Katarzyna Perlak

Katarzyna Perlak
with Katy Beinart, Jo Thomas, Frank Cartledge
Hackney Wick Festival

KB First of all ... how you would describe your practice at the moment.

KP At the moment I have been focusing my practice on working with performance artists, that found me filming their performance in public and indoor spaces, a mixture of both. At the moment this is the kind of medium I am working with but in terms of a kind of concept aspect of it I am gen-erally more and more dedicated to work that is socially engaged but not necessarily in a kind of ob-vious way. Sometime yes it is like activism art I would say as well, I am exploring different social issues through different media but at the moment I am focusing most on performance.

JT: So how does your work begin? How does it happen? Is it commissioned work or do you initiate it...

KP: I initiate and people I collaborate with initiate as well. At the moment I am collaborating with a group of performer artists

There are a couple from project O , with Jamilla and Alex that form the project so at the moment I am collaborating with Project O, with Jamilla and Alex that form the project. They participated in my work and I creatively document their work.

I go quite often to different art residences. I make a lots of connections there and collaborations. I have just worked on a project in Italy and I am showing my work their now and I am coming back their next month to work with another person. My work happens mostly through connections with people I think. That I think is what happens with my work.

JT: As I understand it you are filming and working with people at the same time. Does, is there ever a tangle because you creatively document performers. How do you talk about your work or do you have a similar term for your work. I could imagine it getting, you know we have short hand about how we talk about you work. What makes it distinct?

KP: What makes it distinct between creative documentation and the work?
I think it depends where the work comes from in a way. If I work with other artists I put all my skills and input to contribute their work but usually the concept comes from them and I am there assisting rather than a creator you would say. I mean those things always develop so it can change but at the moment that’s how it works.

With my work I have a concept and then invite other people to work with me performance in the last video I would explain the concept I am interested in and then they would propose a choreogra-phy and then we would discuss it then it becomes part of a bigger piece. It quite organic I think. We all inspire each other I work with.

KB: Would you say the publicness of it is in the collaboration or in terms of who the audience is. Where would you say the public element of it is?

KP: For me it’s very interesting to be working in public spaces with performers I am interested in how people, in a way I am filming there and I want this done and use it I'm my work. But even though I usually film in places that are quite quiet or isolated there are not many people in there.

JT: What sort of spaces.

KP: In London I was filming in a different parts, in an estate, next to the River Thames then I was filming on a building site, regeneration site, in North Greenwich so that was quite an interesting pro-cess : you had the people that was just passing by and workers. They basically allowed us to be in the middle of a building site.

JT: So how did that happen because I can imagine not many building sites let people in

KP: I don’t know; I still don’t know how that happened! But I am very grateful that they did and they were even interacting there was one guy that was interacting with his machine, when we were filming with the digger behind the performer I think he just did it spontaneously. I think he just want-ed to kind of get involved.

KB: So do you think that the fact it is quite spontaneous and you just go somewhere means that it is easier for people to interact if they want.

KP Yes you can see people have different kind of interactions. I think so. When I was filming with Jamilla and Alex there was this little girl and she was just shouting to her mom oh what are they do-ing what are they doing. And I think this is an interesting question for this little girl I find it interesting how kids interact with art and how they just ask you know and how one day they just go to the gal-lery and see the work…They are very kind of. I mean that there are a lot of processes in integrating the work and the kid is there and just like ‘what are they doing’ and her shouting is included in the video and then her comment too because she screams ‘Oh you people’.

KB: Is that important to you?

KP: Of course most of the artists are interested in how people engage with the work for me always the process is as important as the final out at the end. Working in the public, yeah, I like when peo-ple are engaged in the work. Yeah.

KB: How do you think that, is there an important thing who is in the audience. Apart from the mak-ing of the work who then encounters the work. Is that a factor

KP: Yes, then it all depends for example I, just remember, when I went to residency in Iceland last year. The whole residency is called Right Here. The whole residency about being in the town and engaging with the local community. It’s very much because it is an isolated town. The oldest town in Iceland they bring people there to bring art for the locals. And that is the very point of it. We did with three other people a mural. The one that I send you an image of and yeah it was very interesting when we were preparing the wall how people from the town because there this graffiti for a very long time and then two years of something it may be we can paint over and create new work. And we were painting and people were just like there looking at us thinking what is going to happen there now and at some point we started making the new work and people were very interested and one person came engaging in the process. Then one guy he come up when we were making the mural and it was not just white. The guy was... questioning us where are you from and what are you doing here and he seemed to forget there was this mural before and he kind of thought there was this white wall and we just decided to make a mural. The question on the mural was ‘Are you forgetting something’ so I thought it was quite an interesting thing and also like in the context of a public space that he would forget what was there before. And he was questioning us that we are doing and with this work the audience is everyone who is passing by the town and understands Icelandic because we did the mural in Icelandic. I like the openness of these words and then there is this question - people can think of anything. It could be related to their personal life or political context, economical like anything really. Yeah and it could be for locals or because it was by the main road so any who it driving by, it is quite big would see it. I quite like it people are on their way somewhere and there is this question about them.

