How to Raise the Water Level in a Fish Pond

Aleksander Hudzik

Save the Planet

It was a warm night in June, 1518, in the modest town called Strasburg, which nowadays sits on the border of Germany and France. There was music and there were people dancing. A woman named Frau Troffea started to dance around sunset, other people joined her and by around midnight there was a group of 50. By the next morning there were over 400. Streets were filled with dancers for six days or maybe more. There were victims; some people died of heart attacks, but the crowd kept dancing, without reason and without purpose. Authorities were sure it was a satanic possession causing their bodies to writhe like that. But we know that it was something different. Perhaps it was a virus, a collective hallucination, or perhaps it was a resistance to law and order. The real cause will never be known, but raising this question in Poland AD 2021, after a year of pandemic life and the biggest protests since 1989, might tell us something relevant about ourselves.
‘Gathering of moving bodies is a manifestation of social disobedience’ recalls the group of three curators: artist and DJ Gregor Różański, Anka Herbut, who works mostly in theater, and Michał Grzegorzek, a curator whose practice connects dance, performance and queer art. The exhibition Three is Already a Crowd at BWA Wrocław shows how dance and choreography reflect current tensions in art and society.
Imagine a gallery on the top floor of a beautiful, quiet, old railway station with elegant wooden panels and soaring metal columns, iron staircases and stone floors that lead you to the top floor. The entrance to the gallery faces a chapel. The gallery has been here since 2018, the chapel was just recently opened for tourists feeling the need to express their religious elation just before their departure. The gallery and chapel are so close that they might be mistaken for each other; there is a certain feeling of pause before we enter the space. Behind door number one is God, behind door number two, art, and perhaps the hand of the devil.
It doesn’t take much to understand why we might find a devil in this art. Work number ‘0’ is titled Church Of Euthanasia Archives. It’s an installation by US-based artist Chris Korda, who breaks the status quo with slogans like ‘Save the Planet, Kill Yourself’, ‘Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong’, and ‘Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus’. This last one especially taps into the current situation of Polish woman, who face the strictest abortion laws in the EU.
And this is only the introduction. Church, even for such uncanny practices as the worship of anti-natalism, is a gathering of bodies. Bodies are essential to the concept of this mostly video art exhibition, with some exceptions, like the work by Chinese conceptual artist Zhang Huan, who in 1997 invited 40 migrant workers living in Beijing to stand in a local pond to answer the titular question of his work How To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond. This beautiful gesture is depicted in mystic photography of bodies half submerged in the cold water. The answer was ‘yes, you can raise the water, but how many people are needed for the uprising?’
What might look like a playful joke quickly turns into real political tensions. A collective body of Polish protesters is presented in a series of photographs titled Public Protests Archives. We can’t hear them, but it’s not hard to guess that those bodies are united under the spell of “***** ***”1 . What we see are anonymous bodies that dance, that run, that are escaping attack, single bodies transformed into a new kind of being.
Right next to this series of images is a video of performances and dances by Marta Ziółek, evoking these notions of choreomania, dancemania, or whatever Frau Troffea started five centuries ago, but also powerfully channeling the emotional tenors of the current state of Polish society. Ziółek can be ominous and commanding, and full of sexual energy, she can also be vulnerable, but she is never possessed.
This thread continues in the adjacent work Dance or Die by Georgian artist Naja Orashvili and Giorgi Kikonishvili which shows the riot in Tbilisi after police raided the techno club Bassiani, Run From the Gun by young Belarusian artist Rufina Bazlova, and in a video recording of the first pride march in Croatia, shot by Igor Grubic. This two-channel video juxtaposes documentary footage of brutal attacks on LGBTQIA+ supporters with a re-enactment of that footage by a group of dancers. The footage is raw, the cameraman’s hands are shaking with fear, and we feel the tension in every movement of the camera. Streets are drowning in the blood of those being attacked, as police stand idly by. Personally, I felt this was the most shocking work in the entire exhibition. The symbolic death that must occur, as told in the chapel next door, before the resurrection.
Because the resurrection is now; born of rage, anger, and hope. It is scrawled across an enormous canvas in the main room of the gallery, and her name is wypierdala (get the fuck out)2. Her echoes can be heard from Hong Kong, to Minsk, to Warsaw, to St Petersburg and at BLM protests across the US. This “get the fuck out” is the hope that when we protest, there are not only the bodies of the other protesters behind us, but also history, and all those who oppose inequities and injustices around the world.

[1] in Polish, the asterisks stand for “JEBAC PiS”. Prawo I Sprawiedliwość is the current ruling party in Poland whose name in English translates to “Law and Justice”. The slogan ***** *** translates to “FUCK PiS”
[2] ‘wypierdalać’has become another slogan for the 2020 abortion-rights protests in Poland

Volume 35 no 4 March/April 2021

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