Michał Brzeziński is one of the most interesting multimedia artists in Poland. A graduate of culture studies, he combines purely artistic interventions with theoretical reflection in his projects, which, to a large extent, results from his educational background. Reflection on the current state of art, the relation between science and religion, mysticism and technology constitute the focus of his activities, both in the realm of practice and art theory. So far, he has participated in numerous collective and individual exhibitions which have been favourably received by the audience and critics alike. Searching for more and more novel formal and aesthetic solutions, he does not reject fine arts or photography, but he tries to extract from them something that can still be interesting and current in multimedia art. This line of thought seems to be inspired on one hand by his own quests as an artist-theoretician, and on the other by theoretical activities of Ryszard W. Kluszczyński, who seeks the origins of media art exactly in classic forms of art, the fact that Brzeziński himself points out. His other sources of inspiration include works by Józef Robakowski and Wojciech Bruszewski.
Michał Brzeziński has been active on the Polish video scene since the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century and during this time, he has managed to make his presence known. His theoretical reflections do not only concern his own art but they are an attempt at a broad analysis and categorisation of this realm of artistic creation. These are ambitious attempts supported by his knowledge of a film theoretician, which prevents him from falling into many traps related to the specifics of viewing contemporary art, into which art historians sometimes fall by, for instance, not noticing its connection to popular culture or science. It might have been the reason why, in 2007, Krzysztof Jurecki, an art critic, declared Brzeziński to be one of the most interesting video art theoreticians #.
In his activities, Brzeziński reflects on specific features of video art. Noticing that the medium itself, namely a VHS tape is dead nowadays, he points out to the evolution which it has undergone from the works of Nam June Paik to footage posted on internet information portals at present. Thus, he poses an interesting question whether we can talk about a simple continuation – the medium’s evolution, or is it a more complex issue: the emergence of a new form of creative activity pointing to video merely to mark its very distant origins.
He also considers the boundaries delineated for documentary, feature and animated films. This issue appears both in his theoretical discourse and in the making of “Rise” from 2006 or a more recent “Virus Video”. Claiming that contemporary art is established by the media context and not the institutional context, he advocates a more precise indication of the origins of a given type of art. Anyway, the problem of the origin constitutes a broader subject of his reflection. Memory and identity provide a recurring leitmotif for him, in particular, the manner in which the former builds the latter but also vice versa: how the actual state of our thoughts influences our memories.
His interest in the issue of identity being shaped in the process, led to Brzeziński’s formulation of the so-called theory of Video-identity. This project stands apart from the political (leftists and rightist) polemics concerning new media identity. Therefore, it does not originate from the debate on the tradition or role of corporality, but on the function played by the means of communication in our lives. In order to clearly understand Video-identity, we need to indicate the elements it consists of. To this effect, Brzeziński provided a video film typology which can be applied to analyse both analogue and electronic artistic output. His division identifies three types of images used for the analysis of experimental films, video films as well as video-performances produced by him.
The first type is the so-called Home Video in which the camera is both the observer and the participant of events. Examples of such work include Dziga Vertov’s “Man with the Movie Camera” or works of Jonas Mekas. Home Video is commonly produced using small analogue film cameras (8mm, 35 mm) or home movie digital camcorders.
The second type is Found Footage, or using a previously existing footage for artistic purposes and combining it with other footage (new or existing). This method resembles in its beginnings ready mades of Marcel Duchamp and was used in film-making by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson among others.
The third type is Closed-Eye-Vision, which is a variation of a structural film developed by Stan Brakhage. It includes film images created without the camera, based on actions performed directly on the film or using a computer.
These types of film images may interpenetrate one another not only within productions of one author but also within one work, which was used by the author of Video-identity himself in e.g., “Virtual Memory”, where he presented a chaotic aesthetic message by utilising private archival footage, photographs and a television board announcing a break in signal broadcasting. Video-identity is formed during the process of screen presentation when this typology is combined within one message. The passage from the speech culture to the image culture has resulted in a more prominent role played by the image itself in forming individual existence because the image is perceived by senses; however, it also constitutes an important cultural product as well as due to inner experiences resulting from the way in which human mind works.
The artist himself divides his activities into three subgroups. He terms the first one the cascade method and compares it to the journey from point A to point B travelled in his mind by the viewer who is observing a video image. This journey is a form of meditation using multimedia and it allows for slow contemplation of a changing image in real time.