KB: So how would you understand the role of place in your work?

KP: The role of place?

KB: Or you wrote that down, didn’t you

JT: Yes, I’m particularly interested that you evolve work locally and then you maybe land some-where like this village in Iceland that’s got its own culture and the responses to that. Is that of inter-est to you?

KP I am definitely interested in the local context because I have my own ideas for work that are born before I go somewhere and I go there because I want to do that. But I very much like going to places and exploring the community or the place, learning about what’s happening in ; I never knew much about Italy I knew something about the politics but not too much.
but then when I was there I learned more and from this I was making work that relates to that.

JT: So does this give rise to different sorts of work? Or does it sort of comeback in on itself?

KP: Yes it does comeback in on itself because at the end I am drawn to, not similar subjects, But it is usually something like I am drawn to political contexts, very often about feminism or immigration but sometimes I make those works that...and places are important for them in a more symbolic or I might even say a poetic way so I work with the space intern of the photography or video but I don’t like have a clear concept I want to use this particular place because it represents this and this colour is that.. I work more intuitively. I get connected to a place and it just feels right and then after I do it I think why does it feel right what have I learned from it. And then I understand why I was interested in it. It’s rather in this order than having a clear concept and trying to fit the place into more interacting with the space and understanding what is that interesting for me and to do it

JT: From that, this is slightly off the questions, I was wondering if you have a family of artists that you work with, in the sort of where your works fits in with wider public art or if that is an appropriate term for you.

KP: I definitely I have been thinking about this in the last days. There is definitely a group of artists that are artists I connect to or that I work with. Again it isn’t like a collective it a group of people I connect with both professionally and personally. It’s quite organic as well. So there is definitely I would see it as a family

KB: What of public art?

KP: No I am thinking just of the artists I am working with. But not all of them work with public art but at the end all the art can be public

JT: So it’s not a defining feature of the family, if you like?

KP: No no
It’s more engagement with the issues we are exploring.

JT: So if I am understanding right some of them happen in place and others it’s appropriate.


I find that I that I don't like to define myself as just a public artist or a gallery artist it is the subjects I am exploring and want to engage with and it just evolves during the work. Where it is place where it is shown, who is the audience

So would you even say maybe that public art is a relevant term?

Err no no I think there are definitely artworks that are not in the public space they work in the studio and have their work showing in galleries there are certain areas that some people don't go to or don’t feel welcome go so they are
For public art is definitely dry in a way because that’s my background and the way I engage with words I can see that some of the artists are definitely working in a different context.

FC You talk about this is the way you engage in the world and you talk about social interaction and politics (I’m getting somewhere...) How do you define the politics. Your politics in terms of your practice?
How does it manifest itself? How does it become political?

KP I think the personal is very often political because I think especially for me my experience as an immigrant in England and of a woman and of a queer person. All the personal things can be very political but in terms of the work it can be either more of what could be called activist and is quite obvious in a way. Like I started a work that refers to immigration politics specifically about eastern Europeans in Britain at the moment and this one you don’t have to think too much to know what I am talking about because it is very obvious but it is done more in an art way. Some of things are more symbolic and people can just relate to them or not. But it is not very obvious.

KB But is that then important in terms of the audience for the work? Trying to reach particular audi-ences or trying to affect people’s points of view? Or more that you are just making these state-ments in the world and seeing if anything...

KP: Yeah I think with some of the work I am trying to influence. Specifically with this work about immigration there is the very reason I am making this work to kind of inspire people to rethink the facts they have been given through media so that was my intention.

Frank: era so is that a big P is that a capital P

KP: For sure because that affects my life everyone so for me it is a capital P for sure. When I was doing this project I made a joke with a communist flag saying we demand snow and it was like a joke Eastern Europeans demand snow not benefits. So that was my little joke so it was all like so I went to Westminster they told me I had to leave and I am not allowed to be there with my reindeer so I moved to Trafalgar Square and then the same authorities told me I was not allowed to be there so then finally I realised (they told me) you could go up the stairs because it is Westminster. So you be there you cannot be here. Then there are people taking pictures with the reindeers, tourists so that changed the. But also people asked me is this a Banksy.

