written as a part of Petrohrandská kolektiv

Øleg&Kaśka is a polish duo identifying as an individual artist, a dreamy activist. They met at the University of the Arts Poznan (UAP) in the summer of 2018 and have been creating together ever since. Their work has been exhibited in places such as Brno, Prague, Warsaw, Wroclaw, etc. in both solo and group exhibitions. As a part of their residency at Petrohrandská Kolektiv, they will be working on their latest project, the Swamp, with which they will continue dealing with contemporary issues through their mythically activist approach. The second one of their two exhibitions at Jedna Dva Tři Gallery will be available for the audience until the 20th of August 2021. 

Your work in this context is not a collaboration. How do you deal with the plurality and potential conflict of thoughts and impulses, desires and needs when it comes to creating?

Øleg&Kaśka: The person I created, which I call Øleg-and-Kaśka, is like a performative stance. I put myself into a continuous performance by creating one artist figure who is like an imagined one. He or she is in a constant state of mind of creating art. The objects and the paintings this person is making are not the main things, they finalize after talking and thinking about stuff collaboratively. They are the final products of this process which is essentially the main part.

You refer to yourself as a superorganism – the etymology of root “super” indicating something “above, over, on the top (of), beyond, besides, in addition to”.

Øleg&Kaśka: I wanted to create something that is a singular organism, I do not want to be competing with anyone. But it is also a statement – in the art industry competitiveness is very strong meaning the artists are constantly competing with each other. I wanted to create something of a collective with the two of us and make things together. It can be hard – when you are creating art, you sometimes need to give your personal data, not the identity you created, such as Øleg&Kaśka. Identity is, therefore, also the topic I struggle with. Sometimes it can be hard with the agreements, contracts etc. 

The adjective ‘super’ is used to emphasize a more collective approach. Making things together is crucial, that is why I use the word in the first place, to emphasize the collective and to create one person instead of two working together. It goes beyond collaboration.

Somehow they don’t want to watch. Now in darkness, the world stops turning, ashes where their mind stops burning. So you children of the world, killing in the name of what? (Astralprayer, Ashes to Ashes, 2020)

In a lot of your projects, you work very hands-on, using media like painting, sculpture, and poetry to create an aesthetic that only amplifies the blurred line between reality and dreaming that is such a big part of your work. By playing with the expression often associated with that of a child (its prejudiced innocence etc.) in the context of deeply problematic issues, you create a contrast that makes the reflection on the issue not only urgent but stronger.

Øleg&Kaśka: The style and aesthetics I use came naturally. I consider myself a kind of ‘dreamy activist’. It also has to do a lot with the characteristics of various generations – as I am in between the millennials and Generation Z, I noticed that in the latter escapism is really strong so I started using it as a tool. I am following the escapist way of thinking, mixing it with the surreal … It is also strongly inspired by pop culture, especially the 80s and the 90s, tv-series and some kind of a melancholic quality which I thought was very strong among these generations. 

A thing that might seem far from reality often turns out not to be. I am also dealing with contemporary issues and societal dilemmas but through the eyes of a child in a way, the dreamy ones.

In works like IS IT TOO LATE NOW TO SAY SORRY?, Ashes to Ashes and The Smell of Eruption Project you are critically approaching the characteristics of a certain generation, mostly millennials concerning the responsibilities, the topics of identities etc. … If your work is not meant to change, influence or direct in any way, what do you perceive as its aim? Is it self-sufficient and if so, would you consider it narcissistic?

Øleg&Kaśka: I can imagine it being interpreted in a narcissistic way, but I think it is not about that at all. On the one hand, one could think that it is only about some kind of a strange emotionality, but I believe that this change can come through the immersive way of perceiving – when you dive deeply into these imaginary scenarios and environments. I also often use the word ‘situations’ because I create many different situations in which I place the viewers and at the first glance it can be something totally abstract while it is actually connected to a lot of stuff I have contemplated and most of the society has been dealing with. But I do not want it to be too serious either because I do not want to be perceived as the kind of artist who knows better.  Mostly, I am asking questions to evoke a new way of thinking about reality and with it some artistic activism, of the ‘dreamy activists’ kind. So it might seem meaningless to some but I believe it has a lot of meaning, even simply as wishful thinking, placing wishes into this art. I do not want to be distant from the social dilemmas, quite the opposite, I am deeply engaged in them, but the way I express it is maybe a little bit different than what you would usually see.