The second method is generative. It consists in processing visual material using an algorithm in such manner as to obtain intriguing combinations which are subsequently edited by the author. The purpose of this method is to play with the viewer’s mind. Both the generative and the cascade methods play a role of Mental Video which is used to form Video-identity.
The third method used by Brzeziński is Expanded Photography based on the recording role of video as a tool for observation of a given object and transformations happening to it without emphasising the narration. Expanded Photography is a kind of return to fine arts and photography because, just like these two, it focuses not on narration but on a revival of interest in a given frame and in what can be depicted using this frame. This method can be observed by the viewers- participants who watch “Golden Rain” or “Architectural Project Of Illuminati Temple” shown during the exhibition.
Michał Brzeziński’s activity is not restricted only to dealing with theoretical issues connected with video art but it is also permeated by anthropological reflection on the condition of man, taking into account the changing historical context of our culture. Brzeziński, as an artist – theoretician, explores cultural studies themes related to the forming of human identity in the post-modernist era and, simultaneously, reaches for themes from Jewish and Christian religions, Hindu mysticism and Buddhist philosophy for this purpose. Another element on which his activities focus is the issue of new technologies, in particular, their use in order to improve human fate, build ethical values or construct new aesthetics. Doing so, he refers to the tradition of Avant-garde art of the 20th century, whose opposition to schemata and rules somehow necessitated artists’ search for new methods of artistic communication. This reference to the now – traditional geometric abstraction can be seen in his “Architectural Project Of Illuminati Temple”. Starting from the division of a circle into semi-circles, and subsequently by inscribing triangles and squares into them resulted in mapping out such points which may be incorporated into the Kaballah tree of life. Individual points of the circle emanate energy which, in harmony with the sound, should make the viewer reject the conviction about a linear nature of time in favour of cyclical time.
In such manner, the viewer encounters an interference of the ancient concept of time and fascination with symmetry, dating back to the antiquity, which lies at the fundaments of the theory of beauty formulated by the Pithagoreans with a more contemporary fascination with the so-called film loop, based on looping a single motif. The eternal return with which we deal here is connected with the threat which may be posed by the mysterious Illuminati Brotherhood, which apparently has been striving for centuries to control the world using new technologies. The temple architecture depicts the cyclical nature of the process of life and, simultaneously, when shown in the new medium, it becomes a contribution to the reflection on whether the reality that appears to us, is, in fact, the reality.
This interpenetration of artistic and religious motifs with the contemporary world of science and technology, places the artist in the video art tradition close to Nam Jun-Paik’s projects. One cannot avoid here associations with a famous work titled “Something Pacific”, in which Paik used the strategy, often used by Brzeziński, i.e., he used religious symbols in order to formulate an aesthetic message using the new media. Undoubtedly, the reasons behind both artists’ strategies differ; however, it is apparent that the works of the father of video art have contributed to the forming of the identity of Michał Brzeziński himself. He is an artist who is aware of the tradition which he exploits not only in formulating his artistic manifestoes (he has written six of them so far!) but also in his artistic work. No wonder that he engages into polemics with the knowledge obtained via the Google search engine (film found footage „Pasja”), which seems to be playing the role of the authority and the mediator in many disputes. He asks what basis we have to believe or not to believe in the post-humanistic vision of technology as salvation for homo sapiens.
We should thus consider which motifs recur in Brzeziński’s artistic output. The artist has reached the stage of his artistic maturity and has already developed a set of themes he is interested in, being, at the same time, keen on taking up new artistic challenges. He is mainly interested in the afore-mentioned issue of the relationship between classic art and photography and the opportunities offered by the latest technologies.
This is particularly evident in his recent works, which explore not only the issue of memory in the context of forming of Video-identity, but also try to tackle current scientific problems such as the issue of image forming in the observer’s mind, which has been a subject of lively debates conducted by the cognitivists. Another issue concerns data visualisation, which is perfectly seen in “Kwadrat-Kwant-Kwarta-Kwinta”, in which Carl Orff’s cantata has been translated into a minimalist image thanks to algorithmisation. This visualisation of the musical piece results from the bond, intuitively perceived by Brzeziński, between IT bio-networks, the Internet and Orff’s work.
