Super-heroical : Arti Grabowski

Fortner Anderson
October 15

If the Viva Art Action festival began with the ceremonial entrance of performance art royalty, it ended with feats of the spectacular by one of one its super-heros. Polish artist, Arti Grabowski is a consummate performer, part carnival huckster, part silent film heart throb, part b-boy hunk, part suave master of the Texas two-step, part used-car salesman and part poète maudit. For last Saturday night’s performance he blew some serious performative smoke for the capacity crowd at the Atelier Jean-Brillant.

Grabowski embraced the dazzling with a cascade of surprising, sensational images, which were captured by the video camera attached to his mic and projected onto the twenty foot high screen behind him. The seating for the event brought the crowd to within a meter of the small platform constructed for his performance. This periodically put them within range of a rain of gold sparkles, tissue paper, water, flying sparks, blasts of air and the occasional wood chip.

To begin, Grabowski, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, stepped onto the platform. Thrusting a blackened forefinger into the camera, he leaned forward into the mic, his finger two meters high on the screen behind him. Leaning close to the camera, he inserted this black finger into the space between his neck and shirt collar, struggling as if he were trying to rip open his buttoned collar.

With his face positioned close to the camera, Grabowski coughed sending a fine spray of fine gold particles billowing out of his mouth into the air above the stage. His cough became a trope, and he used it to connect with the public, who got a thumb’s up when they in turn began to cough.

The pyrotechnics started when he pulled a long plank of wood onto the platform. Imbedded into it was a fuse forming the sign of a long crude arrow pointing skyward, which he promptly lit. Sparks flew.

Activating a bright red air blower on the stage beneath him, which sent a powerful blast of air up toward the rafters, Grabowski unbuttoned his white shirt. It had been stuffed with feathers, which were caught in the stream of air and flew up above him. Under this shirt he wore another white shirt, which he also removed, more feathers flew. Under this second shirt, there was also a third white shirt, it too stuffed with feathers.

Grabowski then stood with his nude torso on the stage. Taking up the blower and one of his shirts, he threw the shirt up above the crowd. Using the blower as a wind cannon, he caught it in a blast of air and pushed it flailing toward the high ceiling of the performance space. In a few moments, Grabowski had members of the public, tossing their shirts, coats, and shawls at him. With his blaster, looking like he had stepped out of the screens of Call of Duty, he fended off these attacks blasting the flying clothing into the nether regions of the space.

This super-heroic posture was cut short abruptly when the fringe of a black shawl became inextricably lodged in the air intake of the blower. Grabowski adroitly negotiated the problem using a bit of help from the public; and setting-up again, he continued with a box of tissue paper, sending the tissues one-by-one flying up above him in a column of blowing air.

The next image brought back the plank of wood. Using a large axe, Grabowski took two long bolts and pounded them through the tip of his shoes, causing some concern amongst the audience members who felt they were about to witness a moment of self-mutilation. Securely attached to the wood, he then used the axe to violently split the wood into two long planks, like two crude skis. Pulling out a can of lighter fluid, he doused the stage, surrounding himself in a small wall of flame.

For the next sequence, after freeing himself from the skis by jumping violently up and down till the bolts loosened, Grobowski used his axe to remove a collar and a button from one of the white shirts. Taking the button and a needle and thread, he sewed the button into the skin of his neck, just below his Adam’s apple. This action was magnified a hundred times in the extreme close up projected onto the screen behind him. Grabowski showed the crowd the button was well attached by tugging at it, pulling out a pinch of skin for all to see.

The action ended with the artist submerging one of his white shirts in a bucket of black dye. He used the other two shirts to clean up the mess as black liquid spilled onto the stage. Donning the first the soaked shirt then the two others, he took a few deep breaths, bowed to much applause and left the stage.