Theatre – Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw
The word ‘Fressen’ comes from German and means ‘feast’, to which Katarzyna Kozyra invites her audience in this work. Inspired by the historical wedding of the Polish princess Jadwiga Jagiellonka to the Bavarian prince George the Rich, (Landshut, 1475), and above all by the rank to which this event was elevated, giving it the title of the greatest medieval feast, she takes up the theme, adapting it to contemporary issues.
“Fressen” explores themes of consumerism, of devouring oneself, of being exposed to others, the feast to which Kozyra invites us is her offering of herself, everyone can take a piece of ‘her’ and keep it inside themselves. The fat suit, familiar from her earlier works, which she also used for the work Diva, appears on stage. Reincarnation, Kozyra portrays her body, herself, in this way. Her body is heavy, obese and full, the evocative comparison being the figure of Venus of Willendorf, the revered Mother Goddess who gives offspring, nourishes, surrounds with care. The whole is based on a complex comparison realised through the body used. It is at once directly the body of a human being, dead, on which the operation to remove organs will be carried out, while at the same time being a source of food from which, drawing by handfuls on the seafood, a feast has been prepared. The first cut of the surgeon, although made with a scalpel, was more like the cut of a butcher’s knife, uneven, strong, lacking in doubt, the whole scene reminiscent of the dissection of a pig which is then gutted. The first is followed by another, and one of the most expensive foodstuffs, the most desirable, especially in Poland, where fresh seafood is hard to come by, is pulled out from inside the audience.
Considered an aphrodisiac and strongly associated with carnality, excitement and sex, they lose all prestige, their coldness, their unusual, flaccid shape, the peculiar mucus with which they are covered and the smell they give off before being prepared, perfectly imitate human organs, the octopus pulled from the stomach and its tentacles seem as repulsive as the intestines. In this way, through raw fish, the artist provides sustenance, feeds herself – for the final cuts show, once the mask is removed, her person inside the costume.
The bustling and steamy kitchen, arranged on stage where the nurses assigned to their new role were hurriedly cooking, was balanced by a table surrounded by static men in formal attire – officers’ uniforms from the Napoleonic era. The table is a de facto illuminated map, where models of World War II-era ships are spread out, which, seen from above, resemble schools of fish. In combining the two situations, however, we see a representation of the classical division of labour, women in charge of the kitchen, preparing the meal, sweaty, working in the heat, under time pressure, and a contrasting image of men, completely uninvolved, in impeccable, clean uniforms, engaged in lofty tasks. The contrast between the abstraction of the men’s task and the tangibility of the effort the women put into preparing the dishes is also drawn before the audience’s eyes.
In between them, functioning as if in orbit, appeared the figure of the artist herself, who freed herself from her body, shedding the shell, the burden of the body and, above all, the fears and restraints connected with it. Kozyra appears naked, without any superfluous layers under which she could hide her body, unconcerned, unnoticeable, having achieved her goal, having already given up her body as an object of consumption, she oversees everything from the perspective of an observer, a free listener. At this point, the most groundbreaking part of the performance also takes place, which has not been planned in advance in any way, it is a completely live, wild and natural art involving the audience. The artist establishes contact with the audience, who, emboldened, begin to take an active part in the action by trying out the pieces on the table arranged on the body. In this way, the whole takes on a physical character, where the artist, invites and gives herself to the consumption of the audience, the participants absorb her.
Event presented as part of Warsaw Gallery Weekend 2021
Hosted by: Persons Projects (Asia Zak Persons,Timothy Persons) in association with Gunia Nowik Gallery and Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation
Projekt wsparty przez Fundację Współpracy Polsko-Niemieckiej.
Project supported by: the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation.
Producer: Marysia Surzycka
Assistant: Joanna Bury
Head Chef: Justyna Słupska Kartaczowska
Regulations: Justyna Słupska Kartaczowska
Assistant Chef: Natalia Grzelak
Actors and actresses:
Paulina Bijoch, Barbara Borkala, Fabio Cavallucci, Agata
Cieślak, Anna Godowska, Jola Krukowska, Mira Marcinów,
Katarzyna Poniecka, Magdalena Sildatk, Kasia Szumska,
Jakub Trydulski, Asia Tsisar, Marek Zaliwski.
