Criticised as a magnet for neofascists when shown in London, vandalized in Warsaw, and reproached in New York as an apolitical commentary on Hollywood’s glamorisation of evil, Piotr Uklański’s The Nazis has provoked strong reactions wherever it has been exhibited. This photographic archive of actors donning Third Reich regalia retains its sensationalist edge because it refuses to offer specific commentary on the horrors of the Nazi regime. Embracing the seductive appeal of these film stills, Uklański invites us to experience and consider the ambiguous morality at play when the entertainment industry exploits historical subject matter. ‘We end up looking at things with our mouths open, fascinated, regardless of what we watch, whether it’s a Nazi flick or people on fire’, he has said.
Polesploitation weaves together evidence of the frequently polemical reception of Uklański’s practice and his own campaign of self-mythologising. Trafficking in nationalist and religious symbols associated with his cultural identity, this shrewdly composed frieze of archival material includes political ephemera, art works (the poster for his feature film Summer Love, which the artist describes as ‘the first Polish western’) and press clippings pertaining to the reception of his work, including one showing the destruction of The Nazis in Warsaw. A fashion spread from Vogue featuring Uklański in ostentatiously ‘eastern’ garb contrasts with found materials such a Polish tourist-board poster playing on the stereotype of the ‘Polish Plumber’ or a picture of Grace Jones sporting a pin in support of Solidarity. This deliberately exploitative self-portrait shows how contemporary artists are able to harness the media and our collective appetite for sensation in the crafting of their public personae.