Skapski began by providing a bit of contemporary Polish political history as it relates to the arts. In 1981, the Communist government imposed martial law that made it impossible to conduct art as usual. He said the imprisonment of 5,000 people in one night and other severe measures altered people’s state of mind and created radical change in behavior of the public. Skapski saw this as the power of a small change on the part of a power (government) to mess with people through relatively simple measures.
The work that emerged from this condition was “work that facilitated spiritual experiences.” But unlike the great numbers of Poles who migrated to the Catholic Church in response to the oppression (the Church even became a venue for a lot of arts), Skapski drew on his Dada roots for his political reaction. His objects created during this period included perception-altering devices, such as the “sky observation unit” (a bed-like piece of furniture that was placed in an open space), barely translucent “visual protection glasses” that would come to your aid if you were viewing something that troubled you, and a left-to-right conversion device to optically send what your left eye would have seen to your right eye and vice versa.
In 2000, Skapski found the cost/technology ratio that allowed him to create movies, which had long been a desire. He began making videos with a partner, and then with another pair of video artists, all of whom together took on the name Azzoro Group. He has since made work with Azzoro as well as solo projects.
Asked about the difference in working in a collective, Skapski replied that the group mentality gives them courage to do what they wouldn’t do alone. For these artists, that translates to more outrageous. Their video entitled “The Best Gallery” shows the group landing in Berlin and stopping people to say, “We are four artists from Poland and we would like to show our work here. Where is the best gallery?” They then follow the advice of everyone they ask, regardless of the quality of the advice, but eventually end up at the Guggenheim, where they waltz their camera equipment into the administrative offices and repeat their request to the Director’s assistant. In this exhibition, the piece, “An Artist Can Do Anything” shows the group proving their point by turning into art various activities, such as crossing the street together against a red light, drawing moustaches on Andy Warhol posters, ensemble tree urination, and ogling a pretty girl.
Alone, Skapski often works in series or collections he describes as “sets,” like those Venn diagrams found in math class. One piece is a set of tractors home-built by farmers in the Tatras mountains (see invitation). He sees these farmers as sidestepping the frustrating supply policies of the Soviet State–the “anti-corporate” spirit (and of course there is a note of humor in seeing them all together as a set).
Another piece in the show is a set of interviews with residents of one of the major Krakow neighborhoods. He drives around in his car (the car radio gets the music credit) and asks a random collection of people the same questions: What is this place called; How do you like it; and Do you think it’s pretty?
The repetition style in these series serves to take what Skapski describes as unartistic individual pieces and makes them into an artistic vision. The sum is greater than the parts, validating the collection and also highlighting humorous aspects.
Skapski said, it disturbs him that artists treat things so seriously. He suspects that while there may be some “genius artists” whose work is serious, most contemporary art still draws on Dada roots and deserves a playful treatment. His metaphor for how he treats his material is “I use quote marks around life.” This philosophy is demonstrated in three short videos in the current exhibition, “Wind,” “Dark,” and “It’s Okay.” “Wind” for instance, begins with a profile of Skapski on a ferry looking over the water. He said that in making the film, he handed his wife Maria the camera (she works in the film industry in Poland), directed the framing, and she started rolling. His plan was that at a point, he would turn and say “something significant,” which he had to come up with on the spot, and the film would end. At the moment he needed the verbal gem to emerge, he turned and said, “It’s windy.”