It would be impossible to encapsulate all the work of Christian Jankowski, born in 1968 in Göttingen, Germany, in one article and, in any case, it would be foolish to even think so. An extraordinary conjurer of contemporary art, since the early 1990s he has moved with incredible ease between almost all possible mediums, preferring photography, video and performance but also using sculpture, installations and painting.
A very specific trait emerges in his career on which he continues his artistic research: the performative and direct interaction between himself and the so-called “world outside art.” The idea is to try to capture and convey what is the popular conception of the art world, the general conception that those who are not “insiders” might have. Focusing on what are the popular phenomena allows Jankowski to emphasize certain social aspects of mass and entertainment culture, going through aspects such as psychology, self-perception, lifestyle, and many others.
In all this, what Jankowski has been pursuing for more than two decades is a constant study of society, by bringing in reflections, deconstructing the idea in a critical and detailed, almost analytical, way. At the same time, he also exercises this critical exercise toward the art world, suggesting and advocating a real intersection between the art world and the world of social spectacle.
Christian Jankowski is now on view at Phest 2022 with Heavy Weight History, a 2013 work in which the artist invites some members of the Polish national weightlifting team to “lift” some memorials of historical significance in Warsaw. A sports commentator follows the athletes’ performance and comments on their blatant failure. The original work is presented in the form of an installation, a 25 minutes film and a photographic series.
With clever mental and visual interplay, Jankowski draws attention to the importance of history and the weight it carries. As far as I am concerned, this work poses an interesting question about how history is perceived in the contemporary and, by reverse logic and outside the physical action of the athletes, suggests the idea of how willing we are to leave the past in its place, going so far as to forget the constitutive process that brought us to the present. But then again, anthropological mutation is constantly taking place and, in some ways, this work confirms this for us.
Searching in the slightly more distant past, another work I found extremely interesting is 16mm Mystery, a short film produced in 2004 in which the protagonist (played by Jankowski himself) can be seen walking the streets of an extremely cold and almost dystopian Los Angeles. During the minutes in which the short film takes place, the protagonist reaches the roof of a parking lot with skyscrapers in the background, on which he sets up a 16mm projection system. We do not have the opportunity to observe what is projected on the screen, but after a few seconds of projection, the outermost part of one of the skyscrapers explodes, leaving what are the interiors and skeleton of the building exposed. At this point, the man retrieves the projector and screen and walks away, leaving us to the image of the skyscraper.
In perfect keeping with the title, this work does nothing but ask questions that will presumably remain unanswered in concrete terms: who is the man? Why does he have a projection system? What is he projecting? Why 16mm? Why does the skyscraper explode?
The mystery Jankowski tells us about is, clearly, not revealed in any way. But it seems almost like an implicit allusion to the effect that the media can have on those who enjoy it. Los Angeles could be us, cold and disillusioned, and what is projected is a new truth that shatters the cardboard armor around us, that shatters certainties and prejudices behind which we protect ourselves. And so it is that the media with its news and its subtle truths like blades of a box cutter attends our daily lives and our personal and subjective way of perceiving the world and shatters it with a violent, cold and calculated destructive action. An attack on the apathetic and fictitious calm that we have borrowed from the scraps of a fallacious system that sooner or later will violently and unexpectedly landslide, leaving the naked in the forefront.
As I said at the beginning, Jankowski’s body of work and mammoth output makes it impossible to encapsulate everything or even are a good portion of everything in a single article. His work has been exhibited all over the world, and as you can see from his biography, the amount of exhibitions proves his extremely prolific career.