Since 1932, when Poland first officially participated in the Venice International Art Exhibition, the model for this artistic event has remained practically unchanged. Sovereign nations, participating in the main programme of the Biennale, present the projects of their selected representatives in national pavilions. However, this formula, which strongly emphasises national divisions and accentuates the supposed homogeneity of a country’s artistic landscape, seems to be out of step with the postmodern art history discourse, particularly present in the context of contemporary art. This diagnosis is one of the reasons why it is all the more worthwhile to take a look at the project Repeat After Me II by the Open Group collective (Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach, Anton Varga), hosted at the Polish Pavilion this year.

The uniqueness of the audiovisual installation curated by Marta Czyż lies not only in its’ purpose as a gesture of solidarity that gives voice to Ukrainian artists (and, above all, war refugees who are the protagonists of the videos presented) but also in transgressing the framework imposed by the model of the Art Biennale. Through the work of Open Group, Poland once again breaks out of the anachronistic convention focused on ‘National Art’, which by no means reflects the true identity and artistic complexity of artists but also the heterogeneity of the artistic landscape.

The presence of the Open Group as this year’s Polish representative places a clear emphasis on the polyphony of voices rather than a single, dominant narrative. At the same time, it emphasises the considerable influence of Ukrainian art and its reception on the Polish art scene. This harmonises with the horizontal model of art history developed by Piotr Piotrowski[1], which takes into account the multiplicity and equivalence of art-historical narratives within a given region, in this case that of the country of Poland.. Considering the dispersion of the Ukrainian community, caused by the necessity of wartime migration, it is not difficult to imagine how the work of people of Ukrainian origin interacts with contemporary Polish art, determined by other local artistic tendencies or a different dimension of political and cultural experience.

In this light, the Polish Pavilion acquires not only the status of a transnational pavilion, but also a platform for those whose voice should be heard. In doing so, it fulfills the demand, which is equally close to Piotrowski’s thought, for engaged humanities, which should be characterised by the open exposure of the mechanisms of oppression and resistance to imperialist actions. The testimonies of people who have experienced the ongoing war in Ukraine, presented in the pavilion, both direct our attention to individual and very concrete human tragedies and constitute a clear declaration of discord with the military actions of the Russian Federation.


The representation of Poland by the Ukrainian collective perfectly reflects this year’s theme of the Venice Art Biennale (Foreigners Everywhere). The presence of the installation Repeat After Me II, apart from its undoubted emotional value, provokes, among other things, reflections on the concepts of identity, nation or belonging and the need to constantly negotiate and question them.

[1]  P. Piotrowski, O horyzontalnej historii sztuki, „Artium Quaestiones”, 20 2009, p. 59–73.

Text: Patrycja Ignaczak

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