Given her research-heavy approach to art-making, London-based artist Goshka Macuga is often compared to an archivist, historian, archaeologist, or curator. While her practice encompasses collage, installation, sculpture, tapestry, performance, film, and photography, Macuga insists that she is not loyal to any medium, but rather to a rigorous methodology of investigation.Read More
Born in Warsaw in 1967, Macuga left Poland in 1989 and studied at Central Saint Martins and Goldsmiths in London. As a young artist in the 1990s, Macuga often curated exhibitions of her peers' work in her flat. For her first solo show—Cave at London's Sali Gia in 1999—Macuga covered the gallery's walls in crumpled brown paper to create a grotto-like environment in which she installed works by her friends. This collaborative gesture foreshadowed the curatorial nature of her current practice.
Employing a museological approach to exhibition-making, Goshka Macuga excavates archives and collections to gather interesting documents, artefacts, and artworks to be displayed together. When placed in proximity, new associations are implied between the seemingly disparate objects, often revealing art's tangled relationship with politics.
For It Broke from Within—the artist's 2011 solo show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—Macuga investigated the business dealings of the museum's founder: business magnate T. B. Walker (1840–1928). She then presented archival materials pertaining to Walker's exploits alongside selected artworks from the museum's collection, drawing associations between American art institutions and nationalist mythologies.
Similarly concerned with institutional transparency, in 2009, Macuga gained permission from the United Nations to borrow a woven replica of Guernica (1937): Pablo Picasso's famous war painting. The tapestry has been on permanent display outside the United Nation's Security Council since 1985, with the exception of a day in 2003 when the United States Secretary of State made the case for the war against Iraq and the work was concealed from view.
Macuga also installed the Guernica tapestry at London's Whitechapel Gallery behind a conference table that the public was invited to use for meetings so long as they contributed a written record of their conversations to the archives. Another woven work by the artist—On the Nature of the Beast (2009)—collaged London art world personalities in front of the Guernica tapestry.
Such use of tapestries has been a mainstay of Goshka Macuga's practice since the late 2000s. For dOCUMENTA (13) (2012), the artist presented two tapestries titled Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not (2012). The first, hung in Kassel, showed photographs from a 2012 banquet attended by officials and intellectuals, while the second, hung in Kabul, depicted dOCUMENTA (13) staff. Both works illustrated typically private meetings of cultural influence.
Other Goshka Macuga works have been used as backdrops for installations and performances. In Preparatory Notes (2014), a range of works form a stage set for a production based on an unpublished play by Aby Warburg: a German art historian and cultural theorist whom Macuga often cites. The tapestry Death of Marxism, Women of All Lands Unite (2013) is a similar backdrop, in front of which two performers read and interact.
Macuga's work has also explored the end of human civilisation and the effects of technological overdevelopment. The centrepiece of her exhibition To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll at Fondazione Prada in Milan (2016) was an android who claimed to be a collector of speech and performed an amalgamation of famous speeches that loosely address the concept of endings.
In 2008, Macuga was nominated for the Turner Prize. Exemplary of the artist's interest in collaborations forgotten by history, her work in the exhibition included a series of photo collages inspired by the relationship between the 20th-century artist Paul Nash and his lover Eileen Agar, while in the centre of the room, two glass-and-metal modernist sculptures were based on the relationship between Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich.
Ellia Albrecht | Ocula | 2020
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Polish born artist Goshka Macuga is known for taking on the role of curator and archivist within her practice. We visit Goshka in her London studio as she explains her meticulous research process and