Artist sees it upsidedown


The new exhibition at the Zenshi gallery in Kiyosumi is a breath of fresh air. Mikolaj Polinski’s “One Day in Paradise” does not attempt to overwhelm the viewer with scale or new media technology, rather it operates from the simple but increasingly overlooked premise that good honest communication can and will carry a work.

This is an installation comprised of a large white fan, lazily rotating at a height of about 2 meters. The blades are a little longer than a meter apiece, painted white, and it’s the sort of fan you might find in an older industrial space. On the walls, above the artificial plane described by the blades, are a set of about 40 pencil-on-paper drawings of various sizes. They are primitive line drawings, uncluttered, something like hieroglyphics, that depict whales, deer, trees, stars, bicycles and airplanes.

They are icons, says the artist, of his imagined “paradise.” The funny thing about them is that they are mounted upside down. Why?

“The easiest answer is it’s paradise,” laughs Polinski. “Of course, as you know, we really see everything upside down.”

Polinski was born in Poznan~, Poland, and grew up in the atmosphere of social equality enforced by communism. His mother was a chemistry teacher and his father worked in a forestry office, near where the family lived. I asked Polinski about that forest and how it might relate to the trees and the deer in this work.

“When I came to Japan I saw deer, small deer called shika and I could touch them, they felt like dogs,” he said. “Of course we have deer in the forest in Poland where I grew up, so perhaps they are part of my personal mythology. Animals are pure, in my imagination they can exist in an ideal world, with no relationship to mankind.”

But Polinski is mum on his spiritual beliefs. Still, more than heaven, this is an externalization of private musings on space, regarding both the relationship between the drawings and the gallery walls, and the negative space provided by the rotating fan blades.

Polinski’s vision is well suited for a solo show in the intimate, 40-sq.-meter Zenshi, where he can hand-craft the visual information of the architecture more effectively than if he was sharing a gallery with other artists. If he did, the poetic qualities of his work would be lost. Here the set of simple drawings just ask us to look again, to look closer; to “get” this piece is to let the artist’s concept engage us, show us a place called paradise, a place residing in the reflections of a real person’s imagination.

Polinski stands bolt upright and does not talk much like an artist, and, but for the requisite black clothing, you wouldn’t ever guess he was an artist. He seems more of a dreamer, a person fascinated by his place in space and the place of imagination in realizing ideals in space. Included in this show are a number of appropriated photographs of Mount Fuji, these also mounted upside down.

“I’ve been to Japan three times and every time I am here I see Mount Fuji,” he says. “This time when I was flying in from Amsterdam I could see it from my airplane. Now, Mount Fuji is a kind of obsession for me, or I could say that maybe a mountain is halfway to paradise!”

The appeal of the installation is the acute personal communication achieved through a very human medium. In the days of new-media art, big, multichannel video projections and computer-generated visual repetitions, it’s refreshing to feel the hand of the artist in an installation, and to feel the work integrating into the space; that is, to find oneself forgetting the distinction between the drawings on the paper and the papers on the wall. And though parallels could be drawn between Polinski’s way of working and several early 20th-century European art movements — Art Brut, Dada, Arte Povera — the work nonetheless feels fresh and timeless.