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Serious Games
Janek Simon, the winner of the Prize for Young Polish Art



In his technical constructions, he combines subversive humor with institutional criticism and political commentary. Janek Simon's unique work convinced the international jury of the Prize for Young Polish Art. This October, they awarded the artist the 10,000 Euro prize, which was called to life in 2003 by Deutsche Bank in cooperation with the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw.




Janek Simon, der Gewinner der Preises für junge polnische Kunst


War on a prayer rug: for his interactive installation Carpet Invaders (2002), Janek Simon projects a 19th-century Caucasian carpet onto the floor. Like in a computer game, its ornaments kick into motion to attack a given target. Using a joystick, the viewer can enter the action and shoot down enemy objects. When he's destroyed them all, he can enter a higher level where the speed of the attacks is stepped up. In this early work, this year's winner of the Prize for Young Polish Art quotes the legendary computer game Space Invaders, which fascinated millions throughout the late '70s far beyond its country of origin, Japan. Simon's work merged the minimalist graphics of the game classic with the archaic pattern of a carpet that formerly served as a rug for praying to Allah. By transforming it into a war site, Simon also plays off the tense relationship between the West and Islam.



Janek Simon, Carpet Invaders, 2002

Early on, computer games were an important point of reference for the artist, who was born in 1971 in Cracow. The video projection Departure // Take-off (2003) shows a panorama of his native city shook by powerful explosions. Like rockets, one church tower after another takes off and disappears into the sky. What's left is the silhouette of Poland's intellectual capital robbed of its most important landmarks. In Total Chess (2004), chess figures fly up into the air. The "most peaceful sport in the world" suddenly turns out to be a war game. In galleries, Simon let a toy Mercedes drive around or sculptures filled with paint explode, the splatters of which created dynamic Action Paintings on the white walls. Works like these cemented his reputation for making "boy's art." "The stuff I did in the beginning was in fact very much like that," said Simon after winning the prize. "Actually, I think 'child's play' is a very good metaphor for making art. It's creative, a bit destructive, playful, but it's also a cognitive activity. I think I've moved further over the past two years, I've grown up and my work has become a lot darker. It might still be like child’s play, now but I’m playing with more serious toys."



Janek Simon, Chleb krakowski/ Cracow Bread, 2006 und
Robot miksujacy Jedynke z Dwójka/
Robot VJ Mixing TV Progmam One and Two, 2007,
Installationsansicht, Zacheta Nationalgalerie, Foto S. Madejski

An important aspect of his work is its do-it-yourself character. Simon always builds his installations and objects himself. "I think it's very important how a work of art is produced—it molds the piece. The work would look very different if I formulated the concept and left the realization up to someone else. It would be a different piece entirely." In Views, the show of the candidates for the Prize for Young Polish Art, Simon installed insect-like beings that crawled through the exhibition rooms of the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw—simple loaves of bread that he'd mounted black metal legs beneath. Like tremendous beetles, they converged towards a table on which Simon had arranged two old televisions, various antennae, video recorders, and sound mixers. Robot VJ Mixing One and Two (2007) mixes the programs of two television stations into a strangely squint image of TV reality. The overall installation comes across like a cult site that magically attracts Simon's absurd low-tech creatures. Like Carpet Invaders, the work refers to the—by now completely obsolete—technology of the '80s, which for the Poland of his youth seemed as desirable as it was unattainable. One could also interpret the installation as a critical commentary on the manipulation of the public through conformist television images.



Janek Simon, Chleb krakowski/ Cracow Bread, 2006 und
Robot miksujacy Jedynke z Dwójka/
Robot VJ Mixing TV Progmam One and Two, 2007,
Installationsansicht, Zacheta Nationalgalerie, Foto S. Madejski

Simon's DIY method also, of course, harbors certain risks. For him, potential errors are part of the concept. Thus, he dedicated his one-man show Gradient at the Cracow Galeria Bunkier Sztuki this year to the theme of failure. On a variety of different levels—from personal experience to the breakdown of political systems. "There is something very beautiful in failure. Fitzcarraldo, for instance, is my favorite movie. There's also a kind of purity in failed ideas. They remain unrealized, they never have the opportunity to become corrupted. All successful revolutions have been corrupted. The revolutions that have been beautiful in some way are those that have failed, that had a short period of enthusiasm and ecstasy, but not enough time to become corrupt. Somehow I feel drawn towards failure."



Janek, Simon, Fire at the Fire Brigade Headquarters,
Centrum Sztuki Wspólczesnej Zamek Ujazdowki, Warschau, 2006

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