Borderlines of otherness - transspeciesness in the eyes of Artur Malewski

.In your works, you often show a half-man, half-animal. If it is an animal, it is assigned with the worst human traits (eg. Co ta sarna taka gruba…/Why is this deer so fat…). Who is man to you?

At the simplest, man is the representative of primate mammals of the family Hominidae, one of the many species inhabiting the earth. They are often referred to as sentient and intelligent creatures, beings having a soul and considered to be the crown of creation. As a result, man is also a construct which produces a demarcation line separating themselves from animals. This makes it somewhat problematic for me to give you a clear answer. But it doesn’t change the fact that these two approaches have become a starting point for me to do my works. And such was one of the old realizations you refer to Why Is This Deer So Fat and This Elephant So Thin. The action was to load onto a platform trailer half a ton of a domesticated deer in a specially constructed container where kilograms of feed for pets (dogs, cats, rodents, etc) were put, in addition to a quilt with illustrations from a locomotive cartoon and toys. Then, the car with this load on the trailer was driving around the city for the entire day looking for a place for this creature and for the solution to the problem. I am unsure if this is how it was received by accidental viewers but perhaphs some people had a moment’s reflection. I conceive my work as a vision of the future when the deer, delicate and timid, stops to be a species occuring in its natural habitat and becomes another domesticated animal. Its monstrous overweight is a result – strange as it may sound – of overprotectiveness (as it happens today with obesity of dogs and cats), and it is first of all to show the power of man over the other species. Although in the end it comes to endlessly driving around the city and looking for a solution to the problem. The sentence „Why is this deer so fat, and this elephant so thin” was written with a dirty finger on the car’s body, similarly to when people write „slob” in order to draw the other’s attention to something. Interesting enough, the elephant is so thin that it cannot be seen, which may mean that there is no elephant any more. I cannot agree that I assigned the worst human traits to the animal, the animal unmasks these traits.
 
You find examples of „transpeciesness”, eg. human tree or human elephant, to which you refer in your works. What is norm for you and what it means to be different? Is it always bad to be the other?

The „transpeciesness” you referred to has a symbolic dimension as the nicknames of human tree or human elephant were given by people. Dede Koswara and Joseph Merrick were called half this and half that because the picture of their physical humanity became liquid. In this approach, what we got was the Son of Flora and the Son of Fauna. And this is true, given that the beginning of life on earth is from one origin and as different species we share the same genes. This makes the norm setting of borderlines and the other – anything that does not fit within these borderlines. You can become the other or stop being it and be normal. I don’t believe that being different can be bad, it is just different. It is something else to do bad.

During the show called Kompleksowe usługi pogrzebowe Niebo, Piekło/Complete Funeral Services Heaven, Hell you erected an altar to those who suffered as a result of being different. Anneliese Michele, inspiration for movie Emily Rose, is said to have suffered for humanity’s sins. Do you believe in other dimension? Can you only be accepted by the norm through suffering? Is it worth it?

I don’t believe in other dimensions or in the division of man into body and soul. Nevertheless, it has always inspired me that people rely on something so uncertain as conviction or belief in, say, „something”. Such was the case with Serce serc (Heart of Hearts), work dedicated to Anneliese Michele who voluntarily took on herself „demonic possession” to redeem the sins of the world. Strict, religious upbringing, epilepsy, psychological disorders, and against the helplessness of medicine – two exorcist priests fighting with demons who utlimately led to her death as a result of neglect, starvation and dehydration, these are undoubtedly tortures. For me – this is too much, but for some this martyr’s death may be a proof that evil forces, demons and satan exist.  

Man is left to themselves with these nightmares. Contact with another human being – or a being – is limited by latex (surgical gloves, condom – Popobawa). If there is any closeness (Cudzoziemcy/Foreigners), it is between zombies, non-human closeness. Is true, deep contact between people possible?

Relations between people and species represent an axis of my realizations. They didn’t always have a critical dimension or showing tensions or conflicts. In recent years, I have been working with something, say, intimate, i.e. dust collected from different places with a vacuum cleaner. Its composition is largely hair, skin, nails of people anonymous to me, but also non-human creatures (animal fur, spores, insect eggs, discharges). Out of this biologically rich, also from the genetic information perspective, matter, Tfuj came into being. It is a human size teddy bear, modelled on a toy, made of the dust collected during the holiday season from hotels, guest houses in Sopot. Interesting enough, during the show some people touched Tfuj, and some hugged it posing for the photographs. Although it is only physical contact, it can prove that this contact is possible also on a deeper level. Perhaps, only a stimulus is necessary. Video work Cudzoziemcy/Foreigners you referred to showing an erotic game between two gay zombies exposes some information about its characters. Unclear cause of death of one of them, which the autopsy scar signals. With the other one, a scar after a removed kidney, maybe for transplantation purposes and working now in a different body. Cudzoziemcy is for me a work about the continuity of life, its durability and liquidity, continuous transformation. This is the deepest relations not only between people, but above all between species.
 
Mak Gallery held quite recently a show of pop artist aleXsandro Palombo. In your works you refer to pop culture, especially horror movies. Why are we into these stories? Do we feel less lonely among other „familiar” people by watching these monsters?

I remember in grammar school I was taught the division of culture into high and low. I have never been able to accept this articifial division. Hence my references, I like to get inspired by different sources and combine them. Erase this division. I watch horror movies with my wife before we go to sleep, I fall asleep watching most of them. It’s hard to say if I even like them. The word „monster” comes from Latin monere and means to herald, predict and it is related to Latin monstrare – to show. And so the monster manifests this particular moment in culture – the place, time and emotions. It is believed that the monster appears in the times of crisis as the third side in the system of two extremes working its way to their split by questioning the binary way of thinking. And I think this is why in my works I showed monstrosity so that I could one day reach where there is no sense of isolation because of the division into familiar/other.

Where do you get inspiration for your works from? Some of these works are based on commonly known legends/stories, and some on very local, eg. Popobawa from Zanzibar Archipelago.

When I was at the university, one of my professors said that I get inspired by sources so different from one another that it was impossible to work out. I answered that all that came from the same planet, and so it had to work out. This is how it has stayed for me until today. I am inspired by the whole world in all its diversity. Both the human and non-human, and the former is only a part of the latter.

Interview held exclusively for MAK Gallery by Michał Begiert