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Art is a Game


Sebas­ti­an Bie­niek was a pain­ter befo­re he was anything else, which is why to him pho­to­gra­phy is ano­t­her way to paint. Shape and colours, darkness and light pl ay 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 ofart, it speaks of cohe­si­on’. The­se stills inclu­de por­traits, still natu­re, nudes, and land­s­capes that have a play­ful, uncon­ven­tio­nal, and often near­ly plastic effect.

Sebas­ti­an Bie­niek

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 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, film-maker 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 stu­dy 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, secu­ring his world-wide fame. 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 woman 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.’


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1954 in Warschau geboren, studierte Germanistik und Romanistik an der Universität Bukarest und Warschau. Sie lebt seit 1986 in Deutschland, zuletzt in Berlin. Journalistin, Übersetzerin und Kuratorin, arbeitet als freie Kunstpublizistin mit polnischen und deutschsprachigen Medien zusammen.

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