Creative director: Paulina Płachecka, Katarzyna Kozyra
Choreography: Anna Godowska
Fat suit: Monika Słomczyńska
Stały: Frodo Art Mariusz Tołkaczewski
Miniatures: REKO.WAW (Jan Nałęcz)
Video director: Łukasz Ruciński
Operator: Piotr Wacowski
Technical support: Janusz Kołakowski
Photos: Magda Typiak
After Party: NATURAL RASCAL (Radek Drabik)
The feast of Katarzyna Kozyra
A conversation with one of Poland’s most famous female artists about faith, food and self-acceptance
The whole thing starts like this. Some two hundred people take their places on slightly elevated platforms in a theatre auditorium. The lights dim; everybody falls silent, and at this point a naked woman ‒ rather small, thin and graceful ‒ stands in front of an ancient harpsichord pretending to play it while classical music is playing from the speakers. Soon the musical piece is over; the woman disappears backstage and then a group of young women wearing uniforms reminiscent of nurses’ whites roll out a huge metal box propped up on a frame with wheels. They take off the lid and reveal a giant figure of an obese naked woman on ice; she appears to be made of a flesh-like material.
The ‘nurses’ take their places around her; one of them picks up a surgeon’s scalpel and cuts open one of the thighs of the lying figure’s sizeable thighs, then, with great effort, pulls the edges apart and starts producing fresh fish and prawns from the gaping hole ‒ and then an octopus. The body is cut open in several other places and more seafood is taken out. Meanwhile, the ‘nurses’ have changed their attire and are now sporting chef’s aprons and toques. While they are getting their ‘catch’ out of the body, others take it to the nearby ‘kitchen’ ‒ rows of prepping and cooking surfaces, chopping blocks, electric stoves with saucepans and pots. The octopuses, fish and prawns are now being poached, braised, and fried. The auditorium is filled with intense smells of food and cooking. The cooks are overseen by an energetic small woman with wise brown eyes. It is she who at some point cuts out the face of the figure on ice and peels it off like a mask, revealing the features of a real, living woman. The ‘head chef’ then brings her some freshly cooked prawns; the woman consumes them with apparent appetite. Alongside the kitchen goings-on, a group of men in tacky general/admiral’s uniforms have been huddling around a huge map, moving an object on it every now and then.
Finally, the living woman who has been imprisoned inside the body on the table gets out and starts to wander among the cooks naked (she is the harpsichord ‘player’ from the opening of the performance), occasionally sampling the content of the steaming pots and sizzling pans. Then, as if she was getting bored by the whole thing, she starts to join members of the audience on the platforms, sitting down by their side; on the first occasion, she chooses someone sitting right next to me. The person on my left is a fifty-something man, and the woman joins him: they exchange greetings and share a joke about something. She goes on to sit down by other people’s side and greets other people in the audience. These people ask her to pose for a selfie; others want that, too. The naked woman always agrees and poses for selfies with apparent pleasure. Meanwhile, the first brave souls from the audience start descending from the viewers’ platforms and walk amidst the kitchen stands; someone tastes the food that is being cooked. Finally large serving dishes with the ready food (prawns, dorado pieces and octopus tentacles) are placed on the body that is covered with a tablecloth or a bedsheet. By now, most of the viewers must have left their seats; they taste the food, taking off their masks to do that (at the time of the performance, Poland’s rates of covid infection were among the lowest in Europe); they greet the woman, exchange hugs with her, pose for selfies with her. The audience is consumed by a kind of happy excitement: the pots are steaming; there is plenty of fresh hot food; we see with our own eyes boundaries being pushed (between art and life; between watching from afar and being able to touch and even eat; between the reality of the pandemic and our instinctive desire to forget about it ‒ if only for a while); there is an increasing sense that ‘everything is possible’. The naked woman wanders among the people who carry on taking selfies or posing for pictures with her. The nudity of the woman seems so natural, and it is her easy manner that removes all boundaries, becomes a key that opens every lock. A couple asks a photographer to take a picture: they stand next to the woman and strip ‒ down to a bra ‒ for a few seconds. And now everybody is invited to a restaurant where the food will be taken and where the feast will go on…
‘Feast’ is not a random word here. The event I am describing is a recent performance by Katarzyna Kozyra called ‘Fressen’, an allusion to a significant occasion in the history of Polish-German relations ‒ the wedding of the Polish princess Jadwiga Jagiellonka and Duke of Bavaria George the Rich (Georg der Reiche) in 1475. Said event is considered as the grandest feast in the history of the Middle Ages.
According to the press release, ‘Katarzyna Kozyra touches upon the theme of food and its origin, which is particularly important in today’s light. Food has always played an important role in our social and cultural life as well as being a theme in art since ancient times. It has been an ever-present subject in still life paintings from how it’s prepared to how it’s consumed. This project parallels the artist’s interest in the subject of the human body, obesity, and gluttony, which have already been seen in her earlier works such as “Women are Waiting” or “Diva. Reincarnation”’. (…)