Katarzyna Kozyra (b. 1963, Warsaw) is one of the most internationally acclaimed Polish contemporary artists. She works as a sculptor, a video/media artist and an installation artist. In 1999 she represented Poland on the Venice Biennial where her video-installation Mens’ Bathhouse has been awarded with the special prize.
She had shocked the wide public right on a start of her career presenting as a graduation piece The pyramid of animals (1993) – an installation (sculpture?) of four stuffed animals and a video piece documenting a scene of killing and skinning a horse.
The artist had used found skins of a dead dog and a cat and bought skins of two remaining animals, which were meant to be butchered. By doing this she had broken at least two important stereotypes about art – that it is meant to be…fine, spirit – uplifting, ethically pure and that it is a representation/imitation rather than a presentation of a thing per se. Would the artist be able to achieve the same effect simply by carving the animals out of marble (stone/wood/plaster)? Scarcely, since the meaning of the work is touching the chilly dilemma how living creatures present themselves after their death (the pyramid of animals is actually the pyramid of death as Kozyra’s teachers comment on it).
She made butchers to drug the animals rather than to perform the usual practice of killing (with an axe, knife, hammer or any other violent tool), she can also be seen weeping over their bodies. But all what the general public had manged to get (some fellow-artists too…) was a scandal of an artistic abuse, a profane piece of insensitivity… Well, it wasn’t the first case when the audience proved not be able to follow an artwork at all…Was it?…
The label controversial/scandalous has been stuck to her to be never removed (not in Poland, at least), which seriously limits any deeper reception of her work for a layman. Katarzyna’s outspoken, non-compromising works are reaching far to the challenging dilemma which contemporary humanity is dealing with; first and foremost – dilemma of human identity in general and the artist’s (as an individual) own identity – how humans function here and now, how they face death in health-obsessed/death-indifferent reality, their complex relationships with other living creatures (ie. moral questions about killing animals) and their genre identity – well-explored in Kozyra’s latest work.
Her Boys (2001-2002) video series is just a witty comment on masculinity – the eye-pleasing boys are left for themselves to behave as they wish but they are dressed up in a vaginal sort of devices. We can see how they try to play the attractive male role, but look just hilariously. This work can be interpreted as a study of today’s androgynous vision of the sex, where the boundaries between male/female characteristics and the social roles are being blurred. It’s also a clear message that the appearance of the human body is the most deceiving phenomenon under the sun, the simplest (yet meaningful or/and symbolic) device is able to put it totally out of the commonly accepted context. That body identity concept appears to be Kozyra’s artistic signature for she’s been using her own (mostly naked) body as a medium, subject and object in one and a living sculpture (here we are coming back to The Pyramid of Animals – rejecting mere imitation, looking for real, tangible experience).
One of her latest works is a huge multimedia project started in 2003 and still being continued – In Art Dreams Come True.
It functions as a traveling (around Europe) performance-act, video art and even opera all in one exhibition…Katarzyna uses herself to render very different representations of female roles, being accompanied by masters she learns how to identify with an opera star, transsexual, femme fatale or a fairy tale princess. By doing this she explores how the modern times transformed woman into an artificial dolly creature forcing her to play throughout her life different social roles – not only these of being a mother/homemaker but also these of being good-looking, emotional (or over-emotional), sweet, irrational and so on, and so on.
I’m probably one of those people who has to set their sights on an impossible goal. That’s how I give myself chance, because I really believe in it, and take it seriously; I really give myself a chance to explore things that are completely new for me. Kozyra is one of those artists who with an amazing ease makes us see those completely new things, which become strangely familiar once we have a chance of fresh reflection on them.