Zuzanna Bartoszek is only 24, yet her accomplishments exceed those of a person twice her age. In the last two years, she has debuted an anthology of poems, exhibited her drawings alongside work by Kathy Acker and Bruce Nauman and, in between various modelling projects, has had a film made about her relationship with musician Wojtek Bąkowski. The Polish poet and artist is clearly comfortable letting us into her private world, but as someone used to sharing her vulnerabilities through her own art, she tells me nothing had prepared her for seeing herself enacted on screen: “I wish it had happened after I died so I wouldn’t have to see it. I’ve come to be OK with it. Back when it was first screened, I was so scared.”
A Heart of Love, a project from filmmaker and curator Lukasz Ronduda, premiered at the Berlinale film festival this February. Originally, the film was meant to chronicle the life and work of fellow artist and musician Wojtek Bąkowski — Bartoszek’s partner, 15 years her senior. “When we started dating, the director had the idea to [make a] film about us as an artist-couple, and the conflicts that come with this,” reveals Bartoszek who, although she didn’t star in the film, was closely involved in the making of it. Ronduda presents a portrait of the two artists, played by Justyna Wasilewska and Jacek Poniedziałek, who despite looking alike with their identical shaved heads are fiercely individual. Tensions arise as the gap between art and life, self and other starts to shrink. The film deals with the fear of losing yourself in a relationship, which has a particular resonance for Bartoszek whose entire practice centres on around her self-expression.
The Poznań-born, Warsaw-based talent began writing and drawing ordinarily enough, at school. “Drawing is like a feeling, it’s a pleasure, I can do it quickly. Writing doesn’t come as easily. I can work on the same poem for a week, sometimes two weeks. The content is very personal. I try to put on paper the greatest fears I have.” Her poetry is driven by her experiences and her relationship with her body. “To write about, say, war in Syria, would somehow be a lie to me” she adds unapologetically. Bartoszek counts Ludwig Wittgenstein as one of her influences, who believed a poet’s duty was the pursuit of truth; which, as he writes in Culture and Value, “does not necessarily mean, ‘how it happens in reality’”. “There are few moments when I understand him and I’m so happy when I do,” Bartoszek says of her philosopher-muse. “I love the way he sees the world, it’s very individual. It’s really hard for me to say something about truth, but I have a strong feeling that it does it exist. I can feel it or see it, not always in my own work but in that of others,” she continues.
Her devotion to first person narrative puts her in great company: at the Ministry of Internal Affairs show from earlier this year at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Bartoszek featured among the likes of Eileen Myles and Chris Kraus, who have both pursued influential careers in writing about the self. At a recent group show called Perverts at London’s Cell Project Space this April, Bartoszek rubbed shoulders, metaphorically at least, with Kathy Acker — who, as an inspiration to both Myles and Kraus, championed this unapologetic mode of self-expression. “Right now I’m also experimenting with writing in the third person,” the Polish poet says in relation to a new series of poem-performances she calls Guided Meditations. Each meditation is six minutes long, for which Bartoszek pre-records her poems, transforming her internal monologue into a guide, an experiment in separating herself from her feelings and fears. “I like to get people relaxed while making them scared at the same time. I want to make them listen to their fears and accept them,” she says.
Though Bartoszek is not afraid to share her greatest fears and feelings, she does not believe that her Instagram is by any means an extension of her practice, or that social media should be considered a prism through which to better understand contemporary art. For the young poet and artist it is just a platform to share her work. “There is a lot of hype right now in Poland around female artists my age who are active on social media. I think that curators often want to show that they are ahead of the latest trends,” she confesses. As a rising figure in the Warsaw art scene, she would like to see the art and literature scenes integrate better, and for more shows in Poland to bring together artists from different generations. Bartoszek herself is fascinated by the 1920s and 30s — “I like this moment in history. My favourite poet is the Polish Yiddish avant-garde writer Debora Vogel.” Born “Dvoyre Fogel”, Vogel wanted to fuse art and poetry into one medium. A century later Bartoszek continues to bridge this gap.