Fear and Trembling [Bojaźń i drżenie], 2007 (installation detail), installation: three mannequins, electric mechanism, clothing, latex paint, variable dimensions, courtesy of the artist
Grzegorz Klaman is one of the pioneering members of the contemporary Polish art world, and a prominent figure on the Gdansk art scene. Klaman's socially engaged and subversive works - mostly large-scale, site-specific sculptural installations - respond to contemporary politics in Poland. Klaman's political stance was shaped in the context of the social upheaval caused by Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement. His sensationalist examination of questions related to power, technology, medicine and invasive medical procedures have triggered severe criticism of his works, which at times took the form of actual censorship.
The monotonous movement of the three figures in this installation, together with their hermetic withdrawal, call to mind states of trance, possession or hysteria. Below their cloaks, they are wearing Western clothing indicative of their identity and class. Their cloaks and bodily posture clearly allude to religion, while also hinting at a dimension of vulnerability or sacrifice. The expression "fear and trembling" originally appears in the Book of Psalms, and recurs in the Yom Kippur prayer "Unetanah Tokef" - which describes man's inconsequential status of man vis-à-vis God, and his fear of the Day of Judgment: "The great shofar is sounded / A still small voice is heard / The angels are dismayed / They are seized by fear and trembling / As they proclaim: Behold the Day of Judgment!" Klaman's choice of this title, however, alludes to the writings of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard - which are concerned with the paradoxes of religious belief, with expressions of religious zealousness and with the limits of personal sacrifice. Kierkegaard's well-known book Fear and Trembling, which was first published in 1843 under the pseudonym "John the Silent," sought to reach the root of the conflict between morality and faith, and to examine the paradox that brings together obedience and deep understanding. The intersection between these different fields of meaning expresses a critical stance towards the familiar paradigm that calls for self-inflicted or collective injury in the name of faith. This work thus touches upon the growing surge of religious fundamentalism in the contemporary world; upon a state in which faith, no matter what faith, does not only envelop but also obscures; does not only protect, but also detaches and separates. There is no doubt that its presentation in a local context, in a mixed city like Haifa, which is charged with intercultural tensions, amplifies its resonance.
Born in Nowy Targ, Poland, 1959; lives and works in Gdansk