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ELZBIETA JABLONSKA


Born in 1970, Elzbieta Jablonska received her MA degree in 1995 from the Fine Arts Department, Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, where she has been teaching since 1996. She lives and works in Bydgoszcz. She works in different media, often through space-and-time-related activities. In 2003 Jablonska received the "Spojrzenia (Views) 2003" Award of the Cultural Foundation of the Deutsche Bank.


The art of Elzbieta Jablonska, often described as post-feminist, offers an amiably ironic commentary on the status and role of women in a traditional society, interweaving women's everyday activities into art in a good-natured way. In her works, the artist uses and transforms cultural stereotypes and clich├ęs associated with the notion of woman and femininity, playing an intelligent game with them, but full of humor and warmth.


After giving birth to her son in 1997, Jablonska introduced into her art activities that can be described as the typical duties of mother and housewife. Since 1999 she has been organizing actions entitled Through the Stomach to the Heart: in the presence of a gallery audience, during the opening, the artist prepares elegant treats, sometimes real feasts, to which she then invites the guests. In Zielona Gora (2001) and New York (2003), her appetizers had little flags pinned in them with information on the number of calories they contained and how much work should be performed to burn them off. In her performances, Jablonska often takes on the role culturally imposed on women, which obliges them to feed and serve others. At the same time, a woman has to remember to watch her figure and not neglect physical exercise - in order to be constantly attractive and charming, in accordance with the stereotype created by popular culture.


Perhaps the best known of Jablonska's works is a photograph that the AMS Outdoor Gallery presented in 2002 on billboards in over a dozen of Poland's larger cities: titled Home Games, with the artist in a Superman outfit sitting in the kitchen with her child on her lap, like a Madonna with the Child Jesus. Posted around in the kitchen are labels: "dishwashing", "laundry", "cooking". The billboard was a fragment of a bigger project entitled Supermother, on exhibit at the same time at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. It presented a series of photographs of the artist dressed in the costumes of cartoon super-heroes: Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, posing with her son Antos. In the background one can see a kitchen or other rooms of an ordinary, friendly apartment, light and clean, but the father is out of sight. Not only has the pop-cultural hero changed his sex, but his heroic deeds are of a different character.


The contemporary Supermother, Jablonska's unattainable ideal, accomplishes real miracles in reconciling child-rearing and housekeeping with a professional life, trying to perform each of her roles as best she can and still derive satisfaction from them. The artist explicitly relates this work to the myth of Matka-Polka (the archetypical Polish Mother) so popular in Polish culture, while using iconographic references to the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus to underscore its religious connotations.


For her Kitchen, shown as part of the Bialy Mazur exhibition at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in 2003, the artist placed kitchen cupboards and a table of exaggerated dimensions in the gallery, and hung announcements printed on dish towels about a young, energetic Polish woman looking for a job.


In many of her works, Jablonska extends her role as The Polish Mother to social issues involving the status of women in society. Her work Helping, awarded by the Cultural Foundation of the Deutsche Bank in a competition for the best young artist of 2003, is composed of a small tapestry embroidered with a silver thread - the advertisement of a jobless woman from Lodz searching for work - and a container of ground-up banknotes. Jablonska found this ad, handwritten on a piece of note-paper and glued to a wall, while she was preparing her exhibition in Lodz. She contacted the woman, who - for an honorarium that the gallery had offered the artist for her exhibition - sewed its message onto a white fabric.


As she had previously fed her guests in Through the Stomach to the Heart, in 2004 she invited workers fired from a textile factory to a banquet in Poznanski Palace, the most majestic one in town, built in the late 19th century for a textile tycoon when Lodz was the Polish Manchester. With the decline of the textile industry since 1989, in which most of the workers were women, the population of 2 million has one of the countrys highest unemployment rates. Meeting, chosen for the First International Lodz Biennale (2005), is a video documentation of Jablonskas action in Lodz.


On March 8, 2004, she organized a project called Womens Day in Krakow, named after the officially designated day for the annual recognition of women by men (traditionally with a flower). The artist organized workshops for jobless men who made origami tulips out of sheets of paper, on which their dreams were printed. The flowers were then handed out to women passing by as gifts on the occasion of March 8.


With Helping, during the Prague Biennale in 2005, Jablonska organized a service which brought technical, logistical, and transportation help to other artists taking part in the Biennale.


