Adam Niklewicz | Interview
Adam, what keeps you awake at night? Is it an idea, a thought, a concern?
Most of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night at around 3 am when I’m on the verge of being asleep, but not quite there.
When and what was the first experience from your everyday life that made you turn to art? And why sculpture above all?
It’s Dali’s fault! I was about 7 when I saw his THE BURNING GIRAFFE painting reproduced in a one-volume encyclopedia. It blew my mind and it was then that I decided I wanted to do similar things. Of course, like so many other artists, I started out as a painter.
How does the most ordinary object change its meaning and functionality for you, gaining in the end a new form under a completely unexpected concept? What fascinates you about the mundane and why distance it from the audience’s comfort zone and familiarity with an object?
The 3 am brainstorming sessions usually produce more or less formed ideas. Transformed objects briefly flash in front of my mind’s eyes and I don’t really know why this happens and what it means. Admittedly, some formations are pretty hapless, but other appear to have legs. I turn those into objects.
KNIFE IN THE WATER, 2015, inkjet print, 30″ x 45″ (edition of 3)
What is the best story behind a work you did or best reaction you’ve ever received from someone? You also have performances, how do people respond to a rolling head, for instance, or when it comes to discussing serious issues such as the working conditions within the garment industry?
Putting together the piece ROMANTYCZNOŚĆ was somewhat eventful and took a lot of effort and a lot of sausage. It required frequent visits to a local Polish deli. I would go there up to three times a day for a few weeks, and these frequent visits would visibly confuse the store clerk. My appetite for always the same kind of sausage, the amounts of the product purchased, and the fact that I’d often pull a tape measure from my pocket to check on the sausage’s length before buying – all this made the clerk uneasy. I thought of explaining myself, but decided that the explanation (which might sound more or less like this: I’m not crazy, I’m merely making a musical instrument out of sausage) would not improve my image with the man. In other words, I basked in the process and misperceptions it produced. A similar pattern has recurred with other projects as well. When people see the rolling head of LIKE A ROLLING STONE in action – they laugh and this is the best reaction!
ROMANTYCZNOŚĆ, 2003, dry sausage, 12”x1.5”x1.5”. It is a fully functional instrument (recorder) made out of Polish sausage.
LIKE A ROLLING STONE, 2013, performative sculpture, paper mache, plaster, paint, rotating device, headgear, 20” in diameter. The performer walks repeatedly around the room staying close to the wall. The oversized head is lightly pushed against the wall at all times to create enough traction for the sphere to rotate around its axis. As the performer walks – the head spins.
We’ve seen your piece ONUCE at “Art Moves” – the Festival of Art in Public Spaces in Poland. Will there be other interventions in the public space soon or do you prefer a more intimate space for people to interact with your work?
I enjoy when my work hits the streets. The piece you mentioned was located on a glass wall of a bus stop. A few years back, my piece TIESA traveled the streets of London for one week on a lit platform of a truck. And there is the water-mural project from 2012 in Hartford, Connecticut. In it, an image of a tree would emerge from a seemingly blank brick wall after it was sprinkled with water (it started blending back with the wall when the brick wall dried up). Adjacent to this public art project was a video projection on a façade of an office building. The video titled WALKING 3 TIMES AROUND A TREE was shown at night on a loop for some 2 months. At the same time, many of my objects are small and an intimate setting makes for great viewing.
ONUCE, 2012, inkjet print
TIESA, 2008, sausage, jar, 10.5” x 6” x 6”
THE CHARTER OAK, 2012, brick wall, sealant, water, 30 feet X 45 feet. Public art project co-commissioned by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Real Art Ways and the city of Hartford, CT.
WALKING 3X AROUND A TREE, 2012, video, 2:38 running time. Public art project co-commissioned by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Real Art Ways and the city of Hartford, CT.
How does the Polish psyche differ from an American mindset and how do you explore this in your work?
It’s hard for me to explain the notion of the Polish psyche (other than through art). I value the distance at which I observe and experience Poland from the US. As to America – I see a curious duality: most, if not all, of my artist friends, colleagues, students and neighbors are thoughtful, generous and compassionate human beings; meanwhile, the country as a whole appears to be slipping into an anxious, over-medicated, deeply divided and often barbaric society. Misadventures of the ongoing presidential campaign reflect that situation. Will this seep into my work? Probably, because it contains paradoxes and absurdities.
What is the most powerful contrast and/or conflict you believe defines today’s reality? What do you think brings people together (us) and what keeps them apart (us vs. them)?
As always, love and common purpose bring us together and fear drives us apart and makes for ‘them’.
You are currently participating in a group exhibition in New York and will have a solo show in Ukraine in May 2016. Can you share some insights about this and your projects for the current year?
WORD, the group exhibition at HVCCA in Peekskill, New York you just mentioned, features my installation piece titled TABULA RASA. The work has a very simple premise: all books have at least one blank page and most of them have two empty pages facing each other. I assembled an arrangement of 100 books that are open to their blank spread. I’m intending to show this piece in May in Poltava, Ukraine as well, and because the HVCCA exhibition is up until the end of July, TABULA RASA will have two simultaneous incarnations – one in New York and another one in Ukraine. The Ukrainian exhibition will take place in the birthplace of one of my favorite authors, Nikolai Gogol, and I’d like to include works that somehow evoke his spirit.
TABULA RASA, 2015, books, 12 feet x 9 feet x 4 inches
What keeps you motivated?
Making art is like carving out an intimate niche for oneself – a free zone. Maintaining this zone is crucial to me; it’s a prism through which I make sense of reality and keep distance from the pressures of the corporate society we’re all trapped in. Society would rather make you believe reality can be sanitized, streamlined and made predictable. Perhaps I make art to oppose that illusion?
All images © Adam Niklewicz