Galeria JEDNOSTKA, Warsaw, Poland
Selected by Galeria JEDNOSTKA, Warsaw, Poland
"When I look at my own Polish backyard, I see how radical it has become. I wish I wouldn’t have to refer to it, but I don’t see another option at the moment."
As a spike of far-right populism infiltrates the political mainstream in his native Poland, Rafal Milach asserts that ‘artists should react to their contemporary socio-political environment as much as possible’. Whilst still hotly contested, Milach’s claim resonates with an ever-expanding field of visual artists who use photography to express similar concerns.
For Milach, however, the stakes are too high for his work to be defined only as part of a wider ‘art trend’, or for it to be perceived as exotic with its backdrop of post-soviet territories. ‘When I look at my own Polish backyard, I see how radical it has become. I wish I wouldn’t have to refer to it, but I don’t see another option at the moment. Unfortunately, this region is a very resourceful field when it comes to my research’.
The artist turned to photography as a means to deconstruct and subvert the manipulative mechanisms of state propaganda, which has relied heavily upon imagery as an additional arm of control. This approach is particularly true of Refusal. Here, his long-term research encompasses various post-soviet states, investigating how political cues have been imbued within objects, urban planning and architecture, ultimately leaving their traces on the landscape.
His recent project The First March of Gentlemen combines archival imagery – documenting a 1901 student protest against German occupation in the Polish town of Września – with photographs from the same town some 50 years later, at a time of oppressive social control. In colourful collage, Milach underlines the cyclical nature of historical patterns of defiance and pacification. Elsewhere, Nearly Every Rose on the Barriers in Front of Parliament depicts flowers attached to crowd-control barriers during a protest against a wave of changes to Poland’s judicial system. The work celebrates the ‘simple, non-heroic gestures’ of its participants; defiant in the face of controversial – and often unconstitutional – reform.
A striking feature of Milach’s practice is the absence of a distinct visual signature, which he himself regards as ‘liberating’; the work uses a range of aesthetic approaches, and is later presented in equally varied forms. On the one hand, this reflects the artist’s view that ‘the form is secondary to what’s being communicated’. On the other, it mirrors the layered spectrum of strategies that have been used historically in the name of governmental control.