Similarly to What Slavoj Žižek’s and Jean Baudrillard’s theorized, you are reducing the distance we tend to establish from the disturbing reality by addressing it through the imaginary layer, be it dreams, myths, or environments like a swamp. 

Øleg&Kaśka: I​​t started when I was living in Athens for six months. Because of the myths of the greek culture and their general approach to it, it felt like some kind of cemetery of old ideas, which had passed, yet people were still living with them. And it was a really strong experience for me. Afterwards, I started to work with myths and the past and Ashes to Ashes for example is a project that took place just after living in Athens – that is how I started to work with mythology. I am interested in how the myths are vanishing, how they appear in the first place, and develop through time, and also what is their impact on contemporary societies. My current project, the Swamp, is kind of a mixture of Slavic and Japanese mythologies; I was looking for some connections between these two seemingly faraway cultures. But looking closer, you can find a lot of similarities in them and I think that is the sense of the myth in general, that people are creating them to somehow understand the world better. Like your previous quote by Slavoj Žižek, I create fiction to understand something better. I found the same quality in myths, the old and the contemporary ones, so I started to develop them and use them as a tool to create our situations or environments. 

Would you say that the myth culture is still very active or is it more a thing of the past?

Øleg&Kaśka: It is definitely active, mostly because of the fake news which could be also perceived as mythological. It is really strong these days because it is also creating some kind of narration that often draws parallels with some kind of mythology. Because of the internet, it is very easy to access so many different narratives when it comes to reality, that fake news in a way falls under modern mythologies as well.

The project you are working on as a part of your residency at Petrohradsk​​á Kolektiv is the Swamp. As a place, a swamp has a connotation of something that swallows, something mythical and dark, almost threatening. It is a place that also completely preserves whatever it chooses to host, and mummifies it for eternity. Its stories, therefore, never truly disappear, they only accumulate throughout time. 

Øleg&Kaśka: It is true – it is a symbol in itself but simultaneously also filled with symbolism from both the natural creations and the cultural ones deriving from those natural creations. It is interesting to perceive the swamp through time – I wanted to make mine timeless so it, as you said, mummifies some things that happen to fall into it, but also works like a living organism that decides what it wants to pull inside of itself … The swamp which I am creating also has a lot of symbolism to it. I am also dealing with Christian folklore, which will be mixed with the Japanese and Slavic ones. ‘The bridge’, for example, is a crucial part, which is somehow connected to the rest of the pieces which I created and just as well to the Japanese and Christian myths about the bridge which serves as the place in between. On the one hand, there is this physical world and on the other hand, it is more oneiric and abstract, full of ghosts and some kind of ‘monsters’. In the Christian religion, the monster world is portrayed as Hell and the bridge plays an important role. There is a very popular image of two children, who are passing the bridge with an angel following, protecting them to walk safely over it from one world to another. It is very popular in Poland and every child gets one when they receive their communion.

Considering spaces in between, the idea can be taken literally or more abstractly, even metaphorically. Your bridge is physical but in Japanese culture, for example, such spaces are not graspable, not even necessarily perceivable. Is there a kind of a connection to that in your work as well? 

Øleg&Kaśka: I was inspired by an old Japanese movie called Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko. It is taking place near a bridge as well and its main focus is on the revenge of two women brutally murdered by the passing soldiers. The women made a pact with the devil and returned as Yūrei (similar to our ghosts) who started taking their revenge on soldiers. The heroines always appear near the bridge. The latter in Japanese culture is, as mentioned before, ‘the place in between’ and a lot of ghosts like Yōkai and Yūrei are emerging near them. It is kind of a symbolic way of appearing because they have to pass the bridge to enter the human world. Yōkais are the kind of spirits that have a special understanding of the world, natural disasters and so on. In ancient Japan, people did not know how to understand such things, so they invented some kind of ghosts that stood for various events. For example, there is Kappa, a combination of a human and a frog who lives both in the river and swamp and he is something similar to the Slavic vodyanoy, making people follow him into the water after which he drowns them.

