lokal_30, Warsaw: The Girl who Married a Volcano

Justyna Górowska

The Girl who Married a Volcano


opening: 13.02.2015, 7 PM
breakfast with the artist: 21.03.2015, noon–2 PM
exhibition runs until 21.03.2015
gallery opening hours: Wed–Fri: noon–6PM, Sat 11 AM–3 PM


The title of the exhibition has been borrowed from one of the presented works by Justyna Górowska. Yet, it certainly has a broader array of references – the eponymous “girl who married a volcano” can refer both to the artist herself and to everyone who explores her artistic approach. Górowska uses a ceremonial wedding with the spirit of a volcano, a ritual encountered in Indonesia, as a metaphor of a rite of passage that gives us access to an unknown order and an opportunity to function according to its rules. Not only is the title indicative of the artist’s attempts to transgress established borders, but it also expresses a challenge to clear-cut distinctions between the visible and the invisible, the human and the non-human, and above all, between culture and nature.


Akin to Górowska’s other works from Indonesia, local beliefs and their implied non-essentialist world view underpin the project Merapi (2013). This world view challenges some of the key concepts that define the human condition in Western culture. In a small village on a slope of the active volcano Merapi Górowska was told about a peculiar wedding ceremony when a local girl married the spirit of the volcano, called Petruk. This story inspired her to explore the mysticism and mystical practices of Java. Merapi is a reinterpretation of the ritual. The ceremony appears in a broader context – the work features a person who is not afraid to resign from autonomy in order to become an integral element of reality; a person who rejects the anthropocentric perspective and the claim that humans are the centre of the universe. Another aspect of the project is a confrontation between two seemingly opposing ways of understanding reality: through magic and through science. This aspect is brought to the fore by the artist’s enquiry in a nearby seismograph station, which reveals an increase in the seismic activity of the volcano during the wedding ceremony.


The next work from Indonesia revolves around the figure of orang pendek, a legendary hominid – half-man, half-animal – that inhabits the forests of Sumatra, according to eye witness reports. Who or what is orang pendek? Does it really exist? Those questions occupied the minds of Justyna Górowska and Adam Gruba during their exploration of the forest in search of the creature that can potentially be “the missing link of the evolution chain”. Unrecognised by science, the same creature remains merely one of the curiosities of cryptozoology. Yet, what academia considers as unrecognised and unproven – and therefore non-existent – is real enough for the people of Sumatra. For the local communities the hominid is more than a legend, even though, as we are told in the video orang pendek (2013), “it requires a lot of luck to come across the creature.” As we go deeper into the misty jungle of Sumatra, not only our senses become more acute but also our imagination. The borders between the categories of visibility and invisibility, existence and non-existence, the human and the non-human, are gradually blurred. The main question is no longer: “does it exist?”, but „what can allow it to exist?”


FoxP2 (2012) is another work that questions the opposition between the previously discussed categories. It also focuses on language as the strongest expression, or even the creative force behind the oppositions that exist between categories. After completing a course in genetic engineering at the Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Agriculture in Cracow, Górowska isolated a fragment of her own DNA: the FoxP2 gene, commonly known as the gene responsible for communication. Even though the gene is found also in animals, only the human variety can guarantee the ability to communicate through speech. This means that one of the most distinctive features of our species results from a slight mutation in the proteins. The gene that the artist isolated is featured in a special container and surrounded by mirrors, which lend an even more surreal mood to the work. The installation is accompanied by Górowska’s video of animal training procedures that the artist re-enacts only by means of harsh and brutal words extracted from their original context. Creating a dissonance, the words are spoken in a gentle manner. The focus is not on the animal, which never appears in the film, but on the human being – language is both the tool and the source of legitimacy of the human pursuit of control over other animals.


Featured in orang pendek and FoxP2, the links between species and questions about their classification and hierarchy informed Górowska’s works already several years earlier, for instance in the video Iris and Reks from 2009, where the artist portrays in a tender and sensual scene – with music that highlights its special character – the strong emotional bonds that she has developed with her dogs. The score plays an important role also in the video You Killed a Hen for Me from 2011, where the soundtrack to the eponymous scene is a composition by Tchaikovsky. The music dominates the footage of the final moments of the animal’s life. Thus, “culture” conquers “nature”. The hen is present also as a skeleton crowned with a feather that lends an aesthetic appeal to the object.


The exhibition includes the work FW JG (since 2009), awarded the main prize of the competition Samsung Art Master in 2010. In the project Górowska returns to the games that she played with identity in her earlier works. She appears as the American photographer Francesca Woodman, who committed suicide at the age of 22, and re-enacts her photographs through one-minute camera performances. This method allows her to establish a special kind of connection with the American creator of the original images.
Justyna Górowska (b. 1988) – graduate of the Faculty of Intermedia at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. Górowska is a performance and video artist, a sculptor and a photographer. Awarded the main prize of the 7th Samsung Art Master competition (2010), and the Grand Prix of the 3rd Festival of Young Art “Przeciąg” in Szczecin (2011). Her works have been presented at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw (2010, 2014), the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko (2011), the Freies Museum in Berlin (2009), the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem (2010), and the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Milan (2011). She has also participated in many international festivals, such as the the “Inspirations” Festival in Szczecin (2012, 2014) and the International Performance Festival “RIAP” in Quebec (2014). In 2010/2011 and 2012/2013 she received a scholarship from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. In 2014 she was awarded by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. As of 2014, Górowska is represented by lokal_30.

curator: Zuzanna Derlacz