Artur Zmijewski



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Not on display

Artur Zmijewski born 1966
Video, high definition, colour and sound (stereo)
Duration: 18min, 42sec
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2014


Blindly 2010 is a video with sound for which Polish artist Artur Zmijewski asked a group of visually impaired people to paint the world as they see it. Some of the volunteers were congenitally disabled; others became blind in their lifetime. In the film they draw self-portraits and landscapes, occasionally asking the artist for instructions or giving verbal explanation for their decisions. Their paintings are clumsy and abstract. It is however not the resulting works but the process of making them that is at the core of the film. Lasting almost nineteen minutes, the work was produced in an edition of three plus an artist’s proof and an editor’s proof; Tate’s copy is number three in the main edition.

In many of his earlier works Zmijewski adopted the method of introducing a group of people to an arranged situation and registering their responses and the results of his experiments. He often works with groups on the margins of society – the disabled, minority groups, immigrants. In his film The Singing Lesson 2 2003 he gathered a group of deaf children and asked them to sing Bach cantatas. Despite the efforts of teachers, musicians and a conductor, the concert was a musical fiasco. A bitter reflection about the impossibility of overcoming one’s limitations was, however, contrasted with the excited and satisfied expressions on the faces of the project’s participants. Zmijewski shifted the accent for the viewer from pity and compassion to a questioning of personal judgment and the social status of ‘the other’. Blindly represents a similar approach. The artist’s description of the Singing Lesson 2 could apply also to this film:

The Singing Lesson is a metaphor and at the same time a direct message. They’re taught to be ashamed of their voices; in this film they use them unashamedly to sing one of mankind’s greatest musical achievements … I was inspired in this line of thinking by the writings of the British neurologist and psychiatrist Oliver Sacks, author of, among other things, Seeing Voices, on sign language and the deaf community.

Sacks writes about what we call aphasis, i.e., deficits caused by injury or genetic defects. He relates various stories: a man who cannot tell a human face from an object, someone who has lost the sense of left and right. The most interesting thing is that these people have no sense that their world is incomplete, that it is missing, say, the left side or human faces. The deaf are not wanting in sound; their world is complete, whole. It is the hearing, who regard it as deficient. Perhaps in the world of each of us, which we regard as whole, there are deficits, only we don’t know it.
(Quoted in Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw and Kunsthalle Basel 2005, p.80.)

Another aspect of Blindly is the visual conversation between the artist and the project participants triggered by the assignment. The interview is one of the most prevalent tools used by Zmijewski in his practice and many of his early films were based on interviews with their protagonists. In Karolina 2002 a girl with a terminal illness talks to the artist about death and her experience of suffering. His short films from Israel, Itzek and Lisa (both 2003), are also based on conversations, which form detailed portraits of each character. In more recent works the artist looked to drawing as a way of conducting his interviews and getting to know the opinions of his interlocutors. He asked them to express their thoughts through artistic means. This motif is present in his film for Documenta XI, Them 2007, for which he brought people with radically different political beliefs into dialogue through artistic expression. In My Neighbours 2009 he asked Israelis to depict the conflict in Gaza. In both these projects, the given task revealed ideas, prejudices and misapprehensions which often remain unarticulated on a verbal level.

In Blindly the process of painting also serves as a conduit for communication. Sporadic dialogue between the artist and the participants uncovers their personal limitations and frustrations, but also how they imagine the world to be, based on information gained from the sighted or from their own memory. Combining many key aspects of the artist’s practice, the film explores the relationship between seeing and imagination, the status of the image in the contemporary world and the relationship between language and film.

Further reading
Artur Zmijewski: If it happened only once it’s as if it never happened, exhibition catalogue, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw and Kusthalle Basel 2005.
Gerald Matt, ‘Artur Zmijewski: Philosophy in Action’, in Interviews 2, Vienna 2008, pp.340–8.
Artur Zmijewski, exhibition catalogue, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 2012.

Kasia Redzisz
April 2013

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