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40 Under 40 Europe 2018

Agnieszka Polska

5 September 2018

33 | Berlin, Germany

Many of your early works, such as Sensitization to Colour (2010) and How the Work is Done (2011), draw on the format of the documentary. Is there still a documentary impulse at play in your work?

I see my work more as a form of visual poetry, rather than documentary. It was always quite fictional. I referenced historical events in my earlier works, and still do, so this is an important part of my practice, but more central was the process of storytelling. The historical material was always being fictionalised – I was interested in the process of retelling the story and the omissions that can occur during the process, rather than the story itself.

At the moment I am more interested in purely fictional stories with elements of science fiction. For example, the film My Little Planet is an allegorical science fiction story about a society that measures time by the rotation of daily objects – cigarettes, beer bottles, used plasters – around the planet. In a humorous way, the film tackles the arbitrariness of norms.

How conscious are you of a viewer when making your films? Are there specific techniques you employ with an audience in mind?

Yes, of course. I am deliberately trying to introduce some visual and acoustic stimuli in my works that produce certain reactions in the viewer; hopefully my films impact the viewer on a very physical level. I try to create a situation in which the audience is immersed in the material that they are watching, and I deliberately manipulate the viewer into feeling certain emotions, especially through sound, rhythm, repetition, certain techniques close to subliminal messaging. This contributes to the works’ meditative qualities.

In my practice as an animation artist I usually compose complex narrations from found, acquired or generated material. The whole process is based on digital manipulation and artificiality. By contrast, the only element which can be described as ‘real’ in the exchange between me and the viewer is their emotions evoked by the work. It’s interesting and scary how easily a viewer can be manipulated into feeling certain emotions. An example of this is my recent film The New Sun, in which the protagonist, a child-faced sun, is changing its mood in a kaleidoscopic way – hopefully like the mood of the viewer.

The dreamlike nature of your films owes a lot to your poems and scripts. What role does language play in your work, and what is the link between word and image?

Language is a very important part of my work and most of my films and animations are constructed like poems. I am interested in the processes by which language is materialised – for example through the sound waves that reverberate through space. I try to create situations in which the language of the work affects the viewer on two levels – through the content of my poetry-like texts, but also on a very physical level.

Many of your recent works draw on current political or social issues. How does your work navigate our present situation?

My work is a commentary on our ethical responsibilities in relation to issues such as climate change, rising nationalistic sentiment, or inequality and over-population. But I try to approach these topics in a very poetic way. My works are not directly politically active, they are more like visual essays on certain topics. What the Sun has Seen (2017), for example, which addresses ecological disaster, is a collage of humorous and melancholic elements. I think artists have a responsibility to respond to social or political questions because they are often privileged through their visibility – our voices can be heard.

Parallel to my animated films, I work on more story-based, cinematic formats. I am currently finishing a feature-length film, Hurray! It follows a group of hipster-left filmmakers who are confronted with a member of a radical left-wing organisation. In the film, I’m raising questions about the methods of action and resistance, and the influence of an artist or creative individual on their social surroundings.

What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m very busy preparing my show at the Hamburger Bahnhof, which is the outcome of my winning the Preis der Nationalgalerie last year. In the exhibition, which opens in September, I present a four-channel video and sound installation – it’s a partly animated and partly live-action story set in the medieval period. Together with Hurray! it’s the largest project that I’ve realised and so it’s been very challenging and exciting.

Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to become an artist?

I always wanted to work creatively. In the beginning I was not sure if I wanted to write or be a visual artist. But I was lucky in that I was supported in my creative endeavours – being an artist was a future that was available to me.

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