KB: Is it a Banksy?
Yes I think for him some kind of public intervention is a Banksy.

JT: It’s almost like becoming a new word.

KB: As for me listening to news and hearing all this stuff about European immigration and feeling very much affected by what is happening.

JT: Re adjust things you have done in public for an art audience. Is there differentiation in your au-dience?

KP: Ermm

KB: Would you then take the reindeer and then show it in a gallery or a festival.
Yes I was thinking about it and why not. It is still there for people but they would just see it in a dif-ferent context. Maybe but my first idea was not to go to gallery but maybe it could be taken to a gallery if there was a show it would work with.
It was more important for it to be in a public space. I was even travelling with this on the tube so this whole process.

JT: Okay so this isn’t a real reindeer

KP No just this Christmas reindeer made out of wood, what is the stuff baskets are made or, wo-ven?
So I was on the Tube going to Westminster and there was these two women and they were talking about all these Eastern European Polish and Romanian: they come here and then take all the jobs we have no jobs blah blah blah and then they say of course they only come here because they take all the benefits. To me it was quite contradictory that we can take all the jobs and the benefits at the same time. It didn’t quite fit but it was quite interesting being on the train next to them.

KB: Given all that, do you feel it is important for you to be in London in terms of what you are trying to achieve with your practice or could you, like you’ve done work in other place. Could you be an-ywhere? Or is London as a place is important.

KP: I think London is important but I have made work that was related to Italian politics and that was shown in Italy. Here it wouldn’t make too much sense. I mean it would although there are a lot of Italians here.

JT: So are you saying that where you happen to be is where the politics are that you are respond-ing too?

KP: I think it is the people that I connect too, again, and through this I engage with the politics of the places they are from. So I am here so I connect with different women who happen to be artists and happens to be their background will be in immigration so I guess we relate to similar issues. So I make work here and then I want to go back to Poland and get involved in the; I have already shown work in a queer festival and I want to make work that relates to Polish politics and I want to show it there.

FC: So would you say you are a socially engaged artist or would you say that you are engaged so-cially and that produces art?

KP: I think it is important to say I grew up as an activist and then I became an artist so it wasn’t an artist then I decided to get involved with politics
I grew up in an anarchist scene and that’s where my background was; we were involved in all sorts of political actions. That’s how I grew up from about 16.
I was connected to different
In the beginning my work wasn’t so much involved in politics but
KB it has become married in a way.

KP Yes I feel it is really important at least for my consciousness. Generally I think its important arts gets involved in what’s happening in the world basically. I don't say we don't always have to make work that is political but it is a huge privilege sometimes to make a work that is totally ab-stracted of many things what is happening when most people do not have this privilege. I don't think I have this privilege either to get this abstract work and I feel I have to get involved.

JT: So how do you see your work going forward?

KB Um I just keep on going I keep on making work and engaging in life.

KB Is there anything at the moment stopping you doing what you want to do in your work. Finan-cially, in terms of opportunity, availability.

KP: At the moment my thinking is that I haven’t had an easy way. I don’t have many resources in terms of finances. I haven’t done an MA. I want to do MA but it is very expensive in England. The money is a factor that sometimes I feel restricted by in a way. But sometimes it makes you think of different solutions. I don't want to give up because I don't have enough like budget.
And I do feel in the art world it can be quite difficult because if you are not approved by institutions either curator or people in the cultural sector. They do not want to take a risk to take someone that hasn't been approved I would go for a meeting and I can say I have done this residency and this and they what institutions did you do this. They are not really interested in how did you do it or what were the reactions of people. They just want to know what institutions are you already ap-proved by. And for me it’s not that I want to be connected to places that are established as a matter that my work is more prestigious because my work is connected to these people.

I do not make work to sell work that is for sure. This never comes to mind if this is a work will sell and so I don’t think I will ever make work like this... I But I am more I am searching for people who want to share similar values and are interested in the same concepts and hopefully that can expand into some projects with bigger resources that will allow me expand some of the ideas that I have.

Katarzyna’s practice is socially focused. In particular she engages with intersectional narratives concerning women, migrant and queer histories. Currently she explores the potentiality of affect as a tool for registering and archiving current and past historical moments.



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Place Specific