Interview by Agata Kik
Wojciech Kosma is mainly known for his performance practice based on collaboration and physical presence, unpacking the themes of relationships, emotions and intimacies between oneself and others. Kosma is a co-author of the web performance series Charisma and a founding member of Hope Scandal, a free jazz duo and East London Cable, a collective producing, platforming and commissioning moving image and performance works under the umbrella of ‘TV’. His seminal performance work presented at Chisenhale Gallery in 2015, as part of the Interim commission series, was based on close work with other collaborating performance artists and included rehearsals open to the public, collapsing the boundaries between the private space of intimacy and the politics of love and care.
It has been a few years since Kosma switched to sound, for its tone and rhythm, the luring language – his voiced mother-tongue timbre and the all-encompassing affective power of music, as a more ephemeral way of expressing his thinking through feeling. With a background in computer science and music composition, Kosma reflects on contemporary ‘bourgeois-like’ performance art. Music is a much more inviting space with more agency on the listener’s part.
Stemming from the preoccupation with sound and the spoken word, Kosma has recently started a new spalarnia project under whose alias he combines affective abundance and musical minimalism. Self-released spalarnia is a way of deconstructing racial, religious or national identities experienced by Kosma in anti-minority Poland, saturated by depressingly divisional politics.
To sing and perform spoken word in Polish must feel emancipatory. The use of the language given at birth allocates more weight to every single uttered word, but at the same time, it places the artist in a position of vulnerability. This is a brave decision to go against the “soft power of English” and display one’s thoughts in a language often treated as less worthy internationally. Such reclaiming and reinventing of Polish allow Kosma to share the beauty concealed within the spoken sentences and, simultaneously, heal the shame and discrimination many Poles are brought up in.
Familiar with life in a metropolis like London or Berlin, Kosma has recently moved to the Polish countryside, establishing his connection with nature that has turned out to have more influence on his life and work than the time spent surrounded by swarms of people rushing past. The recent years of social distancing additionally sped up the transition between the different art forms and ways of expressing the self, and Kosma acknowledges the increased intimacy with his being as one of the benefits – what I do now makes me feel closer with myself.
Does your background in computer science and music composition inform your performance practice?
I didn’t have the guts to be everything. So I kept my different roles separate. Transitioning into a full-scale music persona incentivised me to bring together all of my skills. There are a lot of computers in music production and performance art with awkwardness and extrovertism.
Through your performance practice, you have explored the topic of intimacy; could you share your thoughts on digital intimacies? How can you experience intimacy through the screen that is expanded into virtuality and beyond the physical reality?
I struggle with digital intimacy. Isn’t it a fallacy?
How has the pandemic influenced your performance practice that was established on physical proximity to such a great degree? What changes to your practice and approaches to life have you faced in the last couple of years? What realisations do you plan to take further with you into the future?
I stopped performing a couple of years before the pandemic. I thought I was done with the art world, but perhaps it was something more, easing into a time where it wouldn’t be possible. I started getting into poetry and music, and the pandemic accelerated that. My performance was about intimacy with others, but I’m grateful for it.
You have left the busy Berlin life for the Polish countryside. What were you looking for when you decided to move? How does your current lifestyle influence your approach to your work and practice?
Nature. A couple of days ago, I smelled some fresh bark on a tree, which probably had more influence on me than a year of living in Berlin. Of course, I still spend a lot of time in the cities, but the flow of the countryside, the circadian rhythm, and the ability to be sensual at ease are something that became woven into my work, and I wouldn’t be able to separate one from the other.
Your works heavily rely on language, and you use the Polish language in your sound pieces. What significance is it to use your mother tongue in your works? How do you decide on the balance between abstract sound and voiced language?
My songs begin as poems, and poems in Polish have more gravity for me. I like to sing my words because it disrobes them, leaving them bare, and exposed. When I sing, I can’t be witty; I can only be emotional. But I’m also really invested in opposing the soft power of English. I was raised to believe that Polish was less worthy, which had devastating effects on me (as well as many other Poles, I think). It feels so good to be reclaiming and reimagining it. Sometimes I think of a word, and Polish is so beautiful. I want to live with this beauty.
What have you found out about the idea of translation between different languages, different formats and different artforms in your works? How do you approach interpretation and fluidity of meaning?
I think of translation as a gentle kind of test. Your words may look good on paper, but try saying them aloud, singing them, and translating them. Of course, not everything will survive that process, but when it does, it’s the loveliest feeling, the meaning detaches from the form, and you’re closer to some emotional truth.
You are now working increasingly more with sound from performance practice based on physical presence involving multiple bodies that face art audiences. What differs in reception between these different forms, and what different effects on the audience members are you trying to achieve? What changes does this shift towards sound allow you to explore?
Generally speaking, performance art is confrontational and has an off-putting vibe. It’s an evolution of bourgeois theatre, which the Western, white, comfortable audience visits to engage with repressed emotions or “to feel real”. Music is a much more inviting space with more agency on the listener’s part. It’s much harder to get through to the music audience, make them play your song, and enter your world. I like that. It’s me who has to figure out how to make a banger and not them doing the work of decoding some obscure performance art idea.
Could you please share a few insights about spalarnia? What is the drive that led you to make it happen?
When I moved to the countryside, I stopped making art. I decided to wait until I had something to say. I found out that I wanted to tell them aloud. I cracked auto-tune. Then I sang, and spalarnia came.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
You couldn’t live without…