SEBASTIAN BIENIEK IS A MASTER OF SUBTERFUGE AND OF SUBVERSIVE HUMOUR. THE PHOTO ARTIST, PERFORMER AND FILM-MAKER QUESTIONS OUR ACCEPTED VISIONS BY DEFRAGMENTING REALITY, WARPING REALITY AND
LEADING IT INTO A NEW AND UNEXPECTED CONTEXT. HE JOINS WHAT DOESN’T BELONG TOGETHER AND CREATES A PERPLEXING WHOLE.
Sebastian Bieniek was a painter before he became anything else, which is why to him, photography is another way to paint. Shape and colours, darkness and light play a central role. As an artist, he always works in series that contain between ten and ninety pictures, because he believes that anyone can take a single picture, while a series ‘is more akin to an actual work of art, it speaks of cohesion’. These stills include portraits, still nature, nudes, and landscapes that have a playful, unconventional, and often nearly plastic effect.
Man, as staged by Sebastian Bieniek on his pictures, is a hybrid that consists of female and male elements. The couples melt into each other, sometimes passionately, other times theatrically, other times grotesquely, representing both a fragile and strong unity. The artist works with the concept of ‘doubles’ and multiplications. The pictures of his characters are two-faced, he stages them in uncomfortable positions, often with weirdly bent limbs, he places a face or a grotesque grimace onto another face. He creates a theatre of masks, reminiscent of a travelling performing parade.
What’s real and what’s fictional? Is reality fiction or fiction reality? What’s a mask and what’s a face? Is the face the mask or the mask the face? Is that transgression, or a harmless metamorphosis? These are just some questions that spring to mind when observing Sebastian Bieniek‘s pictures. Nothing is as it seems thanks to a simple and unexpected intervention which changes the image and perception of the viewers. The ordinary becomes extraordinary, the trusted and harmless change into eerie, threatening elements: in any case, anything but usual.
Nothing is univocal, because the world as perceived and represented by Sebastian
Bieniek isn’t either. It stands out for its dichotomy: everything is black as well as white, light and dark, new and old, beautiful and ugly, alluring and repelling, chaotic and orderly. What interests Sebastian in his art and in his everyday life are multiple personalities and bipolar disorders that originate from the influence of our virtual world affecting the real life and psyche of people. In a world dominated by digital media, people are unsure about their identity, they’re riven into a digital and real ego, buoyed between two forms of existence which cannot be kept apart anymore, a topic he wrote about in his book ‘Realfake’.
Sebastian Bieniek is someone who masters the art of communication like no other. His gallery is the virtual space of offered by social media, a huge network. His Facebook page is liked by nearly 500,000 people, and tens of thousands follow him on Instagram and Tumblr. The painter, performer, filmmaker and photographer doesn’t want to programmatically subject himself to the rules of the art market. And he succeeds in avoiding such a pitfall. He manages everything: the production and marketing of his work. He was born on 24 April 1975 in a village near Opole (Poland), he moved to Niedersachsen
in 1989, studied Arts at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig and then the University of Arts in Berlin, where he carried out a degree in 2002 under Katharina Sieverding. He then went on to stud to become a filmmaker at the Deutschen Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin. He sparked great interest with his performance and videos, where he sounded the depth of his and then the audience’s pain threshold, then revealed the mechanisms of the art market, how artists are subject to manipulation, and the artists’ approach to art. His photo series ‘Double Faced’ started in 2013, which spread like
wildfire on social media, making him an internationally known artist. The success of this series still continues to this very day, so much so that Sebastian Bieniek could afford to focus just on it, yet he doesn’t want to become a victim of his own success, so he’s always up to something new, to avoid subjecting his artistic freedom to the rules of the art market.
Even though Sebastian Bieniek uses the Internet to achieve unlimited attention for his art, his models and subjects come from the real world, from his surroundings, his atelier, his circle of friends and acquaintances, his travels. The people on his photographs are, yes, unfamiliar, but not stylised. They are authentic, rarely reflect the idea of beauty spread across the media, they depict everyday people. Everyday themes aren’t only banal and impenetrable, but have many facets: because the artist has the skill to bring what is hidden into daylight, an ice cream can look saucy, as seen on one of his pictures: ‘Eros c‘est la vie’, is the apt title. When Sebastian places his fingers on the letters of the handwriting ‘Hotel Peninsula’, a stately royal accommodation in Hong Kong, he obtains ‘Hotel Penis’.
Our everyday life is erotic, surreal, especially in the ‘Man On Canvas’ series. Here Bieniek tackles history of art as well as abstraction with dual figures he somehow harmoniously combines. For some of these photographs he uses already available material, pictures of anonymous painters, that he finds on Ebay or at flea markets, then turning them into unfamiliar objects. A portrait of a woman has two red painted fingers in her eye and mouth. Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow’s picture is placed on a female bottom; the long
hair of the women flows out of the once so powerful man from the mouth and functions as his beard.
‘Art is a game’, says Sebastian Bieniek. ‘I believe I’m how an artist should be: a mixture of a quack, shaman, clown, and trickster. I believe, that’s what makes an artist. Someone who works with figures and objects you shouldn’t be playing with, but artists go ahead and play with them anyway.’
Text by URSZULA USAKOWSKA-WOLFF
(Millionart Kaleidoskop, february 2018)
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