is plenty of Julia Kristeva’s ‘abjection’ in this narrative. In this post-human world our fascination with the pure plastic beauty of the shots constantly intermingles with disgust brought up by the brutal intrusion of newcomers, previously deemed culturally unacceptable to share the feast. On a formal level the film makes direct reference to masters of seventeenth century Flemish painting: Frans Snyders, Jan and Ferdinand van Kessel, Jan Steen, and Jacob Jordaens. At the same time it offers a variation on the theme of the Tableau Vivant: this time both by the tracking lens of the camera and the presence of the animals. As in the best tradition of this kind of representation, the viewer can admire the painterly composition reproduced by the living creatures and real food, transposed through the medium of the video. This is a somewhat ironic loop when a static image, which has been brought to life by live actors, is once more frozen by digital capture. In “A Zed & Two Noughts” (1986) by Peter Greenaway, one of the twin characters Oswald Deuce is still-frame animating the decomposing piece of carrion he films in the local zoo with a digital camera, thus showing the process otherwise invisible to the naked eye. In Doroszuk’s work the capturing of the degradation is portrayed in a more linear manner although it still brings us to achieve a similar closure, vanitas like in its repercussions.
The film seems rather atypical in the context of Wojtek Doroszuk’s creative journey. His previous works, while always visually sophisticated with a signature painterly poetics, both in terms of composition and color, usually foreground some autobiographical material by focusing the narrative through the filter of the artist’s personal experiences in various real life situations. In one piece it’s a tale told by Toprak — a trans-sexual living in Ankara — who introduces Doroszuk to the Turkish underground (“Birkaç Yer / Some Places”, 2007); in another, the artist shows the story of a histopathologist from a hospital morgue who describes his job as a kind of art (“Tumor Imaginis”, 2008). Doruszuk’s 2008 document “Raspberry Days” shows the thrills and difficulties of seasonal work for young Poles working on fruit plantations in Innvik, in Norway.
The artist, always composing his sequences with sublime visual shots, tells the stories of real people. “Festin” takes several steps away from this type of documentary, or social-commentary narration. Even the suplementary information read in the credits, such as the primary location of the film (the building of the famous Collegium Iuridicum of the Jagiellonian University), or the ‘cast’ composed of the inhabitants of a Krakow Animal Shelter, has little if any real meaning, and is in no way underlined by the author. Furthermore, we are confronted with the universal message of this film, so abstracted from any real situation. In fact, Doruszuk’s intention is to create a symbolic space located outside time and space. The catastrophic vision can be interpreted — according to the artist himself — as the abandoned landscapes surrounding Prypec after the Chernobyl disaster, or the Fukushima nuclear leak. When enough time has passed even these strange places are once more brought to life, but without any human participation. Nature abhors a vacuum so the absence of an environment regulated by humanity is instantly replaced by an alternative, liberated biotope. This indeed is one of the most frightening metaphors we struggle with from the origins of our consciousness — what will the world look like after we are gone?
Piotr Stasiowski, March 27, 2014