Art as a strategy for living; Marcin Dudek’s practice builds from autobiographical experience and expands to explore the broader phenomenon that shaped it. These include the rituals of subculture, DIY economy and crowd violence. From 2013 to 2020, his work has centered around sport, spectacle and stadiums with performances acting as vessels that allow the artist to reconnect with a past he consciously left behind. As Eddie Frankel wrote in Time Out London:
Toxic masculinity is a big topic in art, and Dudek’s work is a confrontation of it from within. This is someone who has experienced violence, has perpetrated it, lived it – this isn’t some vague, distanced, societal analysis. This isn’t an academic takedown of some faraway physical concept; this is the reality of male violence. If it feels scary, uncomfortable and wrong, that’s because it is, and Dudek knows that better than most.
On this page, Dudek answers questions about the role of performance in his practice. At the bottom of the page, "Tribunalia," which is part of our exhibition "Slash & Burn (Part I)" can be viewed.
Performance is relatively new in your practice. What brought you to start exploring this medium?
There is often a transformative element in your work, in which you take on the persona of your past self.
Do you feel as though your actions amongst these groups in your youth were also staged, in some way?
Would you say that your performances serve a therapeutic function, allowing you to reconcile yourself with your past?
Smoke and demolition often play a key role in your performance pieces. Can you elaborate upon this?
In "Tribunalia", you use fire in a very literal way, but this time in a controlled art context.
TribunaliaFollowing post-production, documentation of this performance is part of Dudek's exhibition Slash & Burn I.
Marcin Dudek’s 2018 performance Tribunalia (his seventh since 2013) is a direct precursor to the monumental work Slash and Burn, the most recent in an ongoing series of works investigating catastrophes in football stadiums. Tribunalia was conceived as part of the residency “Being in the Body” at Launch Pad LaB in Charente, France, curated by Fatoş Üstek. Intrigued by Pompeï’s ancient amphitheatre, which, while in ruins, closely resembled the Polish stadiums of the ‘90s, Dudek reconstructed its architecture using wood and matches. The matches are akin to bobbing heads crowded around a spectacle, and are placed according to Dudek’s memory of crowds in his home stadium. This maquette was placed on top of a hollow construction, which was then inhabited by the artist in the manner of a puppeteer hiding below the stage.
The performance commences with a destructive gesture; as if performing a violent c-section, the pitch is sliced in order to give birth to the spectacle, revealing bit-by-bit an agitated Dudek, shedding his hair onto the stadium and spitting abuse. At the onset of the vile ramblings, one is not sure where the obscenities are aimed - at the visitors or at the artist himself? “What are you doing? You’re doing nothing.You think you belong here?” Is this a critique of the viewer, looking on without any real involvement? Masses of hair are cut off and placed on the stadium, “Now you will be part of us”. At this point we understand that a transformation is taking place - urged on by an alter-ego, or by his past self, Dudek quickly becomes a skinhead, leaving his hair on the bleachers along with his more ‘tamed’ self.
The transposed footage, an archival video from a match that Dudek attended as a youth in Krakow, was added onto the green-screen pitch only after the performance took place. We see his group of cohorts milling around, hesitating, waiting for their moment to rush the field, as Dudek voices the pressure for action. This pressure is both social, urged on by shared purpose, and simultaneously self-invoked, pushing himself to perform and prove that he deserves his spot in this crowd of troublemakers. Although directed towards himself, this dialogue is extremely visceral, creating discomfort for spectators as Dudek’s voice is internalized by others who must confront their own inaction and cowardice. There is also a threat of danger. Spectators lose a sense of security as Dudek pushes himself to perform destructive gestures.
As his transformation to skinhead nears completion, the artist relinquishes his own identity for one with a common purpose as he melts into the crowd. The matches are lit and the stadium starts to burn. Using the matches as a metaphor for spectators, the spread of the fire represents how crowd mentality consumes individuals. Heads are shaven and identities are incinerated. The discomfort of the performance’s audience now shifts from the mental sphere to the physical one. Forced to endure the heat of the matches, the stench of the burnt hair, and the threat of the fire, violence and oppression seem imminent. Only upon the artist’s exit from the structure is there a sense of relief amongst the audience who have been assured that it was all only a spectacle.