All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, All That Is Holy Is Profaned

Paweł Kruk reverses the traditional economy of the Museum – here the gift goes outside...

Paweł Kruk
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, All That Is Holy Is Profaned

The simple gesture of placing candles in the space of the Main Building creates a lot of potential situations – taking a candle out of the museum, lighting it up at home or somewhere else. The artist presents to us the figure of a silent flame, which cannot speak in a museum, the figure of agency arrested at a halfway stage. At the same time Paweł Kruk reverses the traditional economy of the Museum – here the gift goes outside. With this small gesture he invites us to change the ‘grammar’ of an institution which was/is ascribed the role of collecting and preserving, never giving away or losing. This reversal of mechanisms is not rigorously designed. The situation thus created is only the starting point. The beginning is a decision by each of us, not only – importantly – of an imagined audience. It is a wider gesture, not dividing people into visitors and staff, rejecting the notion of the museum as a servile institution, the notion so often reflected in contemporary models of the functioning of the museum: the staff focused on an ideal setting for the reception of exhibited works, moving invisibly behind the scenes, taking part in it all, but only on one side.

Turning towards the act of burning a wax candle is an escape from the coercion of modernity conceived in an unambiguous way, losing its ambivalent and therefore complete and integral character. This action embraces the fear of the ‘evaporating’ constant disappointment with modernity, which not only gave people a sense of agency, but ignored the unwanted consequences, the dangers of being released into life. Marx’s sentence quoted in the title, the poem “All that is solid…” (repeated in the title of Marshall Berman’s book) is an important point of reference for understanding modernity and the oppressive standardisation following from it. The return to ritual, a reference to sacred motives associated with the conservative nature of the museum, to contemplation and remembrance, assumes a paradoxically progressive nature. The situation so constructed does not contain any expectations – such as burning the wax candle, keeping it or passing around. The situation is open, and thus seemingly volatile and damningly modern. But this situation makes it possible to make a small effort, to take a decision. Repose is unknown to any; and such, for instance, as seem the most torpid, as they hang in dead clusters against the glass, are intrusted with the most mysterious and fatiguing task of all: it is they who secrete and form the wax.*

* During the opening the artist was reading: Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

11th – 20th September, 2015

installation in the Intertext Room
at the Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art, National Museum in Kraków