Paweł Wojtasik (b. Łódź, Poland) creates poetic reflections on cultures and ecosystems in the form of short films and large-scale installations. His investigations into the overlooked corners of the environment have led him to pig farms, sewage treatment plants, wrecking yards and autopsy rooms.
Wojtasik received an MFA from Yale University. From 1998 until 2000 he was a resident at Dai Bosatsu Zendo Buddhist monastery. His work has been shown at festivals such as Berlinale, the New York Film Festival, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, where his film Pigs won the grand Prize in the short film category in 2011. Wojtasik was a featured filmmaker in the 2009 Flaherty Film Seminar. His installation work includes the immersive 360° Below Sea Level, about post-Katrina New Orleans, exhibited at MASS MoCA and included in Prospect.2 Biennial, as well as Single Stream, shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. The cinema version of Single Stream was presented at the 2014 Whitney Biennial and at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
VDB is proud to be releasing a Blu-ray version of Wajtasik's work Nine Gates. In conjunction with this new release, VDB sat down with the artist to discuss his influences.
1.Can you tell us something about your background?
I grew up in communist Poland, and lived in Tunisia for three years, before immigrating to the U.S. in 1972. To survive I have worked as a pushcart vendor, security guard, hospital orderly, carpenter, library clerk, etc. In 1998 I entered a Zen monastery where I remained for a year and a half.
2. What inspired you to become an artist? To use video?
Alienation. I found art let me communicate with others.
3. Did you have formal art training/schooling?
Yes, I studied painting at Yale and Pratt.
4. How do you balance life and art? Are you able to make a living through creating art?
I have a large space in Brooklyn which I renovated myself (it took five years). I support myself renting rooms to friends, and supplement that income with teaching/exhibition fees.
5. What influences or motivates you in the world?
Zen meditation gave me the courage to explore the shadowy regions of my own psyche, and of the world around me.
6. What artists or movements are you following right now?
No one in particular. The idea of following someone strikes me as problematic. But I get excited by a lot of what I see, all the time. I trust my gut: it tells me what to look at.
7. What was the last exhibition you saw?
An excellent Krzysztof Wodiczko retrospective at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Poland — my home town.
8. What has been the best screening experience of your work?
Robert Flaherty Film Seminar in 2009.
9. What are you working on right now?
Editing a three hour film about labor in Varanasi, India. My first "feature".
10. How do you start a piece? How do you know when a piece is finished?
I look for things or places that terrify or upset me. I zero in on that. I try to come to terms with the subject, get close to it, to the point of absorption. For example, I filmed at a sewage treatment plant, at a morgue where an autopsy was taking place, and at a pig farm.
I keep editing the piece, reviewing the video and making changes, until there is nothing more to change.
11. What are you currently reading? Watching?
Reading: Joyce's Ulysses and Gombrowicz's Diaries. Also, Be As You Are by Ramana Maharshi, an amazing book of interviews with an Indian saint.
Watching: recently restored classic Polish films of the 1960's, such as Knife in the Water, The Last Day of Summer, etc.
12. Room for final thoughts:
Attention: because what is taking place at this very moment is astoundingly rich, beyond description, life-affirming.