Anna Molska (b. 1983), one of the younger members of a new generation of Polish artists, recently mounted an installation of two intriguing works concerning evil and death. In a semidocumentary video, The Mourners (approx. 28 minutes, 2010), seven women, mostly in beige parkas, gather in a barren greenhouse overlooking a blindingly white, snow-covered field, and sing traditional Polish funeral songs. In between, they chat, dance, laugh, cry and tell personal stories of loss and Satan—in whom they wholeheartedly believe.
The fantastical 16mm film Hecatomb (approx. 14 minutes, 2011) was inspired by The Mourners. The title evokes death, but the film gives little away. In it, a young man wearing Hawaiian-print shorts and a strange, flesh-colored vest (reminiscent of both armor and S&M attire) fidgets on a black air mattress in an otherwise empty greenhouse; outside is lush foliage. At one point white foam begins to flood the space, and the man dives in and out of it as he flagellates himself with a whip.
Both films are highly ambiguous. In The Mourners, the identities of the women are never revealed (Molska’s accompanying brochure explains that they are professional mourners), nor do we learn what brought them together, what they are waiting for or even where they are. (Though again, the brochure tells us they are in the village of Oron Ì sko, “a Mecca for sculptors.”) A sense of wonder and mystery pervades the films, making them compelling but also amplifying the audience’s confusion and apprehension.
The gallery suggested watching the two films in conjunction but a wall that jutted out between the two viewing rooms made doing so difficult. The only feature the films share is the greenhouse setting and a similarly functioning prop—the air mattress in Hecatomb and a daybedlike bench in The Mourners. It did sometimes seem as if the women and the man (Molska tells us he represents “acedia,” which she defines as “an illness of the soul” and describes as “my evil”) might be looking at or hearing each other. But such a reading leads nowhere. Hecatomb works hard to impress, with its phantasmagorical narrative and masochistic allusions, calling to mind the videos of Matthew Barney. The Mourners takes a more straightforward approach that is subtly unsettling, recalling work by other Eastern European artists such as the Romanian Andra Ursuta, whose New York gallery debut included folkloric songs of lament emanating from a contraption made of potatoes, and the Pole Joanna Malinowska, whose films trail bored and restless locals.
Taken together, however, the two films effectively unite two strands in Molska’s filmmaking: the semidocumentary, as in The Weavers (2009), about miners in Poland, and the visually driven, as in (2006-07), in which two men in black headgear and black jockstraps create geometric shapes out of blocks, settling at one point on a rendition of Malevich’s Black Square. Molska’s works are all sewn from the same thread. By reconstructing, decontextualizing and distilling situations, the artist nimbly mines the foundations of art and human nature.Tanagram
Photo: Anna Molska: Hecatomb, 2011, 16mm film transfered to HD, approx. 14 minutes; at Broadway 1602.