Our Songbook, 2003 (video still), single screen projection, 13:21 minutes, sound, color
Artur Zmijewski's works explore a wide range of social issues - the malfunctioning of the human body, the administration of power mechanisms within the existing social order, and mechanisms of memory and collective trauma. His works are often structured as interviews or documentaries, whose direct quality may at times be provocative or cruel. In Our Songbook (2003), Žmijewski filmed a group of elderly Polish immigrants living together in an old age home in Tel Aviv. After many years of speaking almost exclusively in Hebrew, Žmijewski asked them to recollect and then sing the Polish anthem and Polish songs from their childhood. In all likelihood, their archaic Polish will die with the passing of the last of these Polish immigrants. As if conducting a scientific experiment, he attempts to penetrate these elderly people's crumbling memory, and to awaken in them lost childhood experiences.
This film was created following Žmijewski's visit to Israel. From his point of view, the Israelis attempt to lead normal lives despite the chaos that surrounds them. The elderly people photographed in this work represent conflicted and complex cultural identities. Their faltering attempts to sing, their inability to remember the words, their off-tune singing and hesitant stuttering - all these function as a metaphor for the fragile ties between nation and homeland, which are essential for creating an identity and establishing a sense of self. Our songbook harrowingly demonstrates that with the passage of time we lose not only our personal memories, but also those shared memories that form the nucleus of collective history.
Artur Žmijewski was born in Warsaw, Poland (1966). He holds a B.F.A. from the academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw (1990-1995); he also studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam (1999). He has held numerous solo exhibitions at venues including the WYSPA Progress Foundation, Gdansk (1999); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2004); and the Venice Biennale (2005). He has participated in numerous group exhibitions at venues including the Liverpool Biennial (2002); Art Focus 4, Jerusalem (2003); Musée d'Art Moderne de Saintֹtienne, France (2004); Zacheta National Museum of Art, Warsaw (2005); The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan (2005); and Documenta in Kassel (2007). He lives and works in Warsaw.