Paweł Althamer

Paweł Althamer, a space traveler and inhabitant of Bródno, trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the “Kowalnia” studio-class of Grzegorz Kowalski (alongside Artur Żmijewski), and he has been well known since the 1990’s for his self-experimentation, sculptures, performances, actions, alternative pedagogy and social activism. His work recalls both Beuys’ social sculpture and Hansen’s Open Form legacies. He could be also described as a deeply relational artist, or as an artist with an affinity for “relational aesthetics,” if one could apply this term to his unusual “local-global” case. Many of his works are documentations (objects, artifacts, and films) of actions organized in special circumstances and addressed to specific groups of people with whom Althamer has collaborated (e.g., residents of the Bródno district of Warsaw, or Grupa Nowolipie), involving them in an artistic process and making them equal artists or co-authors for the first time in their lives. Breaking up the distinctiveness of art in a very realistic and human way, Althamer delegates artistic tasks, giving generous opportunities to other people of different (non-artistic) backgrounds to act as artists, to become the artists, or to co-create the work either as participants or as spectators. It it is the most crucial component of his work.


The topic of the “astronaut” and of traveling through space and time has been present in Althamer’s work since it first appeared in 1991, thereafter reappearing in output such as his student works Boat and Astronaut Suit (1991), Astronaut 2 (commissioned by Documenta X in Kassel in 1997), and culminating with the spectacular group of journeys with golden suits and golden airplanes such as in Common Task (2009). The Astronaut [Astronaut 1](1995), introduced at an Oikos group exhibition at Muzeum im. Leona Wyczółkowskiego in Bydgoszcz, originated when Althamer got off the train and walked through the city of Bydgoszcz in a home-made cosmonaut costume consisting of found and bought white-colored objects and proceeded to film inhabitants and streets with his camera, which transmitted its image in real time to a TV monitor installed on his back as part of a special rucksack-construction (all the parts of which now form their own art object). In a very interesting way, this work combined Althamer’s participatory projects, which focused on the creative involvement of viewers/spectators, with his interest in “directed reality” and different notions of realism, being consistently analogous to his other works such as The Observer (1995), a sculpture of a figure with glasses and a camera in its hands. 1991 was a formative year for Althamer’s overall work for many reasons, most of all because of his exploratory trip to Mali, where he met and observed the Dogon people. In a 1991 letter to his wife, he wrote: “I have a feeling of being distanced from all events around me and from those that I take part in. I call it a film in which I am playing my own part while watching it at the same time.” Since that time, Althamer has further developed his way of examining the spectators-participants phenomena, going on to his real-time recordings or “directed reality” performances without a recording camera. The project Bydgoszcz Astronaut 1 was the first in this group of works, and it led him a few years later to Motion Picture (2000) for Manifesta 3, Real Time Movie (2004) for Carnegie International, and his Realtime Movie performance at Tate Modern (2007), which was a trailer for his film that was never made (the idea being that the trailer seen on the screen was re-enacted live by Jude Law buying fish at Borough Market). As promptly stated by Francesco Manacorda: “For Althamer ‘real-time films’ are articulations of his artistic notion of ‘directed reality’ which involves insertion of fiction in the real world through open collaboration with ‘real people’ in ‘real conditions’ under the artist’s loose direction.”






1967, Warszawa / PL



Please follow this link for a selected bibliography available at the ERSTE Foundation Library
Courtesy the Artist and Foksal Gallery Foundation, photo Marcin Kalinski
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