The Baltic coast of Poland is well known for its street art. Artists such as M-City, the RAT group and Peter Fuss illegally post their art on billboards to make bitter commentaries about the reality surrounding them.
They are not afraid to speak their minds on politics, the relationship between religion and the authorities, flashy religiosity and social problems. Their use of simple forms and their comments are sharp, edgy – even brutal.
Fuss put his latest posting on two billboards at the main railway station in Gdansk in January. It was a simple yet brilliant idea. The posters consisted of two Arabic words in white on a black background, with explanations of the words in Polish.
One of the words means “love,” the other “peace.” Fuss’ message was that people should think carefully about the widespread belief after the 9/11 attacks that all that is Arab is dangerous.
In addition to being a statement about humanity, Fuss’ work was a political message. That’s because Poland has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led war on terror.
Many Poles dislike having their troops in these countries – especially Iraq – and the country suffered great trauma when Polish soldiers were taken into custody recently for firing on civilians in Afghanistan.
Crucial to the impact of Fuss’ commentary was that he chose two words with such universal and positive connotations.
His simplicity of choice made people think about the fact that we need to overcome the stereotypical view that Arab culture is only about destruction.
Although the European and Arab cultures are very different, there are some notions that resonate with us all, Fuss reminds us. And they include love and peace.
The strategy that Peter Fuss is using is called cultural jamming. It has roots in the German concept of Spasguerrilla, or guerrilla humor, and in the Situationist International art movement of the 1960s.
It’s a subversive technique that aims to sew confusion in the dominant culture. Culture jamming is the act of transforming a piece of mass media – such as a billboard – to offer a commentary. An example would be papering over an advertising billboard with the artist’s work. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism and the creating of corporate image.
The Canadian magazine “Adbusters” began to promote culture jamming in 1989. American author and cultural critic Mark Dery popularized the term in his 1993 book “Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs.”
Fuss’ cultural jamming in January of 2007 was so controversial that the public prosecutors office in Koszalin closed it three days after it opened. The exhibit “Jesus Christ, King of Poland,” was at the Scene Gallery.
The artist’s intent was to show that religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, together with a Polish “patriotism” that is a mix of xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism, are part of everyday life.
His exhibit consisted of copies of xenophobic and anti-Semitic Web sites from the Internet magazine “Fronda’s” and the “Polonica.Net” portal.
Polonica.Net’s material includes 2,000 names of people deemed “enemies” of Poland – “Jews and people of Judaic roots.” At the top of the list is the world-famous Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.
The night before the exhibit opened Fuss papered over a billboard in the center of Koszalin, near the Catholic church, with one of his creations. It consisted of 56 faces of people whom “Polonica.Net” listed as enemies of Poland.
He added a notorious anti-Semitic sentence that Archbishop Wielgus in Warsaw made recently about the return of Jews to Poland. The archbishop created a firestorm by saying: “Jews, stay out of this Catholic country.”
Peter Fuss was trying to point out that xenophobia and anti-Semitism are often hidden under the masks of “patriot” and “Roman Catholic.”
The title of the exhibit reflected the fact that the ruling Law and Justice Party wanted to name Jesus the king of Poland. Such a designation would make Poland a religious country, contrary to the constitution.
Although Fuss was using the anti-Semitic web sites to dramatize the problem of religious and racial bigotry, the authorities accused him of trying to foment anti-Semitism – and launched an investigation against him.
Fuss doesn’t always create art that is controversial. Last year he made a piece called “For the Laugh of God.” It was a takeoff on British artist Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God,” a platinum skull incrusted with 8,601 diamonds that is worth 50 mln pounds.
Fuss’ skull was made of plastic and covered with 9,870 small glasses designed to look like diamonds. It was worth 1,000 pounds. Fuss showed it at the Art Car Boot Fair in England.