BBC Culture

Christian Jankowski and the monuments men

Christian Jankowski; courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

Christian Jankowski; courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

A German artist films Polish strongmen attempting to move Warsaw statues and lift the weight of history.

Following his 2011 project Casting Jesus (in which wannabe Messiahs auditioned in front of a panel of Vatican staff), Christian Jankowski has chosen to stage an entirely different group of actors with Heavy Weight History, showing at the Lisson Gallery in London from Friday.

The German artist visited Poland last year and asked 10 weightlifters to attempt to move different public sculptures in Warsaw. Dressed in their national colours, the champion powerlifters and bench-pressers strain to hoist the monuments above their shoulders – or even their ankles.

As with earlier works, Jankowski has aped reality TV formats with a well-known Polish commentator describing the action. The artist is tackling Warsaw’s history through its public spaces: the city was occupied by the Nazis during World War Two and then ruled by Communists for the next 45 years.

In this shot, weightlifters raise the statue of Ludwik Warynski, a 19th Century activist who founded the first Polish workers’ party. According to the Warsaw exhibition notes: “just the act of lifting the monument by means of human strength can be used as a reminder that the crucial moments in history happen because of people, and if we want to have an impact on our collective reality, we should be proactive, make an effort and take matters into ‘our own hands’ .”

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