Data visualisation in Brzeziński’s works is often connected with another, a more and more common phenomenon, namely with the aesthetisation of the reality. The world we live in is a world of production and redistribution of images through which we perceive not only art and entertainment but also science and what constitutes its object. It can be clearly seen in “Virus Video”. This installation in the form of a loop, loosely refers to Marshall McLuhan’s famous thesis in which he claimed that technology was an extension of our senses. Thus, this which used to be invisible to the naked eye, is perceived thanks to technology. At the same time, the emergence of something new fascinates us because it is something unknown and, in its form, this something appears to be a multitude of shapes and an aesthetic feast of transformation happening before our eyes. This perception through technology, which is a common-day medium (means) of human cognition in the information age, causes that we do not notice a threat which the bacteria admired by us pose individually and collectively. The visual layer has been enriched here by the audio layer. The image, which is a transformation of a DNA fragment of the flu virus into the binary code, and subsequently converted into a series of numbers from 1 to 1000, which in turn was used to generate the ominous sound, fascinates and appeals to us. Raw sound emanating from the speakers constitutes the only sign of danger in the form of “Virus Video”. At the same time, “Virus Video” has become a new term coined by Brzeziński, which refers to the phenomenon perceived by him, of spreading video images in the public space which introduce chaos to it. The diagnosis made by the artist- theoretician is the following: moving images which we encounter in the public space result in stopping the physical motion because the human eye naturally tends to follow a moving object. This, in turn, creates new tensions in our culture which moves further from static images towards dynamic images. In such culture, the issue of identity is a process issue which cannot be captured in time t1, but requires permanent meditation (from Latin meditatio meaning being deep in thoughts, pondering) on the changing state of our consciousness. Pointing out to what is identity becomes a problem.
This leads us to an interesting backstage of Brzeziński’s artistic output, namely art as fake. He himself claims that art is pretending because it is neither science nor religion. Therefore, it constantly engages in polemics, or even flirts with them as much as it feels like it. The word ‘fake’ is understood as an intentional artistic strategy, originating from classical art which imitated reality which apparently was unchanging. However, the fake status in media art is different because there is no basis one can imitate and transform. The reality is in a permanent process thus pretending is hindered, it requires a bigger intellectual effort than merely skilful placing of coloured patches on a plane.
The task of Fake Art is to overstep the tautological trap into which art has fallen, to break away from the perspective in which the medium of art is simultaneously its meaning. It seems that the famous work of Rene Magritte “This is not a Pipe” and Marshall McLuhan’s thesis “The Medium is the Message” does not suit Brzeziński. He desires more for his art, he does not want to imitate only reality but processes occurring within other media and that is why he transforms some input information into other: he transforms the binary code in an aesthetically appealing process of forming life as represented by a flu virus. By doing so, he points to the problem of man’s responsibility not only for symbols generated by him, but mainly for blurring the lines between art and science, which leads to an irrational conviction that what is attractive is good and safe at the same time.
This is connected to the fact that, in his opinion, our strongly agrarian mentality is placed in the context of signs devoid of references to anything else but themselves, in the context of the virtual world which may not be coherent with the vision of reality adhered to by our ancestors.
There comes a time when the viewer of art must ask himself a question which is vital to himself. The question is: Is there anything in the art which I have communed with that would allow me to talk about it after I leave the gallery building? This is a simple question but it is difficult to find such works of art which would make us provide a positive answer. I believe that Brzeziński’s activities can be counted as belonging to such artistic creations with which I, as an art viewer, feel the need to dispute long after I leave the gallery or navigate out of his website because this theorising artist does not let his imagination run too freely but he tries to refer to other cultural contexts and treat them with respect as interlocutors worthy of art.
If Brzeziński’s art can be summarised, it is probably meditation on new technologies and by using new technologies. The artist emphasises that he seeks answers to questions which are posed by the civilisation here and now. For him, art is a medium between the world of ideas and technology. Both of these worlds shape his identity, and it can be said that identity is a process of on-going forming of oneself as a result of the interference of the inside and the outside. Towards the end of this meditation, the viewer participating in it faces a kind of conclusion and asks himself questions. Hasn’t the artist played a game with me, with my consciousness and my way of perceiving reality? Are not the conclusions negated by him, and supposedly drawn by me as obvious, more valid than artistic proposals? Haven’t I been tricked? Has the spiritual dimension any raison d’être in multimedia art? Isn’t it all fake?