Christian Jankowski [Germany]

Angels of Revenge

location: backyard of the Museum of the Polish Post and Secondary Technical School (entrance through a gate from the Obrońców Poczty Polskiej Square’s side / exit through a gate from the Podwale Staromiejskie Str. side)

In reflection of his role as producer, “creator” and director, German artist Christian Jankowski lives a sly, yet sincere post-conceptual practice spanning ethnography, mass media production and collaboration. His subjects circulate in faith-based economies and industries of experience – buying and selling the promise of a better life through adventures, intangibles and idols. Within this realm Jankowski surveys (and often subverts) the borders between high and low; reality and fiction; commerce and community; artist and non-artist. The latter is a binary he takes special joy in blurring, moving into fringe subcultures and conventions as an aesthetic chameleon and sociological student. Once enmeshed in these social groupings, Jankowski actively cultivates opportunities for co-production – enlisting participants into collaboratively produced, often improvised projects. From television psychics, home shopping network hosts and a Texas televangelist to magicians, auctioneers and customs officials, he continually opens (and questions) the model of art-making in an expanded societal field. The ensuing videos, photos, objects and installations document the idiosyncrasies of these interactions, moving beyond research and theory to celebrate the unpredictability of performance in process. Harkening back to his early musical studies – and his lead guitar in a 1980s rock band – Jankowski’s work flows out of interconnectivity with his context, “bandmates” and audience. The ironic, playful and insightful interventions that follow articulate an ongoing meditation on the rituals of perhaps the most peculiar subculture of all: art.

Angels of Revenge is part of a larger series of works tracing Jankowski’s venture into the horror movie genre – highlighting the philosophies and fantasies of its most ardent advocates. In this theatre of the grotesque he purposefully straddles the line between drama and documentary, asking if horror’s take on the traumas of mind and body can yield true catharsis. The same could be asked of this infamous wall abutting the Gdansk Post Office: memorializing – some would say mythologizing – a rather brief battle in the scope of history (and World War II) where a small Polish citizen army fought a Nazi advance. The survivors of this attack were not spared long, ignominiously lined up along this wall and executed by firing squad on October 5, 1939. Concrete casts of where their fingers would have touched the bloodspattered brick now mark this site, creating a spare but poignant monument to the spirits that haunt this yard. The legends that have grown from its history have – according to the Gdansk Life website – taken on near Biblical proportions, at the same time that the offending SS squad has been demonized to a hellish degree of hate.

In a parallel world where horror movies fashion a “free zone” from abiding social mores, Jankowski wondered how much imagined violence could, or ever should spill into so-called reality. Taking entrants in a 2006 Weekend of Horrors convention in Chicago, USA costume contest as his subjects (and collaborators), he asked each: “How were you most wronged in your life, and what is your fantasy of revenge against the person responsible?” Their answers become the script of this unsettling escapade, shot in a neighboring conference room-turned-film set. Down a darkened alleyway, each character walks toward the camera and recites their responses – viciously heeding Jankowski’s request to imagine a form of retribution most appropriate to the alleged offense. Werewolves, zombies and Hollywood slashers proceed though a subsequently mongrel space alternating between dress-up delusion and real life monstrosity. As the artist (as a surrogate of ex-friends, roommates and spouses, etc.) is showered with cartoonish curses and threats of vengeance, he observes, “You’re never quite sure where the real and fiction begins and ends in their stories, [as] these fans are so influenced by the horror film characters they follow.” Yet it is in this very confusion – in the invasion, escalation and reflection of outlandish movie aggression within our world – that a lens upon human behavior grows most insistent. Did the abomination of Nazi aggression beget contemporary horror, or do we imagine such evils into existence?