PROJEKT BADAWCZY

Women Bathhouse

"Szkoła Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie, latach 1919-1932, Profesor Tadeusz Breyer (z prawej) podczas zajęć ze studentami w pracowni rzeźby". Fotografia ze zbiorów Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, partnera publikacji.

 

 

The works of Katarzyna Kozyra point to the most important issues of human existence: identification, identity, transgression. She acts in the realm of cultural taboos referring to the bodily nature of man and to some stereotypes and behavior in the context of social life. She questions and overcomes them while stirring controversy and (usually) subjecting herself to the criticism of the outraged critics. She forces us to re-think and verify the settled order of values by unveiling the facts of reality…

Hanna Wróblewska

 

Kozyra’s notoriety and controversial status in Poland is legendary and her works, never sensational for the sake of publicity, continue to elicit extreme responses and heated public discussions. Her installations, formally beautiful and poetic but driven by intense, confrontational content, often present her subjects without their full knowledge and/or consent. Through strategies of infiltration and exposure Kozyra’s works confront myths, taboos, and stereotypes and touch upon larger universal truths about human nature, private behaviors, and conventional standards of beauty.

Magda Sawon

 

 

video installation, 1997

The first in a series of works made using a hidden camera, shot at the public bathhouse in Budapest. The installation consists of a main screen showing a four minute looped projection, and five monitors showing unedited films. These present scenes from the bathhouse, recording the prevailing atmosphere. Reproductions of classical works of art have been edited into the footage shown on the main screen: Rembrandt’s Suzanna and the Elders and Ingres’s The Turkish Bath.

 

 

 

IN A MEN’S BATHHOUSE – MEN, TWO CAMERAS, AND ONE WOMAN

Christopher Blase interviews Katarzyna Kozyra

 

In 1997 you used a hidden camera to film women in a public bath in Budapest, and then showed the material at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw. This year you went to a – men’s – bath again, disguised as a man. What was it that originally led you to make a film about women in the bathhouse two years ago?

I wanted to show women as they really are, not touched up, not fake; I wanted to show what women’s bodies really look like, how they behave when they’re acting natural. And I succeeded because they didn’t know they were being filmed.

 

This leads us to the crucial point, since these are in a sense forbidden images. You’ve infringed upon people’s privacy which should be none of your business, you’ve collected real-life material to show it in an artistic situation. Didn’t your conscience ever bother you about that?

I did it in the name of what I thought was a good and right idea. I knew I wasn’t really hurting anyone. I’m not poking fun at anyone; to me, there’s no such thing as a defective body. Everybody is the way they are, while there’s this pressure on the part of the media for people to live up to some kind of stereotype. I was interested in how the raw material looks, that is, what people are really like.

 

And the result was a series of incredibly beautiful takes, scenes out of genre painting, the bodies very ample, very Rubensian…

Some of them were, but then there were Dureresque bodies as well. When I went there for the first time, without the camera. I couldn’t get rid of art history cliches, and I naturally saw everything in terms of painting: “God, that’s a Renoir, oh clear, that one over there’s doing something straight out of Degas”.

 

Did you find similar images from art history in the men’s bath?

No. Women look after their bodies more then men do after theirs. Somehow they spend more time drying themselves, and comb their hair all the time. They devote more time to themselves. They take their time toweling while men get it over with just like that

 

That’s one difference.

…yes…

 

…the film about men is less encumbered by art…

…precisely…

 

…than the film about women is…

…that’s it; I was really interested how men behaved in the baths.

 

So it’s also…

…it’s really something else.

 

And it’s a question of private curiosity, of seeing how your experiences from the women’s bathhouse would compare with those from the men’s…

…I simply wanted to know what men did in the bath, whether they talk, read the paper – what they actually do there. But all the men did was simply look at others. They didn’t concentrate on themselves, but on others, they didn’t come there just to take a bath and wind down, they came there to watch. With the women it was all focused on the inside, while the men looked out.