For her project Merry Christmas at the Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok in 2005 Jablonska prepared bags in which the viewers could place presents for poor or orphaned children. Through its concept alone it related to one of her earliest projects, Carrying Objects of Art in the ON Gallery in Poznan in 2000, for which Jablonska had produced promotional plastic bags with the slogan "Carrying Objects of Art": they were left in the gallery for the audience to take and use to carry things which they regarded as works of art; and leave another object along with the name, surname, and address in exchange.


Recently, Jablonska has been introducing more and more direct uneasiness into the normally calm and predictable environment ruled by a Mother or a servant:


For the Palimpsest Museum, the All-Polish exhibition at the First Lodz Biennale in 2005, she prepared photo-postcards depicting interiors of the Poznanski Palace, in which the exhibition took place. In Disturbance, the rooms and corridors of what is now the Museum of the History of the City of Lodz looked disturbingly altered as if they had been tampered with.


At the Atlas Sztuki Gallery in Lodz in 2006 the artist grouped at the exhibition 83 waiters, who by overzealously carrying out their duties interfere with an important and smoothly unfolding ritual of the art world. Marek Krajewski wrote about 83 Waiters and a Helper: Thanks to such a cumulative effect they became visible, thus undermining their professional transparency.


Selected individual exhibitions include: Piacere Casuale - Chance Pleasure, Polish Institute and AOCF 58 Gallery, Rome; 83 Waiters and a Helper, Atlas Sztuki Gallery, Lodz; Meeting, National Museum, Krakow (all: 2006); Ela Jablonska, Fizek Gallery, Poznan (2005); Supermother, Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok (2003); Home Games (presented on 400 billboards in Poland), Outdoor Gallery; Supermother, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Home Games, Kronika Gallery, Bytom (all: 2002); Carrying Art Objects, ON Gallery, Poznan (2001); The Polish Mother Presents Number 1 - Home Stories: Pictures from the Cycle "When Antek Sleeps", Mozg, Bydgoszcz (1997).


Selected group exhibitions include: Global Feminists, Brooklyn Museum, New York ( 2007); Polyphony of Images, Polish Cultural Institute, New York; Madonna, Blekinge Museum, Karlskrona (Sweden); Museum as a Luminous Object of Desire, Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz; Continental Breakfast, Museum of Contemporary Art Skopje (all: 2006); Image, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; Sicht der Dinge, Regensburg; Prague Biennale; Madonna, Kunsthaus Dresden; Egocentric, Immoral, Outmoded, Zacheta, Warsaw (all: 2005); BiaBy Mazur, Bunkier Sztuki, Krakow; Outdoor Gallery, Boulogne; Art Paris, Carousel du Louvre, Paris; Critics Choice, International Art Biennale, Lodz; Palimpsest Muzeum, Polish Art Biennale, Lodz; Far West Near East - Junge Kunst aus Polen, Essen; Art in the City, Frankfurt/M; Under the White-and-Red Flag. New Art From Poland, Estonian Art Museum, Tallin, CAC Vilnius, Lithuania, National CCA Arsenal, Nizhny Novgorod, Museum of Fine Arts, Nizhny Tagil, Russia (all: 2004); Glances, Deutsche Bank Award Exhibition, Zacheta, Warsaw; Bialy Mazur, NBK - Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; Art in the City - AMS Outdoor Gallery 1998-2002, Zacheta, Warsaw; Architectures of Gender. Contemporary Women's Art in Poland, SculptureCenter, New York (all: 2003); Polacos - New Art From Poland, La Capella Gallery, Barcelona (2002); 7th Construction in Process, Bydgoszcz (2000).

Kitchen, 2003, exhibition Bialy Mazur, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, photo courtesy of the artist


Kitchen, 2003, exhibition Bialy Mazur, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, photo courtesy of the artist


Through the Stomach to the Heart, performance, SculptureCenter, New York, 2003, photo courtesy of SculptureCenter


Helping, 2003, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, photos courtesy of the artist


Meeting, 2004, video, 93 min., photo courtesy of the artist


Helping, Prague Biennale, 2005, photos courtesy of the artist


Merry Christmas, Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, 2005, photo courtesy of the artist


83 Waiters and a Helper, Atlas Sztuki Gallery, Lodz, 2006, photo courtesy of the artist