Living at the Movies: Interview with Lukasz Jastrubczak

I was originally scheduled to interview Lukasz Jastrubczak in Poland last summer, but as I researched his background and projects I discovered that he was going to be in San Francisco in the fall on a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Jastrubczak is a thoughtful artist, working his way through multiple concepts at once to make art that is both complex and easy to grasp. I was fortunate to talk with him before he drove off into the American Southwest to make movies in the desert.

Lukasz Jastrubczak, The End, 2009. Documentation of a performance, photo: Małgorzata Mazur

Bean Gilsdorf: Let’s talk about your sense of cinema and some of the motifs that you’ve pulled from films. How do you find your material, and what attracts you to it?

Lukasz Jastrubczak: Most of my inspiration is connected directly to a specific idea in the movies. I try to take an idea from cinema and use it in a very minimal way, as simply as possible. I use materials like cardboard or fabric, because the works are props, as though I am taking the scenography from movies and putting it into reality. For example, The End was made with cardboard and helium balloons. I wanted to put the fictional sign into reality as simply as possible and recreate the final motion of the words on a movie screen. And Paramount Mountain [installed as part of the exhibition Mirage] is just the beginning of a movie, the logo. At least, that’s the inspiration but then I also connect it with the tradition of abstract geometry, the shape of a triangle and the color blue. It creates the idea of a distant mountain in aerial perspective.

BG: And you are also inspired by various artistic movements and ideas, right?

LJ: This work is all connected to suprematism and cubism in some way. Inspiration for Cubist Composition with a Jug didn’t come from the movies directly, but the idea works with Paramount Mountain. The concept is that in the gallery space you have a distant mountain, a blue triangle shape, and it’s the furthest 3D object for the viewer. But behind the mountain there is this fourth dimension, what the cubists were looking for, and there’s a sculpture of a jug there. So formally and physically there are four jugs, but the title suggests that there is only one jug. It’s one sculpture in different points of view, dealing with different kinds of dimensions, which is analytical cubism. The cubist composition becomes a four dimensional object.

BG: And this is connected to Władysław Strzeminski’s theory of vision. Will you explain that?

LJ: In 1946, Strzeminski wrote “The Theory of Vision,” which is about the perception of perspective. The idea is that until the beginning of the 20th century, perspective was mainly linear and it made an illusion on a flat painting. Strzeminski claimed that Cezanne was the first artist for whom linear perspective was not the truth. Cezanne developed the perception of reality to the maximum, and after that step everything was abstract geometry or something else. Cezanne’s work is about looking from different points of view, so you are not fixed to one point of view where all lines converge in the distance, you look from different points. For example, in a landscape you know that behind the tree there is something else, there is knowledge of other, non-visible objects in the space. Cezanne just takes all of that knowledge and makes a painting.

Lukasz Jastrubczak, Cubist Composition with a Jug, 2011. Sculpture (cardboard, spray, wood, glue), 55 x 23 x 20 inches

BG: Do you think that’s connected to your attraction to cinema? Because in a movie you can see things from different viewpoints. Unless someone uses one long shot, a scene is generally made up of shots from multiple perspectives.

LJ: Yeah, that’s the thing, that’s why Strzeminski’s theory interested me, because of the way that nowadays we see by the movies and by film language.

BG: So much of this work, Paramount Mountain, The End, is centered specifically on American cinema, and now you’re going to do this American road trip, which is a really iconic experience.  Why the United States? What is it about being here?

LJ: My consciousness of the world and the way I perceive things is very influenced by American cinema and culture. I am interested in the way we perceive the world while being influenced by pop culture and movies. Based on these two things, it can seem like the average movie viewer knows everything about the USA: what it looks like, what to expect. This is the perfect combination of fiction and reality.

Lukasz Jastrubczak, Flags on the desert, 2011. Documentation of a performance, photo: Małgorzata Mazur

BG: So what will you do in the desert?

LJ: I’m working on a book project with Sebastian Cichocki, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, who is interested in conceptual art and land art. Our idea is to create a book as an exhibition. He is sending me some texts about land art and conceptual art in America, and I will react to each. I will go for twenty days, driving from San Francisco to the southwest of America, reacting to these texts in visual form: photographs, small actions and performances. At the same time I will be realizing other works, mainly a film without a script. It’s a performatively-made movie. The idea is that we are filming the trip and the performances and installations that I will put in America. In the desert, I’m planning to install some small wire sculptures and make some performances with the fabric of the mountain.

BG: So you film this performance or some kind of action in the desert. Is the resulting movie documentation/reality or is that film a new fiction?

LJ: That’s a good question. When you document an art performance, it is supposed to be a reality. But I’m also interested in the fiction, so somehow I want to create this interesting fragile threshold between those two worlds. Like special effects in the movie, sometimes you don’t know if it’s real or not.

Lukasz Jastrubczak, The End, 2009. Documentation of a performance, photo: Małgorzata Mazur

BG: You’re so influenced by American culture and images. Do you think of yourself as a global artist, or as a Polish artist reacting to American culture? Or do you think about this at all?

LJ: I think of myself as a Polish artist influenced by American culture. But I think this Polish background is very important, because to travel in America is more exciting for me as a Polish artist, maybe, than if I were an American artist.