Shell Tears

                                Warsaw, 28.09.2023 - 15.10. 2023


The exhibition by Szymon Kobylarz, Kamil Kukla and Michal Zawada offers a condensed reflection on the paradoxes of contemporary concepts of masculinity and its relationship with nature. The title of the exhibition is a combination of two seemingly incompatible words: "shell" and "tears", in  whose consonance we can hear the word "shelter". In the concepts of Norbert Elias and Klaus Theweleit, armor is the boundary separating the modern male individuality from the threatening exterior.

This exterior can be unbridled feminine energy, but also wild nature, against which the man assumes a hegemonic position. Putting on the armor, he gains distanceand self-control, dividing the space into a safe interior and a dangerous frontiers, the solid and the fluid. The fear of breaking the barrier and releasing carefully disciplined affects accompanies the processes of forming of a toxic subjectivity. In the contemporary Polish political context, masculinity remains appropriated by the conservative narrative, conceptualizing it through the figures of the soldier and the hero (figures that perform the longing for stability and a sense of agency).

Anxiety about the symbolic loss of male control intensifies in the face of political and climatic crises, poisoning gender self-identification with contradictory impulses. The artists trace these tensions, looking for the roots of contemporary hegemonic violence. To this end, they penetrate beneath the surface of the earth, where, in the cracks and crevices of the terrain, they find substances that, being derivatives of once living organisms, are both a testimony to life and can turn into a tool for its destruction. The underworld is an area where repressed emotions accumulate and an unprocessed history is embedded, the interpretations of which always turn out to be opaque and ambiguous. What is important, however, are the moments when this subterranean energy finds an outlet, pours outward, exposes its matter, deforming what we assumed to be a stable surface.

The exhibition begins with the work Barrel: this is not real by Szymon Kobylarz inviting us to join the space of illusory community. Staging a primordial ritual of gathering around a flame, it turns out to be just an illusion - fire does not give warmth, it is just a perverse DIY construction. It denies the original magical function of the campfire, a place for the transmission of knowledge about the world and the creation of myths, referring rather to the logic of contemporary conspiracy theories and redpill fantasies. This dream of community is met with an image of the end - the dead end of evolution and a world that awaits a new dawn in the thick of darkness.Subsequent works descend deeper and deeper into the structures of men's narratives constructing an image of a world that is slowly depleting and moving toward complete reconfiguration. Pits, cavities filled with strange liquids and fire-digested wastelands make obsolete the dream of a safe, human-controlle refuge. In the three stories - of Earth and Manhood - questions touching on the state of exhaustion recur. The exhaustion of resources, the exhaustion of certain stories about the world (however reliable they may seem), the exhaustion of all of us: faced with the sense of the end of a well-known world and the need to build new notions or strategies of existence.

(Weronika Murek, To dig, above all to dig)