I Wanna Be Your Colonizer
exhibition and everyday performance (3 hours) 25.01-03.03.2019,
Gdańsk City Gallery. Gdańsk, PL
I Wanna Be Your Colonizer, video still, 22'57'', 2019
Who was that mysterious middle-aged man whose photographs Przemek Branas came across in a second-hand Dutch furniture shop in hometown Jarosław? Twelve small-scale sepia images feature a white-clad sailor posing for photographs alone or in the company of smiling women and men, against the background of exotic architecture, lavish hotel interiors, vintage automobiles or by a ship bulwark. Handwritten notes on the reverse of the photographs indicate that they were taken on the island of Curaçao between 1932 and 1937. How did they make their way to Jarosław, a small town in Podkarpacie, where Branas found them? All attempts to identify the seaman have failed. Nevertheless, the artist resolved to recreate his identity as faithfully as possible with the help of the scarce traces available and the associations that the images brought to his mind.
Branas took the brief inscriptions on the reverse of the photographs as his starting point. A graphological analysis allowed him to establish a personality portrait of the person who penned them. That personality revealed strong similarities to some of Przemek’s own traits of character, such as inquisitiveness, creative drive, but also extroversion that sometimes borders on bravado.
Archival anonymous photographs from Curaçao, 1932–1937. Series of 12 photographs.
The next stage in “discovering” the seafarer’s identity involved recreating his outfit on the basis of the preserved photographs: sailor cap, white uniform, tailor-made leather shoes. Using the images, the artist also created a mask of the unknown man, under which he hid a cast of his own face. This double portrait forms part of the exhibition, which also features the artist in attendance throughout its running time. Dressed in a sailor’s outfit, Przemek participates in the show and animates it for three hours every day. Performing unspectacular gestures and minor activities, interacting directly with the viewers, the artist “incarnates” the evoked phantasmal figure. A similar situation was staged onboard a passenger ship during Przemek’s journey from the Tri-City to Karlskrona and Malmö in the autumn of 2018 – during that short cruise, the artist portrayed himself in a sailor’s outfit in photographs and videos. Footage from that journey forms part of the exhibition in the form of a film with added excerpts from a range of masterpieces of cinematography, such as On the Silver Globe (1967–1987), Waterworld (1995), Passenger (1967), Prospero’s Books (1991), and Blue (1993).
Selected lines and dialogues relate in various ways to the idea of a solitary journey, longing for dry land, the sea, boundless azure blue. Complemented with static shots from the deck and from a cruise ship cabin where Branas displayed the found photographs, the film excerpts evoke pop-cultural clichéd visions of sailor’s life shaped by the feelings of loneliness, boredom, waiting for land to appear on the horizon. The cruise to Karlskrona took only a dozen or so hours, a mere ersatz of a long exotic voyage to Curaçao. Yet, it was not Branas’s intention to simulate the unknown sailor’s oceanic journey, but to offer a condensed experience thereof. An experience similar, for instance, to that of Polish season workers who regularly travel by sea to jobs in Scandinavia. In a similar spirit of imitation, the artist used a tanning lamp, which left him suntanned as if after a long seafaring escapade.
Curator: Piotr Stasiowski
I Wanna Be Your Colonizer, photography, lightbox, 160x110 cm, 2019. Project identification photograph with an image of a model in a mask and tattooed symbols from the Old and New Testaments. The silicone mask was created on the basis of a portrait of the man from the archival photos. The reverse/inside of the mask is a cast of the artist’s face. The mask was used for the performance and photographs. Photo by Bartek Zalewski, 2018.
The legend of 'traveling photographs' in the years 1932–1937
1. The way from the Netherlands to Curaçao.
2. The photographs are returned to the Netherlands.
3. The photos are brought to Poland.
4. I'm going with these pictures to Curaçao, then to the Netherlands, and we come back to Poland.
Reverses of photographs with signatures that offered the possibility to identify the locations depicted in the photographs. The signatures provided the basis for a graphological-psychological analysis.
As can be seen, the prints are made on Agfa Lupex paper.
The online magazine Curaçao Chronicle, published in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, and the printed weekly Ekspres Jarosławski posted ads enquiring about the identity of the man from the photographs. The short press note addressed to the readers was published in order to seek any traces or information about him.
Documentation of the performance held in the exhibition space. The action took place daily (Mondays excluded) at the gallery in Piwna Street between 4 PM and 7 PM. The performance lasted 57 days. It comprised a series of 32 gestures repeated twice throughout three hours. The performance outfit was designed and sewn by Michał Gruca. The shoes were reconstructed at Leonardo Tozzi’s studio in Florence. The sailor cap was made by a Gdańsk milliner at Czesława Wojciechowska’s Cap and Hat Atelier. The music was composed specifically for the performance by Karol Nepelski. The space was filled with a smell composed by the artist.
I Wanna Be Your Colonizer, video, 22'57'', 2019. Film stills, images from the passenger ship deck and sea ports. The last still features a salor plunged in the ultraviolet light of sunbed lamps.
Photos: Przemek Branas, Bartek Zalewski