Mary Koszmary (Nightmares): A Film by Yael Bartana

February 19 - August 27, 2009

Using the structure and sensibility of a WWII propaganda film, artist Yael Bartana explores a complicated set of social and political relationships among Jews, Poles, and other Europeans in the age of globalization in her 2007 film Mary Koszmary.

Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), a film by artist Yael Bartana, explores a complicated set of social and political relationships among Jews, Poles, and other Europeans in the age of globalization. Using the structure and sensibility of a World War II propaganda film, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares) addresses contemporary anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Poland, the longing for the Jewish past among liberal Polish intellectuals, the desire among a new generation of Poles to be fully accepted as Europeans, and the Zionist dream of return to Israel.

Like an athlete entering the arena, a clean-cut young man wearing glasses and tie emerges from a dark tunnel and enters Warsaw’s dilapidated Olympic Stadium. Built from rubble that remained from the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the vast amphitheater served for decades as a venue for sporting events and state ceremonies. Today, the terraced seating, overgrown with weeds, resembles a neglected cemetery. Bartana’s cinematography alludes to the ideology and aesthetic strategies of Leni Riefenstahl, whose films included Olympia, a documentary of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and Triumph of the Will, a 1934 film of the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg.

The protagonist, portrayed by the left-wing Polish critic and activist Slawomir Sierakowski, climbs a podium and delivers a speech. His voice reverberates against the empty seating. His sole audience is a small troop of young, patriotic scouts bearing Polish flags who stencil the field with the following sentence, “3,300,000 Jews can change the life of 40,000,000 Poles.” The respective numbers refer to the population of Jews who lived in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust and the country’s current population. The protagonist suggests that in order for Poland to be fully accepted by other Europeans, the country must embrace tolerance and multiculturalism and welcome back its Jews. He provocatively states, “Let the three million Jews that Poland has missed . . . chase away the demons. Return to Poland, to your country!” Bartana, an Israeli artist living in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam, stresses the commonalities between contemporary Israel and Poland. She states that in both countries “there are a small percentage of intellectuals and a small Left. Both we and they are nations living with the trauma of the past and constantly struggling with the search for identity and definition.”

Yael Bartana’s solo exhibitions include Foksal Gallery, Warsaw (2008); Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (2008); The Power Plant, Toronto (2007); Kunstverein Hamburg, Germany (2006); MIT List Visual Arts Center (2004). She has also been included in many group exhibitions including: the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (2009); the Jewish Museum, New York (2007); Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany (2007); Walker Art Center (2007); Centre Pompidou (2007); 27th Bienal de São Paulo (2007); Tàpies Foundation, Barcelona (2006); and the 9th Istanbul Biennial (2005). Her works are in the permanent collections of The Israel Museum, the Jewish Museum, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and other institutions.

A solo exhibition is concurrently on view at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York.