 

You felt very sure of yourself in the women’s baths…

…not all that sure, after all I had the feeling that I was a voyeur spying on people from behind the bushes…

 

…but it was even worse in the men’s bath…

…yes, because there I felt I was being watched. The women didn’t even notice me but the men did; probably because I looked pretty unusual…

 

…even though you had a disguise that looked quite normal. You disguised yourself as a man…

…I cast myself as a man…

 

You cast yourself as a man: specifically, you stuck on a beard and a penis.

Yes, that’s right! So?

 

So the basic question is: did they get on to you?

No, strange, isn’t it?

 

How often did you get the feeling it would happen any moment now, that they’d expose you for what you were?

I don’t know, ten, fifteen times maybe, every time someone would stare at me. But on the other hand it was a good experience, you just had to stare right back. That made you feel a lot surer. But first you had to overcome something to be able to give as good as you got. The problem was that I could only be out in the open. I couldn’t take a shower, I couldn’t bathe, I couldn’t go to the sauna, I was afraid of going to the toilet. I could have gone to the toilet to lock myself in for a breather. But I didn’t know what I would have done if I noticed I was being followed by one of the guys who kept staring between my legs.

 

How many hours did you spend there as a man?

Not a lot, twenty minutes the first time and forty minutes the second time.

 

Two years ago, in the women’s bathhouse you did your own filming, but now the production process was a bit different.

On the production side I hired two cameramen who had been filming there with a hidden camera a couple of days before so I could see what it’s like and how I should behave. Then I decided more or less what I would be doing, where I’d be, and that we would have two cameras. I didn’t have a lot of freedom either, I had to stay close to the camera so that I’d be filmed if they saw through my disguise. Frankly speaking, I was curious what would happen if they got on to me. Because I was sort of invisible there. What would happen if I suddenly became visible, when they saw a stranger in their midst” On the one hand you’re interested what would happen if they blew your cover, but then you’d rather not go through with that. With hindsight, I’m rather happy I didn’t get caught, though actually it was obvious I was a woman.

 

What was your role in all of this” There were the two cameras directed at two benches, while you’re walking around…

…back and forth. I walk off one video screen I appear on the other. Like someone who’s there but doesn’t want to play the main part. Should viewers notice that the person walking isn’t really a man” Yes, definitely. Then again I had to blend in the background a bit so others wouldn’t recognize me; I must have looked like some kind of freak who doesn’t fit in but is there anyway. Sure, I’ve never been to a men’s bath before, you can also see it as a forbidden temple – I wander in, look around and look like some art connoisseur admiring a beautiful bathhouse, while being looked at himself, then gapes some more; gives the order to start filming, is filmed, and observed at that.

 

I certainly feel like indiscreet observation was at stake here. And then it’s also like being in a museum…

…hmm, a museum of men…

 

Weren’t you at all interested in the architecture?

I was. It was gorgeous, like an art deco interior. Much nicer than the women’s baths. The women’s baths were more formal, everything was very simple, 1920s – 1930s in style, sparser, while the men’s baths are decorated all over with little angels and flowers. Someone really made an effort to create a beautiful environment for the bathers. In the women’s bathhouse it was the women themselves who were interesting.

 

So now you were a woman as a man in a men’s bathhouse…

…a woman as a man in a men’s bathhouse.., a woman as a man in a men’s bathhouse…

 

…and did you learn anything new?

It’s not a whole lot different from other situations when men are in company. They’re more relaxed, but not all that much. There’s a big difference in the way the women behave, less so for the men…

 

What do you mean that women behave differently?

In public, women try to show themselves in a better light. It’s something subconscious. They really avoid certain positions in public; they don’t stick their butts out, they’re more graceful on the whole.

Men couldn’t care less. They scratch their ass and their balls in public too, there’s practically no difference.

 

Translated by Artur Zapałowski