EWA AXELRAD: SHTAMAH / 20 September 2017 - 18 November 2017
Copperfield, London is pleased to present the exhibition shtamah, by Polish artist Ewa Axelrad (b. 1984 Gliwice).
The Polish word sztama, pronounced shtamah, brings to mind interesting connotations. It smacks of boys’ solidarity. A dictionary of the Polish language explains it in rather innocent terms, as “a relation between friends or companions entailing mutual help.” It is derived from German der Stamm, which means tribe. However, many examples can be quoted that analyse how this seemingly positive phenomenon transforms into group aggression; from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) in literature to the experiments of social psychologist Muzafer Sherif, known as the Robbers Cave, that were conducted that same year.
This new body of work analyses the mechanisms that prompt people to come together in displays of aggression. An important element of this study is the process of unification – losing one’s subjectivity and merging with the group – which is often achieved through body painting, putting on masks, armour or uniforms. In the military context, the subject of solidarity and renouncing individuality in favour of the common cause and the fighting spirit was analysed by Napoleon’s strategists, for example, who termed this elusive phenomenon esprit de corps. Ludwig Stomma explains this phrase as “brotherhood of arms” or “athletes’ love”, which makes it possible to “replace the mawkish conscience with a uniform.”
Axelrad, in a critical way, draws upon the deeply rooted mixture of fascination, fear and prejudice that gave rise to the western European fantasy of tribalism. A crucial thread present in the exhibition is also the notion of the sacred and enticing character of uniforms, which symbolically ties the wearer to the ranks of the army, police, gangs or paramilitary groups.
Curated with Sylwia Serafinowicz
Toured and produced in partnership with Wrocław Contemporary Museum, Poland
Ewa Axelrad (b. 1984 in Poland) studied at Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań before moving to London to continue at the Royal College of Art.
Her works have been exhibited internationally, including the exhibitions Bold Tendencies 2017, London (2017); Satis at The Ryder Projects, London (2017); Labour Relations, Wrocław Contemporary Museum, Poland (2016); Memory At Last. Art in Poland: 1989-2016, Galleria Civica di Modena, Italy (2016); Contemporary Art from Poland, European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Mein (2016); State of Life, Polish Contemporary Art within a Global Circumstance, National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2015); As You Can See, Polish Art Today, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2014) and What Can Be Described Can Also Take Place, Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm (2013). She has been recently nominated for 2017 edition of the biannual Deutsche Bank Foundation Award Views 2017 for Polish artists under 36.
Opening Tuesday 19 September, 6 - 9pm
Exhibition runs 20 September - 18 November 2017
weekly Wednesday to Saturday, 12 - 6pm
With thanks to Sylwia Serafinowicz and Wrocław Contemporary Museum, Poland