Ewa Majewska

New Polish Pop Culture – an Urban or a Bourgeois Art?

Is new urban pop art, which we have already become used to, really an urban art style? Is it the art of a certain socio-economic group? Colorful paintings, stylized as kitsch, but as their author explains in interviews not deprived of a certain nostalgia; a book that resembles a cheap love story but aspires to high literature as it is applying the most modern trends; a comic book with the latest fashion and social hits which is pretending to look elegant – these are only some embodiments of Polish pop culture, something I would like to reflect upon. I decided to analyze women’s art work, which in regards to pop culture is quite interesting, complex, contradictory and linking contradictions. It also is an example of an art that generates and expresses the empowerment of young modern women.

In my analysis of the “Polish women’s pop culture,” meaning literature, paintings and the internet art that are created by modern women today, I will try to use a few feminist theses formulated in regards to the functioning of society of late capitalism. Naturally, there is no one feminism, just like there is no one way of understanding post-structural philosophy. Thus, let me explain it straightaway: I am interested in questioning the uniformity of THE human being as it is expressed by cyber-feminists. I am also interested in nomadic feminism with its tendency for a constant removal of traces and looking for an inspiration in different areas of activity. I am finally interested in Helene Cixous’s theory of literature and her interests in the subject’s transformation through different stages and characters which hinders, in her view, an explicit interpretation of the subject’s nature. With such a multi-aspect and ambiguous perspective I should, at least in theory, praise Agata Bogacka and Endo – these are women who are full of contradictions, aware of the multiple meanings of their works and the possibilities of their diverse interpretations, also of their biographies. Yet, I am not going to do that. Why? Because, I am under the impression that the new female pop culture in Poland is a closed culture – a culture that is closed in clubs, the internet, or in tight groups of friends who meet in coffee shops. This self-seclusion is completed and emphasized, and not contradicted as it could appear, by the young artists’ presence in the media or the internet.  Thus, I am under an impression that the contradictions of the new pop culture are a façade, while its originality is superficial.

I am also aware that this text starts like a program manifesto. Perchance. Possibly, it is one. It possibly will take such a form; as in the post-modern turmoil even a free-style essay about establishment culture can change into a manifesto. My goal, however, is to analyze the youngest generation of our culture – analyze their artistic independence, consistent manners and determination. In this way, I will try to answer, in some manner, the question about the content of pop culture messages and their contradictions. In other words: is there depth to self-promotion? Does pop culture have a soul? My answer to both of these questions is no, and not because I believe in the existence of original vs. a copy, a soul vs. body, etc. I simply think that the new pop culture is an implementation of a satisfied consumer and as such it is not the voice of a young generation, but rather a reflection of the taste and desires of a large part of a young audience. A part that is clearly determined by material status.

Agnieszka Drotkiewicz and Agata Bogacka – two among the artists, whom for the moment I include in the “new Polish pop culture” group, distance themselves from any form of social activism. In interviews, which they usually give to Wysokie Obcasy (it is possibly a new entry ticket to a professional career?), both authors stress that they are interested in exploring everyday reality, and are not on a social mission of some kind. They aspire to be independent, yet traditional women, who have all the attributes of femininity. They are trying to conquer the world of literature, art and new media. Masłowska is here, to a certain extent, an exception, as she is, for example, a signatory of “Manifesta” – an open letter in defense of women rights’ and civil liberties prepared by Polish feminists and their supporters and addressed to the authorities. Endo published on her blog at least a few drawings with captions showing her intention to protest censorship (consider this caption: “I hope not to hurt anybody’s feelings here. This is punishable in this country” that is placed on the character’s naked buttocks and a comic presenting a conversation with a mother about a demonstration and the overzealousness of the police). Yet, the social and political activism of these two authors is truly not very large – it could even be said that it is more a margin of their work than its main core.

It seems to me that just as plants grow in a certain earth and temperature, also every form of culture is a child of its times. Just like Bogacka, who has access to nice color paint and can use them to paint her anorectic girls, who sometimes bleed, Masłowska can do the same – and speak with her own “lad,” while the heroine of Agnieszka Drotkiewicz’s Paris, London, Dachau can calmly smoke her mint Marlboro while wearing her Calvin Klein underwear and contest feminist idiots who are demanding access to bad, as not in accordance with the imperative of the unfulfilled love, abortion. Based on this rule of centuries’ long belonging, the majority researched by Milska places freedom and work, which meets their expectations on further positions (research results were presented by Gazeta Wyborcza in 2003).

As a society we have become a part of the world of relative prosperity – a relative one, of course as it is commonly available only in media images. However, once we shake up from the messages that we keep getting from commercials and TV series, or simply make a trip to the other side of the Vistula River and visit one of the former industrial buildings or collective farms, we will see what is visible in the maybe less quoted but available statistics – 18 per cent of the government’s declared unemployment, millions of people living on the edge of poverty, or below its line (the recently promoted EU food assistance project includes four million people and that is not all who are hungry). In this context, the material nonchalance that is noticeable in almost all of the new pop culture artistic works turns out to be an elitist phenomenon. And that is ok as the purpose of this text is not to make the poor win with the rich. That is not the point.

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