INTERVIEW W// Rafal Zajko
Electronics made out of chewing gum
So your work to me seems like a primitive take on modern technology. A lot of pieces resemble circuit boards and electronics but made with concrete or clay. Is this along the lines of what you think of your work?
There are quite a few different reasons layered in the visual aspect of the work.
I never owned a computer as the child when I was growing up. I remember
going to a schoolmate of mine to play some computer games. What I did
at home in the spare time was working with my grandmother and learning
how to sew or do embroidery. I presume that's why "craft" and handmade have
such an important place in my heart. Also I was growing up in Poland in the time of the rapid change after the breakup of the Soviet Union - all the western things started appearing in Poland quite quickly - and the only thing I could compare it to is the modern times and the progression of the different technologies that started to surround us.
My wall based panels became something like
reliquaries with inserts like free-hand embroidery, carved wood, ceramics but also
ice and different technological debris. I want the works to be tactile and active.
As i have been working with performance art for 10 years before producing those
wall based works so I think I'm trying to translate that into the wall based works.
They can be either performed by the work itself (ice panels), hand of the viewer
(in some of the works produced I'm asking viewers to leave the mark on the works
with chewing gums) or eye of the viewer wondering across the surface finding link between
the elements, buttons, pullers and toggles.
What were your first creative outlets as a kid?
It was making embroidery with my grandmother. Spending time going through her
fabrics and sewing on buttons to the fabrics pretending they were the machinery
buttons, keyboard keys. My grandparents worked in the fabric factory – I remember
visiting it as a child and being impressed how powerful finger was to be able with its
tip to move the huge rolls of the fabrics – make the weaving arms move.
You said you worked in performance before making your wall pieces, in what way, what was your role?
In My performance work I was in the role of the director/producer/performer — I
worked on everything from the costume / sets / music —- to movements and text. I
enjoyed working on all those elements myself as I was solely in control of all those
I really like the idea that the pieces themselves are apart of a performance and interactive. Usually when people place their chewing gum on something, it ruins whatever you put it on and may be considered but you are encouraging it, Why choose chewing gum as a form of crowd interaction?
Idea for leaving the piece of chewing gum on the work came from the visit to Berlin
two years ago. I went to see the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall and Postdammer
Platz. I was surprised to see them completely covered with chewing gum. I started to
think about meaning of that action – of leaving the chewing gum. Act normally
shameful like sticking it under the table at school – normally associated with
vandalism – here was happening in the plain daylight. There was something
beautiful about people from all over the world visiting that monument of fallen regime and leaving their own mark on it – desecrating it – by doing so leaving their genetic information as the piece of the chewing gum contains the DNA of the “chewer”. I thought about adapting it in my work and produce some works that the viewers would be invited to do a same thing. Particularly in “Monument I” piece that I built from the pavement bricks in my home town Bialystok. I invited citizens of the city to leave their mark on the work with chewing gums – it was interesting to see how much creativity and individuality can be inserted in such a simple/naughty act. It was shown in anything from the shape of the chewed piece/ to the placement / being territorial about positioning by claiming the untouched brick etc. In the same show I worked with the group of local graffiti artists – and after installing all the works on the walls they were invited to leave their own mark on all of the walls of the gallery – covering everything including my works. I presume I was interested in collective actions – and thinking what does it mean to leave the mark behind you – as a singular being or part of the group
With the nature of your ice panels, the piece will last only a temporary amount of time. Do you ever miss some pieces you make or want to make them over and over again?
Ice works came around in my wanting to produce the work that “performs itself”.
I thought about the panels as the workers that are given a certain task that will be
fulfilled – like a shift at laborious work – we know where we start and what is
expected at its end. I like to choose the bright pigment to colour the ice that leaves
the traces of the action – so even if not lucky enough to see the happening in flesh
you can imagine it by its traces. Depends of the show the works were either melted
once – or were repeatedly melting causing amalgamation of the staining and rust on
the metal parts of the armatures.
It seems like the sentiment of your work is personal to certain events that happened in your life, do you expect people to experience the work in the same way you do? Or do you want your work to be a window into your experience or the way you see the world?
My work definitely comes from the luggage of the previous experiences – but I’m not
expecting viewers to know all the details about that. I presume that I like to make the
work that could operate within the multiple readings.
Do you have goals for your work? Do you want it to progress into something specific?
I feel like I just made the whole circle and I’m going to come back to the performance
work. With all the skills acquired in the last few years of the predominantly sculpture
making I’m ready to step back into that realm. Currently I’m working on a new set of
performances that will happen in London and mainland Europe in 2020. My goals
are to be able to maintain the practice I’m having at the moment – by continuously
learning new skills I can add to my Oeuvre (trying to properly master wood carved
elements for new costumes).
Who do you look up to?
I look up to artists who are makers. Recently I have been obsessing with Noguchi,
Lee Bontecou, Deborah Remington, Gonzalo Fonseca – each of them had quite a
strong singular vision. I admire people who work hard and produce their own work. I
got quite a strong work ethic myself that comes from the Polish working class roots.
I’m drawn to artists with similar mind-sets.