Speaking of artworks that approached seemingly inescapable regimes and world catastrophes from a fictional and mythical perspective, your work slightly resembles Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Jodorowsky’s work but with less of a menacing and instead more playful undertone, like a lullaby. Do you draw any inspiration from other artists?

Øleg&Kaśka: There are some artists in Poland, who are also working with these, let’s say, narrative mythology strategies. For example, Aleksandra Waliszewska, a Polish painter strongly involved in Slavic mythology, and also Agnieszka Brzezańska who is mostly working with mythology from a feministic perspective. She is searching for the connection between feministic ideas in folklore and mythology, mostly Slavic because even though the current situation in Poland is very patriarchal, the mythology before Christianity was strongly connected to motherhood – mother, the ‘creator of the world’. Christianity changed it, it took the Slavic myths and retold them for their own purpose – and so men became the ruling ones. Christian holidays, for example, are also often based on older Slavic stories, mostly determined by the seasons which is something I am researching now.

I would also like to mention Agnieszka Polska, who is making videos and films with a similarly dream-like approach. She is also using a lot of symbols and surreal language to talk about reality, politics, various issues and dilemmas. 

Going beyond the dreamy connotation, the title The Sleep of Reason project is also indicating the moment when reason is asleep, not paying attention, letting the irrational take over – is this a utopian or dystopian thought?

Øleg&Kaśka: It is taken from Francisco de Goya, his aquatint with the same title, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. I worked on it during the hard lockdown. Stuck in the flat, lacking creative ideas, everything was accumulating – I felt like being stuck in the mud. So it definitely has something dystopian to it but I also perceive it as an opportunity; to look forward and at the same time deep into yourself because, during the lockdown, I perceived home as a kind of a mirror. And from a, let’s say psychoanalytic perspective [laughs], it might be a chance to deal with some stuff to make those monsters come out and face them. But it is not a thing that I would like to emphasize, it is only an interpretation. 

Despite it not being the main or most visible component of your work, humour still shines through in a very piercing and provoking way. In the self_house_residency project, you used the theme of the 58th Venice Biennial “May You Live In Interesting Times” in a context that, considering the world circumstances, makes the word “interesting” sound terribly naive and ignorant. 

Øleg&Kaśka: It is very important to me. It comes naturally as it is my way of perceiving things, taking distance from myself and art in general. Before I was talking about how to be instrumental as an artist – I do not want to be too serious with that so I use humour to provoke, which some might perhaps think primarily to ignore. But in reality, I see it as a kind of an instrumental approach in a way that hopefully could pierce through. Everything is so dark nowadays – our thoughts and dreams are extremely dystopian so maybe humour is something we need. 

Stanisław Lem once wrote: “We don’t know what to do with other worlds. This one is enough and we are already choking on it.” 

You are also referring to the Little Prince and astral elements as symbols of blind faith, the passive state of hope and consequent escapism. Still, as naive as the philosophy behind the Little Prince might seem, the focus there was not on escaping but on the necessity to see other planets to be able to truly see yours. For him, it was the only way to appreciate what used to be taken for granted – by subverting ignorance with comparison.

Øleg&Kaśka: The little prince was mentioned by Daria Grabowska who wrote the text for the Ashes to Ashes exhibition. She used the figure of the Little Prince to create some kind of distance, a figure that could describe my approach in a way – searching for other planets to come back home. All these different narrations from fake news, to various strange stories, make me perceive the contemporary world as full of different myths … what is also very important to me is to have hope – so looking at the stars, and dreaming about them is in a way looking for hope and sharing it. It can be naive but nevertheless important. It is also not necessarily passive, it can be very active. Rebecca Solnit, the author of Hope in the Dark, was looking for positive narrations and perceiving hope as a tool to make changes. But hope is something lying deep in the dark and you have to first find it to be able to react.

This topic was also a big part of my exhibition in Gdansk – I created the Wishful Tree where the viewers could make a symbolic wish and hang it on it in the form of a ribbon. In this way it became active and it was interesting to give people the tool and opportunity to be a part of it, to enter this far away world, to somehow act. I am trying to include this more in the future, and find ways for them to act more. People were putting their hopes and wishes out there and especially after the lockdown, they truly needed it. It also tells something about my approach to art – I think of it as a kind of celebration to overcome certain issues but it is not too serious. Yet, on the other hand, it is very serious.